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Eliza Carthy

Emanating from a celebrity folk family (her father MARTIN CARTHY, her mother NORMA WATERSON) but looking like some adolescent pop-pixie princess, multi-talented child prodigy ELIZA “Liza” CARTHY was quite a prospect to behold. Born 23 August 1975, Scarborough in North Yorkshire, she’s since disappointed no one from her youthful days fronting the Waterdaughters alongside auntie LAL WATERSON and cousin Maria Knight; her musical latchkey-kid fame came through her trad/ceilidh-styled band The Kings Of Calicutt.
Award after award has garnishing this little lady of folk ever since she stepped up to the mic, whether for singing, fiddling or just being her hard-working self, Eliza has swept the board as one of folk music’s most enduring and loveable characters on the scene. Solo albums, collaborative albums, family albums and a plethora of sessions has kept the lass busy over the last two decades.
The eponymous ELIZA CARTHY & NANCY KERR (1993) {*6} and the pair’s sophomore release SHAPE OF SCRAPE (1995) {*7}, bookended Liza’s inaugural introduction into the `Waterson: Carthy’ family outing with mum and dad, certainly enough traditional fare and sea shanty to shake up and shiver anybody’s timbers.
On the solo front, but with the same panache and sophistication now that she’d the key of the proverbial door, HEAT LIGHT & SOUND (1996) {*7} showed that no prisoners would be taken in her ambitious interpretations of hearty trad ballads and jigs; session players were Barnaby Stradling, Olly Knight, James Fagan, Dan Plews and Hazel Wrigley, to name just a handful. Her voice as sweet as her virtuoso fiddle playing, songs like `Ten Thousand Miles’ and the a cappella `Clark Saunders’ wined and dined alongside the dance tunes from `Cold, Wet & Rainy Night’ to `Jacky Tar’. Marking time a little by finally releasing an album recording three years previously, ELIZA CARTHY AND THE KINGS OF CALICUTT (1997) {*6}, it was a little overshadowed by a second WATERSON: CARTHY effort `Common Tongue’, issued at the same time. Incidentally, the Kings were Barnaby, Saul Rose, Andi Wells and Maclaine Colston, with Celtic-folk producer John McCusker also on guest violin.
Hailed by fans and critics alike, the masterful double set RED RICE (1998) {*8} saw her work with the usual aforementioned suspects, while it also introduced a few Celtic musicians and song types to the fold (Andy Thorburn was one); she also covered BEN HARPER’s `Walk Away’.
Moving up to the majors after signing to Warner Bros, and with an array of seasoned session players to compete with her Brit-folk friends (and dad Martin on board), ANGELS & CIGARETTES (2000) {*7} brought about a contemporary folktronica, BETH ORTON-meets-KIRSTY MacCOLL feel. Without a sourced song in sight, most of the tracks were penned by CARTHY (or CARTHY and Co), the exception being her rendition of PAUL WELLER’s `Wildwood’.
Eliza stepped back to her comfort zone courtesy of her trad-friendly collaboration with Martin Green on 2001’s DINNER {*5}, a record that paved the way for her reunification with “proper” folk music (and Topic Records) in the shape of ANGLICANA (2002) {*7}. Like Red Rice before it, the set was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, while she’d also guested most notably on albums by BILLY BRAGG & WILCO (`Mermaid Avenue’ Vols.I & II), BLUE MURDER (`No One Stands Alone’) and of course, anything around that time that her immediate family took part including further WATERSON: CARTHY works.
ROUGH MUSIC (2005) {*7} brought in The Ratcatchers: SPIERS & BODEN and the ever-ready Ben Ivitsky, all helping on trad arrangements on cues, a few from the pens of BILLY BRAGG and SCAN TESTER.
After her part in The IMAGINED VILLAGE collective, it was back to basics for Eliza on 2008’s DREAMS OF BREATHING UNDERWATER {*6}, a record scribed by CARTHY and Ivitsky, all but `Hug You Like A Mountain’ from Rory MacLeod; sadly the promotional tour was cancelled due to a cyst in her throat and the birth of her daughter later in the year. Two sets followed in relatively quick succession; the mum & daughter GIFT (2010) {*6} with NORMA WATERSON and the self-penned solo outing NEPTUNE (2011) {*6}.
Deciding to concentrate on domesticity, there was still room in Eliza’s busy schedule for a collaborative set, LAYLAM (2013) {*6} – recorded with (Bella) HARDY, (Lucy) FARRELL and Scots lass (Kate) YOUNG. Violinists/vocalists all, the album – glossed over by Oliver Knight – worked on many levels, their outstanding talent on a par with anything that CARTHY had previously turned her hand to.
Inevitable, as the sun rises in the morning, the pairing of MARTIN & ELIZA CARTHY proved impossible for folks to resist on 2014’s `The Moral Of The Elephant’. A year on and known as much for her worthy collaborations as much as her virtuoso musicianship and singing, Eliza duly teamed up with American musicologist/professor/multi-instrumentalist Tim Eriksen (of CORDELIA’S DAD) on 2015’s BOTTLE {*6}. Wired into the mains on several of the tracks, the electric guitar and searing fiddle combined adequately on several tracks, but overall the timing seemed to be out of sync – intentionally? Taking inspiration from New England and southern Appalachia, the best results don’t come a cappella but in the electricity of the title track, `10,000 Miles’ and the RICHARD THOMPSON-ish `Prodigal Son’ and `Traveler’.
The Wayward Band, a 12-piece, had been constants since 2013, when they became ELIZA CARTHY’s combo companions for live gigs to promote her `Wayward Daughter’ compilation on Topic Records. Reuniting with the said imprint, BIG MACHINE (2017) {*7}, was the singing fiddler’s best set for years; comparable to anything fellow folkies BELLOWHEAD could throw into the “melding” pot. Contemporary folk was in safe hands with the enterprising Eliza, who balanced the set with trad and early folk covers (EWAN MacCOLL’s `The Fitter’s Song’ a highlight) and several of her own jazz-folk compositions from `Fade & Fall (Love Not)’ and `Devil In The Woman’ to `The Sea’ and `Epitaph’; plus there was eclectic guest spots for folk-rock royalty TEDDY THOMPSON and up-and-coming Bristol rapper Dizraeli (aka Rowan Sawday).
A year on, Eliza ventured not far from her home in Yorkshire, when she once again teamed up with mum NORMA WATERSON (and The Gift Band) to perform the elegant and rustic `Anchor’ album.
ELIZA CARTHY hit a financial brick wall, so to speak, when sessions for her follow-up album with The Wayward Band collapsed, and as a result they didn’t get paid. In order to make amends for this unavoidable discrepancy, the folk singer finished work on RESTITUTE {*7} with family and friends (notably her father Martin, Jon Boden, Ben Somers and Dave Delarre). Her saviour PledgeMusic helped with the finance to pay her ensemble, and serve as a mediator for the set’s initial, limited-edition release in February 2019. Topic Records entered the fray for its official dispatch that May, helping fans to finally assess the eloquent trad pieces (including opener `Friendship’) and covers of LEON ROSSELSON’s `The Man Who Puffs The Big Cigar’ and PETER BELLAMY’s `The Leaves In The Woodland’, among several others.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Jun2014-Jun2019

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