Posted by Kevin Boyd, 4 July 2009
“The Instrumental Album”: Unfinished project circa 2000 – 2004
Instrumentals of one sort or another – English morris tunes, Irish reels, American rags or a handful of self-written pieces – have frequently formed a significant part of Martin Carthy’s live and recorded repertoire since his earliest collaborations with Dave Swarbrick in the mid-1960s. In fact, one could argue that his reputation as a virtuoso guitarist has largely been as a result of his instrumental work. As if to cement this reputation, Carthy’s next solo project after 1998’s “Signs of Life” album was to have been an album of solo guitar instrumentals. Recording in Robin Hood’s Bay with Oliver Knight started in 2000 and one track (“The Harry Lime Theme”) was included on the “Carthy Chronicles” box set released in May 2001. Here the track was trailed as a cut from Martin’s forthcoming instrumental album which was assigned the catalogue number TSCD527 – placing it between Norma’s “Bright Shiny Morning” from October 2000 (TSCD520) and Brass Monkey’s “Going & Staying” from October 2001 (TSCD531).
Some considerable time then passed before the compilation CD “The Definitive Collection” was issued through the Topic Records budget offshoot Highpoint in February 2003 (HPO6001). This included a previously unreleased instrumental version of “The Banks of the Nile” – a vocal version of which had been included on Martin’s 1988 album “Right of Passage” (TSCD452) – attributed to Martin’s forthcoming album and again quoting the catalogue number TSCD527.
There followed a further hiatus during which time work on the album evidently stalled until Martin asked Eliza and Ben Ivitsky to assist in completing the project. A number of non-instrumental tracks where duly recorded at Bamboo, Borders studio produced by Eliza and Ben and the new CD eventually appeared in September 2004, entitled “Waiting For Angels” and bearing the now-familiar catalogue number TSCD527. Although the idea for an all-instrumental album had been abandoned, remnants of the original Oliver Knight-produced sessions remained with the re-appearance of “The Harry Lime Theme”. “The Royal Lament” and “Bloody Fields of Flanders / MacGregor of Rora“ are also results of the Ollie Knight sessions at Robin Hood’s Bay whilst another instrumental “Waiting For Angels” was recorded with additional musicians during the sessions with Eliza and Ben in Edinburgh. Despite what had previously been indicated on the Highpoint compilation, the instrumental “Banks of the Nile” failed to appear on the finished album.
A post-script to all this occurred with the release of the Bob Davenport CD “Common Stone” (TSCD552) a month after “Waiting For Angels”. Here Carthy provided guitar backing to Bob and Norma Waterson’s version of “I Am A Rover” (an early Watersons classic), but also contributed two entirely solo guitar instrumentals “Jockey to the Fair” and “The Dawning of the Day”. Sleeve notes indicate that at least part of the album was recorded at Robin Hood’s Bay with Oliver Knight as engineer, so given the proximity of the release date with that of “Waiting For Angels” it seems reasonable to assume that these tracks are further remainders from the original instrumental album sessions.
All of which means that a total of only seven tracks (if we include the Eliza and Ben produced “Waiting For Angels”) from the proposed instrumental album ever received official releases. Whether additional unreleased tracks still lurk in the Carthy archives is unknown but the seven issued tracks, in order of release, are:
- The Harry Lime Theme
- Banks of the Nile
- The Royal Lament
- Waiting for Angels
- Bloody Fields of Flanders / MacGregor of Rora
- Jockey to the Fair
- The Dawning of the Day
Speculating on an instrumental-only career-retrospective from various sources and including other musicians, the following tracks – purely my personal choices – suggest themselves as a possible compilation. The illustration above is a mock-up of what might have been the album artwork:
- Grey Daylight / Jenny’s Chickens (Carthy & Swarbrick: No Songs)
- Porcupine Rag (Dave Swarbrick: Rags, Reels & Airs)
- Old Tom of Oxford (Crown of Horn)
- Siege of Delhi (Because It’s There)
- McVeagh (Right of Passage)
- The Sleepwalker (Right of Passage)
- Carthy’s March / The Lemon Tree (Carthy & Swarbrick: Life & Limb)
- The Trip We Took Over the Mountain (Carthy & Swarbrick: Skin and Bone)
- Grand March in the Battle of Prague / Liverpool Hornpipe / Wellington Hornpipe (Waterson:Carthy:Common Tongue)
- The Heroes of St Valery (Brass Monkey: Sound & Rumour)
- Banks of the Nile (The Definitive Collection)
- The Harry Lime Theme (Waiting for Angels)
- The Royal Lament (Waiting for Angels)
- Bloody Fields of Flanders / MacGregor of Rora (Waiting for Angels)
- Bride’s March from Unst / True Lover’s Lament / Lord Inchiquin (Carthy & Swarbrick: Straws in the Wind)