Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick
Forest Arts Centre, New Milton, Hampshire
Saturday 27th September 2014
The Death of Queen Jane
When I Was A Little Boy
Three Tunes: Bride’s March from Unst/ True Lover’s Lament / ?
A Beggin’ I Will Go
The Trip We Took Over The Mountain
The Royal Oak
The Bold Benjamin
Three Tunes: Long Time / The Running Footman’s Jig / The Brown Joak
My Heart’s in New South Wales
Those first Martin Carthy albums on Fontana were recorded by Martin Carthy with Dave Swarbrick too. That’s just short of the half century ago. I first saw Martin Carthy at Hull University folk club, in the same year as Davey Graham, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell and Marc Ellington, then the last time I saw him was with The Imagined Village, playing back to back electric guitar, Status Quo style, with Billy Bragg. A truly memorable moment. These guys are the living link between those great folk archivists like Cecil Sharpe and Cyril Tawney, and the current tradition, dynastically through Eliza Carthy, and Spiers & Boden (who were in her band) and Bellowhead, Fay Hield, The Full English, Seth Lakeman. Then they were contemporary with Peter Bellamy and The Young Tradition, and had song arrangements lifted by Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Dave Swarbrick was in the Ian Campbell Folk Group, and they were working as a duo on those Martin Carthy albums long before the road lead to Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span.
They are a perfect duo, foils for each other. Martin Carthy is the archivist, telling the stories of the songs and their collectors. Dave Swarbrick is a comic raconteur of genius … he had us in fits of laughter many times with stories, asides, jokes. I won’t repeat a single one. They’re his stock-in-trade, his timing as excellent on words as it is on violin playing … his demonstration of 9:8 time was priceless … in case we wanted to tap our feet.
Martin Carthy explained that both the first two songs, Sovay, about a female highwayman, and The Death of Queen Jane were collected from Marina Russell of Upwey, Dorset … 85 were collected from her in 1905. Some are a tad short because she got fed up after a couple of verses. The origin was particularly interesting for The Death of Queen Jane featured as it is so prominently in Inside Llewyn Davis and sung by Oscar Isaac. I’m surprised Martin Carthy didn’t mention the film: he must have known most of the characters the film was based upon. I guess the song’s a good one to have in the repertoire, as it steals the thunder from the third part of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, due out next year.
When I Was A Little Boy was collected from John Stickle of The Shetlands, another lovely song. Martin mentioned that it has echoes of Nottamun’ Town, a song considered “highly influential” on A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. The last line: My tooral laddy whack fol laddy tooral looral ling found its way (almost) into Whiskey In The Jar too.
There must be a folk rule about doing “tunes” in blocks of three. Spiers and Boden do the same. Swarb’s intro was a superb routine, and he explained that True Lover’s Lament in the centre was a military retreat song, hence pace was crucial.
Georgie is a gypsy song, collected from Jasper and Levy Smith of Kent. When it finished they chatted about what to do, finally asking the audience “Song or tune?” and most called for a song, so we got John Barleycorn, a song they’ve been performing since 1967. A true classic, and ideal for the last song before the interval.
The second half was bookended by songs which have made their way into Bellowhead’s repertoire, A Beggin’ I Will Go and Byker Hill emphasizing the influence Martin Carthy has in assembling arrangements of these songs as well as eschewing grabbing the credits … that was his beef with Paul Simon over Scarborough Fair, not taking over his arrangement, but taking credit on a traditional song. Anyway, he didn’t do Scarborough Fair tonight. More surprisingly he did nothing from 2014’s The Moral of The Elephant recorded with Eliza Carthy, with the same guitar / fiddle instrumentation. OK, Eliza’s additional vocals on his songs are such a part of the album, but there was still enough focus on his lead vocals for The Servant Man and Queen of Hearts at least to have been been perfect … and Carthy / Swarbrick did Queen of Hearts back in the Fontana album era. I was surprised not to hear either, as well as surprised not to see the CD on the CD table. But of course there are just so many songs he has sung over the years.
A fine A Beggin’ I Will Go was followed by the instrumental The Trip We Took Over The Mountain. Tonight’s focus was on two contrasting songs about naval battles: The Royal Oak about a victory over the Turks, and an unusual song about a defeat, The Bold Benjamin (aka. Brave Admiral Cole).
The next set of three tunes was from the late 17th century baroque period. A jig in 6:4 called Long Time with The Running Footman and The Brown Joak … it is J-O-A-K as he explained carefully and means female genitals.
The Deserter is a song they have performed for many years, and Byker Hill their traditional closer … with a long instrumental lead out. They waited through the applause, then finished with a Dave Swarbrick composition, My Heart’s in New South Wale, an intensely, sweetly melodic piece.
They went down very well. Both were seated throughout, which was expected. The combination of Martin Carthy’s distinctive thumb pick style on the low strings with Swarbrick’s fiddle playing reminds me that Swarbrick pretty much wrote the book on modern folk fiddle. When I got home I checked my copy of the first album, Martin Carthy ; I was right, it has Sovay, A Beggin’ I Will Go, Byker Hill on it all from tonight’s set. Check out that first album … three he didn’t do from it are Scarborough Fair, Broomfield Hill and Queen of Hearts. Six major modern English folk classics on just one 1965 album.
An excellent night in an intimate venue at Forest Arts, always an enjoyable place to see folk artists.