Eliza Carthy Band
The Concert Hall
Friday 14th October 2011
Support: Marry Waterson & Oliver Knights
It’s dispiriting for performers to be in a fair-sized classical concert hall with a very small audience. In Eliza Carthy’s case in Poole, Bob Dylan had hoovered up swathes of her potential audience, just five miles away at Bournemouth BIC, a show which he characteristically insisted was all-standing to nearly double the capacity. That’s around 4000 to 5000 potential customers gone. I knew of four people who would have gone to see Eliza Carthy if Dylan hadn’t been pissing on his legend in his shattered voice just down the road. She should take comfort in the fact that those who did come, had made the choice, and chosen her. And we were delighted that we did. If she’d been playing The Tivoli, Wimborne or The Regent, Christchurch it would have been near full, so felt much better on stage. We didn’t know if we helped the effect … in the support set we were front row dead centre and couldn’t see Marry Waterson’s face behind the mics. We moved back to the empty row three, as did our neighbours for the main set.
Eliza Carthy had a four piece band: drums, keyboards (piano, accordion, Hammond), cello, 5-string double bass. She played violins, accordion, electric guitar and what she called an “electric 4-string guitar sort of thing.” Names weren’t clear, but she said the bassist (David Donaghue???) had had to learn the material “just for this one gig” and when the encores came she asked if he knew the song, and he demonstrated it and said he could manage. And he did. All five people on stage sang.
Her set is dominated by songs from the latest album, Neptune, and the amps and keyboards have fishes and starfish attached to them under a large moon, with a giant shell in front of the drum cage. Drum cage? The drums are surrounded by tall perspex shields forming a cage, leading to the inevitable drummer jokes from our neighbours before the show. I mentioned Animal from The Muppets myself. I’ve never seen it on stage before, though the drums are usually isolated by sound baffles or in a separate section in studios to stop the sound bleeding into the other mics. This meant close attention was being paid to the sound mix, rather than that the drummer had halitosis. The drummer, who was superb, used padded sticks a lot. I empathized, because the last spoken voice recordings we did was in a music studio, and that saw me with stomach rumbles after lunch, meaning I was banished to isolation in the drum booth. I know what a lonely life it is sitting with a drum kit behind glass in an isolation ward.
The three best group (Simone Felice was solo) shows I’ve seen this year … Decemberists, The Unthanks, The Eliza Carthy Band … are all ‘avante-folk’. Eliza Carthy is the least “folk” of the three. She sets off her show by having her cousins Marry Waterson and Oliver Knights as support. That’s beautifully performed folk. She contrasts. That’s where she came from, but not where she’s been for a long time. The musical comparison that kept coming to mind in the theatrical, swirling songs was Kurt Weill. The originality is high, and she has moved away from classification.
She did a Neptune heavy set, the second number with a long hilarious intro was Blood On My Shoes. We also got War, Monkey, Hansel (Breadcrumbs), Thursday and one of my top ten tracks of 2011, the beautiful Revolution. Revolution is one of the most conventional pieces musically. Mr Magnifico from Dreaming of Breathing Underwater was a major non-Neptune piece, showcasing drummer Willy Molleson (that name I did catch) on lead vocals from within his cage. The ender for the main show was from Neptune, a rousing stomping Britain is A Car Park with the whole band on full form. We got two encores, but 90 minutes is what you’d expect in the circumstances. It’s bold to base so much of the show on the new album, but a highly-appreciated move too. It’s what we were hoping to hear.
Eliza Carthy is a great, charismatic performer, playing violin while singing AND stomping around. She gives off extremely good vibes (hard to do with the draughts blowing through a hall with too few people). After I saw her with The Imagined Village, I realized she’s not a singer to miss. My only regret was that I bought Neptune when it came out so couldn’t stand in line to buy a copy from her own hand after the show. I wanted to mention that way back in the 60s, I shared a train compartment with her dad, Martin Carthy. He asked if I minded him practising his guitar (there were only two of us heading north). So I got a personal recital.