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Martin Carthy

+ {Brass Monkey}

Born 21 May 1940, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, the arduous and multi-talented minstrel boy CARTHY has stretched himself in many directions during the past half-century in the folk-music business. A guiding light and father figure to many of his peers and followers, his contributions to STEELEYE SPAN, The WATERSONS (with wife Norma), The ALBION BAND, BRASS MONKEY and others have seen MARTIN CARTHY grow into one of the greatest folk-rock artists of our time.
Abandoning all thoughts of becoming a theatre actor in the late 50s (he’d been an assistant stage manager), his first music job arrived when he joined resident London club skiffle group, the Thameside Four, alongside Redd Sullivan, Pete Maynard and Marian Gray; in 1963, his/their first recordings, `With The End Of Me Old Cigar’ (with Redd) and `My Baby ‘as Gorn Dahn The Plug ‘Ole’, found their way on to a V/A compilation LP, `Hootenanny In London’.
In 1964, while in the UK at a time when folkies SIMON & GARFUNKEL were in the process of giving up the ghost, PAUL SIMON tried Martin’s arrangement of trad cue `Scarborough Fair’ and took the new formula back with him to America; it was around a similar period that DYLAN cited CARTHY’s arrangement of `Lord Franklin’ as the main influence for the track `Bob Dylan’s Dream’ on his ground-breaking “Freewheelin’” set.
1965 was indeed a busy year for Martin: LEON ROSSELSON had invited the man to be an integral part of his new folk outfit, The THREE CITY FOUR (one eponymous LP was delivered for Decca Records); a later LP for C.B.S. only featured CARTHY as guest guitarist, while his self-titled work MARTIN CARTHY {*8} set the proverbial ball rolling and was the first (although not accredited) with magical fiddler DAVE SWARBRICK. Identified as one of the great 60s trad-folk albums, it contained his revolutionary takes of the aforementioned `Scarborough Fair’, `Lovely Joan’ (a counter-melody to Vaughan Williams’ classical `Fantasia On Greensleeves’ piece), `The Trees They Do Grow High’ and the MacCOLL-SEEGER fave, `Springhill Mine Disaster’.
With DAVE SWARBRICK picking up a credit on the sleeve on Martin’s SECOND ALBUM (1966) {*7}, the pair struck up a unique partnership that straddled purist public-domain folk music and the embryonic churnings of folk-rock itself. Without going into too much detail, MARTIN CARTHY with DAVE SWARBRICK reproduced more of the same by way of part-collaborative LPs, BYKER HILL (1967) {*8}, the wholly CARTHY-penned BUT TWO CAME BY (1969) {*7} and back-to-trad-basics PRINCE HEATHEN (1970) {*7}. It was inevitable then that the pair would find their own marketable avenues; SWARBRICK joining up with FAIRPORT CONVENTION, and equally electric and impressive CARTHY to a revamped and regrouped STEELEYE SPAN.
Over the course of the 70s, busy times lay ahead for CARTHY in his various side-lines and solo projects as he spun in and out of Span on a handful of occasions, while he was everywhere from (ASHLEY HUTCHINGS’) ALBION COUNTRY BAND in ‘72 to PETER BELLAMY’s ground-breaking `The Transports’ “folk-opera” double in ’77; squeezed ever so tightly between these folk diversions was his invitation to join The WATERSONS after he wed source-singer NORMA WATERSON.
Not counting a credit with ROY BAILEY on LEON ROSSELSON’s `The Word Is Hugga Mugga…’ set, solo CARTHY carried off a series of fine LPs, kicking off with LANDFALL (1971) {*7}, a traditional return of sorts highlighting renditions of DAVID ACKLES’ `His Name Is Andrew’, JOHN KIRKPATRICK’s `Dust To Dust’ and DAVE GOULDER’s `January Man’. In a similar manifesto, SHEARWATER (1972) {*7}, SWEET WIVELSFIELD (1975) {*5}, CROWN OF HORN (1976) {*6} – featuring ROSSELSON’s `Palaces Of Gold’, BECAUSE IT’S THERE (1979) {*6} – featuring a reading of GILBERT O’SULLIVAN’s `Nothing Rhymed’, and OUT OF THE CUT (1982) {*6} were delivered over the next decade or so.
It was around this time that CARTHY formed Celtic/Brit-folk outfit BRASS MONKEY, teaming up with old muckers JOHN KIRKPATRICK, Howard Evans (who’d sessioned for MC over the years), Martin Brinsford and Roger Williams; the latter was superseded by Richard Cheetham on their second set, SEE HOW IT RUNS (1986) {*6}; the eponymous BRASS MONKEY {*8} had hit the shops in ’83, while further episodes came via SOUND & RUMOUR (1999) {*7}, GOING & STAYING (2001) {*5}, FLAME OF FIRE (2004) {*7} and, without Evans, who died in 2006, HEAD OF STEAM (2009) {*7}, all gratefully accepted by old and new folk generations combined.
Meanwhile, back in his own backyard of sorts for CARTHY, a reunification with SWARBRICK on “comeback” studio album SKIN + BONE (1992) {*7} was warmly received by critics and pundits alike; STRAWS IN THE WIND (2006) {*7}, reunited the iconic partnership once again.
Incidentally, the CARTHY solo machine had never waned, producing several fine albums from 1988’s RIGHT OF PASSAGE {*6} to 1998’s SIGNS OF LIFE {*5} – featuring versions of DYLAN’s `The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll’, Hoagy Carmichael’s `Hong Kong Blues’, Mae Axton’s `Heartbreak Hotel’ and the BEE GEES’ `New York Mining Disaster, 1941’, to 2004’s WAITING FOR ANGELS {*7}, the latter with a worthy take of Anton Karas’ `The Harry Lime Theme’. And did one almost forget Martin’s dream-team connections with husband-wife-and-daughter group WATERSON: CARTHY (with talented daughter Eliza). Obviously not. In fact, it was no surprise that the combination of MARTIN & ELIZA CARTHY proved irresistible for folk fans the length and breadth of the country and beyond. THE MORAL OF THE ELEPHANT (2014) {*7} was typical earthy traditional fare, with one exception, the broody interpretation of Molly Drake’s `Happiness’; she being the mother of the late, great NICK DRAKE. Graceful beyond belief and rich in Celtic-folk tapestry, the father-daughter team excelled on `Grand Conversation On Napoleon’, `Queen Caraboo’, `The Elephant’ et al.
Continuing on from this significant studio set came the CD/DVD package – available via Pledge Music – of LIVE AT THE PAVILION 2018 {*6}; it was recorded that February in Hailsham, East Sussex; the father/daughter team weaved their magic from `Her Servant Man’ to `John Barleycorn’.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Jun2014-Oct2018

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