1998 : MBE

Martin carthy was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 1998. The citation is short and simply reads:

“Carthy, Martin Dominic Forbes, For serv English Folk Music”

Martin discussed the award in an interview published in Dirty Linen #84 (October/November ’99):

“Don’t Call Me Sir!” by Steve Winick

Ever since the Queen of England awarded folksinger Martin Carthy the MBE last year, well-meaning fans who don’t know any better (and wisecracking cutups who do) have been adding the honorific “Sir” to Carthy’s first name. So let’s clear this up at the outset. Is a Member of the Order of the British Empire entitled to be called “Sir”?

“No, no, no, no!” Carthy answered in an April 1999 interview. The award, he explained, does not make you a knight. “I think there’s four levels. There’s the Member of the Order, there’s the DirtyLinenOfficer of the Order, which is an OBE, which is what Aly Bain has, then there’s a Commander, then there’s a Knight-Commander.”

Just how did Carthy get picked for this elite group? “It was actually something that was lobbied for,” he answered. “Because these days, the awards don’t come from above. Theoretically, they come from below. People actually put you up for it and they lobby, and they write letters, and they say why it should happen, and ‘Why hasn’t it happened yet?’ This guy in Scotland had been lobbying for it for about three years. And Norma knew, and I knew nothing. And she came in with this big Cheshire-cat grin on her face one night with this large parchment envelope — I couldn’t believe the quality of the envelope! And there it was.”

Carthy admits that he thought twice about accepting the award; he’s not a supporter of imperialism in any form, and the name “British Empire” in the award’s title rankled at first. In fact, he’s still a little uncomfortable with it now. “Don’t imagine that I’ve suddenly become establishment,” he hastened to clarify. “I wish it were called the Legion of Honour, but it’s not.” Still in all, he thinks it’s good for governments to give cultural awards and is suitably honored by this one, which has previously gone to such outstanding folk performers as Jeannie Robertson. To decline under such circumstances, he said, would have been “snotty.”

More importantly, he conceives of his MBE as recognition he shares with the whole folk scene. “I’ve been put at the front of a very, very long queue of people who work hard to make a folk revival and a folk scene,” he said. “All those people who organized clubs for nothing and paid you out of their own pocket, and fed you and put you on the train the next morning, and put you to bed when you were drunk! What [the government is] doing, is taking notice of the fact that something’s going on for the last more than 40 years. It’s called the folk revival. They’ve ignored it for that long. And someone has suddenly taken notice,and that’s okay. A bit of profile isn’t gonna hurt us — and I say us, the plural, for the folk scene — isn’t gonna hurt us at all.”

Related Links:

Order of the British Empire
1998 Birthday Honours List


    One Response to 1998 : MBE

    1. […] Carthy was awarded the MBE for services to English Music in 1998 and won Singer of the Year and Best Traditional Track at the […]

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