Martin Carthy

Live Review | The Regent, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson

The one sure way of filling a back pub room, or in this case a hotel function room, where local enthusiasts work hard to stage music nights, sometimes at their own expense, is to every now and then invite someone of the stature of Martin Carthy to help put bums on seats.  This wasn’t the best night at this club by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the fullest it’s ever been for the Monday Music Club, and that in itself is a good thing.  Martin Carthy is a leading figure on the folk scene and in many respects he has ‘paid his dues’ and the letters that appear after his name (on envelopes, if not on billboards) have been truly earned.  As a musician and singer he has been involved in dozens of projects over the years, but he still has time to come along to these smaller venue clubs to perform and little has changed over the ensuing years.  He’s still the man on the pallet being hoisted up into the sky with his faithful Martin on his lap, even forty-odd years on.  Kicking off with “Heather Down the Moor” Martin settled into a set of songs and tunes familiar to anyone with even the vaguest passing interest in the folk revival.  “Limbo”, a song about the debtor’s prison in his native London, which has been recorded by Carthy Snr with Brass Monkey and also Carthy Jnr on her Anglicana album, can also currently be heard on Ruth Notman’s debut Threads as indeed can “Heather Down the Moor”.  Tonight, Carthy sang this and an array of other songs with his usual flair and passion.  I have two minor irritations these days with Martin Carthy which I will impart to the masses fully aware that I may be shot at dawn by the folk police.  Firstly the excessive tuning up.  Bizarrely, the longest tuning festival in tonight’s performance, which went on for a good two or three minutes, preceded “Invitation to the Funeral”, an unaccompanied song!  Secondly, and this may be contentious, is Martin’s current trend of abandoning strict tempo rhythm for what I hesitate to describe as freeform droning.  I noticed this trend began some years ago, but it has now enveloped almost every song.  “Bonny Woodhall” falls very much into this category of highly stylised phrasing.  “Seven Yellow Gypsies” returned to standard timing and I was able to tap my foot once again, instead of stuttering with it.  Still, these are minor niggles.  Where his sense of rhythm shines these days is in his treatment of instrumentals.  A masterful guitarist with an instantly recognisable sound, Martin excelled in his delivery of Morris tunes such as “Princess Royal” and “The Quaker/Banbury Bill” where he doesn’t miss a beat.  But there again you wouldn’t dare with a Morris team depending on you.  Carthy described “Company Policy” as fifty per cent of his song writing output, proving you don’t necessarily have to be prolific to come up with a good song.  This protest over the Falklands episode resonates still with audiences today, due in no small part to the fact that we are still doing wars.  “Bill Norrie” from the same period shows Carthy as a masterful story teller, although I didn’t really see the need to introduce this song in so much detail as it employs a pretty self-explanatory narrative.  It’s not all death and doom with Carthy as he treated his audience to lighter moments with a couple of regular songs in his set “A Stitch in Time” and “The Devil and the Feathery Wife”, both of which bring out the smiles, even after many hearings.  Martin finished the night off with “Green Broom” from his family band Waterson-Carthy’s Fishes and Fine Yellow Sand album, leaving Doncaster once again with little doubt that a national treasure had just popped by.