Acorn Entertainments were Martin Carthy’s booking agents in the late 1980s. This is a transcript of the standard artist biography / press release that was supplied to anyone booking Martin through Acorn during that period.
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Martin Carthy was born in Hatfield on the 21st of May 1941. This claim to fame for Hatfield occurred because although Martin’s mother was taken into hospital in London to give birth, the whole hospital was then promptly evacuated to Hatfield. On their return to London the family were immediately evacuated to Glen Coe for a sort spell, and then to Liverpool (which was being bombed as regularly as London), until they eventually returned to London, where Martin was brought up.
A normal sort of existence followed until in 1956 Martin heard ‘The Rock Island Line’. This inspired him to pick up a guitar which his Father had kicking about the house (he didn’t play it….. it just kicked about!) – and he was on his way. It was an unusual household, in that there were a number of instruments about, although no-one played them – the family were interested listeners to music rather than performers, except in church or on bath nights.
He left school at 17, where he had played in the obligatory Skiffle band, and went to work as a prompter at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. He worked under Robert Atkins. the last great Actor/Producer, and ‘coined it in’ at five shillings a night. Then on the road for the first time as Assistant Stage Manager for The Merry Widow. This ensured that he had plenty of time throughout the day to practice his guitar, which was a constant companion. He became the Assistant Stage Manager at The Theatre In The Round in Scarborough, and at the end of the season he was out of work. Whilst at school he’d played at some of the London coffee houses, so he returned to such places as The Loft, and The Witches Cauldron, where he was paid a pound and given a meal.
It was during this period that he became aware of Bert Lloyd, Ewan McColl, Seamus Ennis, Jeannie Robertson, and many others. From 1957-8 he became drawn by and more involved in English/British variations of the American music which he discovered as a result of Skiffle. This tempted him to switch to other instruments such as the fiddle or the concertina, but after a nice lie down he felt better.
During the early 1960s there was a tremendous amount of musical action in London, which had become, along with the USA and Paris, part of a triangle of musical ideas and influences. On the ‘Streets of Paris’ (which was the original title of a certain Ralph McTell song), could be seen (apart from Ralph himself), the likes of Rambling Jack Elliot, Derrol Adams, Alex Campbell, Wiz Jones, and many others who have since vanished or moved on to greater things. In London, an American who had come to do a television play for BBC Television, a certain Bob Dylan, blew asunder the minds of his listeners as he trogged around doing floor-spots. He influenced Martin, as Martin influenced him, but as a guitarist the biggest influence on everyone was undoubtably Davey Graham.
Martin was then doing solo work and also playing with a quartet called THE THAMESIDE FOUR with Marion Grey, Redd Sullivan, and Pete Maynard, in such folk clubs as there were. He paid the rent with a residency at the Elizabethan Rooms in the Gore Hotel.
About 1963, Martin met DAVE SWARBRICK, who, looking slightly bemused, appeared at ‘The Troubador’ with a Bluegrass/Old Timey band called the Charles River Valley Boys. Apparently ‘The Boys’ had met Dave on the train on the way to the gig, found out he was a fiddler, and more or less kidnapped him. Martin and Dave later became friendly when Dave was with THE IAN CAMPBELL FOLK GROUP, and they played together on Martin’s first Album for Fontana released in 1965 (for which Dave was actually fined one-third of his salary by his own record company – Transatlantic – for performing without their permission).
In March 1966, Dave left The Ian Campbell Folk Group and teamed up with Martin, with whom he played for the next three and a half years. During this period Martin claims that Dave taught him more about music and the taking of musical chances than anyone before or since.
Dave joined FAIRPORT CONVENTION in 1969, and Martin then sang solo until he received a ‘phone call in May 1970 inviting him to join STEELEYE SPAN. Two years and two albums later, he left to return to solo work.
In May 1972 he made an album with THE WATERSONS and various original members of Fairport Convention. Called ‘Bright Phoebus’, its songs were all written by Mike and Lal Waterson. It was then that Martin and Norma Waterson decided to get married and in June 1972 the deed was done.
1973 saw Martin join the ‘ill-fated, utterly wonderful, but badly underrated’……… THE ALBION COUNTRY BAND. This lasted one year, and then he joined THE WATERSONS, with whom he still sings. Having re-joined STEELEYE SPAN in 1977 he ran the two in tandem for a year, until reverting to solo work again.
In the summer of 1979 he began a musical association with JOHN KIRKPATRICK, which as it expanded became BRASS MONKEY, with HOWARD EVANS, MARTIN BRINSFORD, and RICHARD CHEETHAM. The band still perform on a semi-permanent, now-and-then basis.
He is still occasionally involved in the Theatre, where he performed in the stage adaptation of Flora Thompson’s ‘LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD’, and as a musical Director for the Royal Shakespeare Company.