1972 : Shearwater

Martin Carthy

01 : I Was a Young Man
02 : Banks of Green Willow
03 : Handsome Polly-O
04 : Outlandish Knight
05 : He Called for a Candle
06 : John Blunt
07 : Lord Randall
08 : William Taylor
09 : Famous Flower of Serving Men
10 : Betsy Bell and Mary Gray

Previously unreleased bonus tracks on 2005 Castle Music re-issue (BBC Radio 1 John Peel In Session):

11 : The False Lover Won Back
12 : King Henry
13 : Trimdon Grange

First released in the UK March 3, 1972 by PEG Records PEG 12

Also released in 1972 by PEG Records Y8PEG 12 on 8 Track cartridge (see here) with the same tracks but in the following order:

I Was a Young Man
Betsy Bell and Mary Gray
Handsome Polly-O
John Blunt
Banks of Green Willow
Outlandish Knight
Lord Randall
William Taylor
Famous Flower of Serving Men (Part 1)
Famous Flower of Serving Men (Conclusion)
He Called For A Candle

Re-issued 1975 by Mooncrest CREST 25

Re-issued 1991 by Mooncrest CRESTCD 008 (CD) and CRESTMC 008 (cassette)

Re-issued with re-mastered audio and additional tracks 2005 by Castle Music CMQCD1096 (CD) and CMQMC1096 (cassette)

Also released on CD in Japan with reproduction cardboard LP sleeve and Obi strip 21/06/2006  by Strange Days Records POCE-1018 (as part 11 of the “British Rock Masterpiece” series).

Shearwater TECD383

Re-issued 3 November 2017 (without the extra tracks) by Talking Elephant TECD383


Martin Carthy: vocals, guitar, dulcimer (uncredited on I Was a Young Man and Lord Randall)
Maddy Prior: Vocals on Betsy Bell and Mary Gray


Produced by Terry Brown for September Productions Ltd.
Engineered by Jerry Boys

Tracks 11-13 recorded 22 May 1972 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London
Originally broadcast 30 May 1972
Producer: John Walters
Engineer: Bob Conduct

All tracks Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy except:
13: Tommy Armstrong, arr. Carthy

Art Direction and Design by Davis Berney Wade and Farrell
Photography by Keith Morris

2005 Castle CD release:
Project co-ordination by Steve Hammonds and Jon Richards @ SRG
Mastered at Town House
Re-issue design by Shernette Daly @ SRG

Sleeve Notes:

There is a whole group of songs and stories in which the heroine, seeking to hide some shame, takes on a disguise. In Fairy stories, this has come out in, among others, the German tale ‘Catskin’, and the English ‘Cat O’Rushes’, (more ‘Cap O’Ashes’?). I song, one of the forms it has taken  is the one known on Broadsides as ‘The Lady turned Serving Man’, and in drastically curtailed form to Bishop Percy, Sir Walter Scott and Johnson, as ‘The Famous Flower of Serving Men’ or ‘The lament of the Border Widow’. Having first read ‘The Famous Flower’ and been fired with enthusiasm, I was sobered by reading the rather pedestrian text of the Broadside, which immediately followed, and gave the story and ending, because it simply did not match – either in intensity or in elegance – the considerably older, shortened version, and decided to try and tell it my own way. The tune came from Hedy West, who sings it to an American song called ‘The Maid of Colchester’.

In he days before Padstow May revels became the target of annual folk pilgrimage (however non-organised), I remember Cyril Tawney talking about the effect that the incessant beat of the big drum, used to accompany the Padstow May song, had on the revellers. These included local people, people from round about, tourists (plenty of them), and the inevitable gangs of Teds and leather boys, who went along to take the mickey. Inevitably, the Teds and leather boys would end up partaking wild-eyed, with the most incredible dervish-like frenzy.

Come spring, a young woman’s fancy turns too, and this feeling of the sap rising prevails upon my feelings towards ‘The Outlandish Knight’ in general. Having been saved from death, but not from a fate worse than death, by her own presence of mind, she is protected from parental wrath by the presence of mind of her self seeking, get-ahead pet parrot. There’s a moral there somewhere. The tune is my own.

Lord Randall and John  Blunt must be among the more widespread story-ideas in the folk consciousness, the stories remaining more or less the same and varying according to locale and-or the individual imagination of whoever sings them. Variations on the idea of John Blunt range from the Arabian tale where the new husband wins the argument with his bride when she pleads for his life as he is about to be executed for insolence in refusing to answer police questions, to another which has hemp-eating tomb robbers arguing over who shall shut the gate of the vault in which they habitually gorge themselves. Nothing quite so extreme here, but would-be rapists and burglars might take note. I have to thank Phil and Sid of Edinburgh for the original idea which led to me recasting the tune sung to ‘Lord Randall’, known as ‘My Wee Croodlin’ Doo’.

The capacity to work things out to everybody’s satisfaction is sadly lacking in ‘I was a young man’ where the unfortunate husband, dominated from the start, begs death to come as a release. Her death. (Duncan collection of songs from N E Scotland).

Bruce Laurenson, the Shetland singer, first sang ‘He called for a candle’ to Patrick Shuldham-Shaw and it was subsequently released onthe epic Caedmon series, now re-released by Topic, at last. More usually known as ‘Rosemary Lane’, it’s still sung in various forms, and when I was part of Steeleye Span, one of our roadies, Dennis Jordan, knew a version which he learned in the orphanage when he was a child, ending up with the immortal couplet ‘She picked the piss-pot and banged him on the head / Take that you dirty bugger for doing me in bed’.

‘Handsome Polly-O’ is from the recording made by Seamus Ennis of Thomas Moran of Mohill Co. Antrim, and is a nicely unfussy way of doing a song which in one form at one time was part of every folk guitarists staple diet (not so much now. God is good).

It’s probably due to Vaughan Williams decision to follow Percy Grainger in using recording techniques to gather songs, that this perticular version of ‘The Banks of Green Willow’ was rescued. He recorded it from an old man in Hampshire and subsequently had great difficulty in transcribing it, so what he wrote is probably only the merest sketch of the tune.

In the early sailing days, a ship which was becalmed was a ship which was bewitched, and the only way out was a sacrifice. A wrongdoer or a woman onboard could jeopardise the safety of everyone on board, so if trouble came, the Jonah could expect no mercy and lots were cast to find him out. Once the demon had been exorcised, the ship could continue.

The Great Plague struck the Perth area in which Betsy Bell and Mary Gray are supposed to have lived twenty years before it did the same in the south. According to the tradition surrounding the song, one was on a visit to the other at the time of the outbreak, and in order to avoid it they built themselves a bower about three quarters of a mile from Lednock House, on the side of Brauchieburn. Eventually they caught it from a young man who was said to be in love with them both, who used to bring them provisions, and were buried in Dranochhaugh by the River Almond. A stone slab erected on the grave in 1781 had disappeared under a mound of stones put there by various pilgrims by the end of the 19th century but is, in all probability, still there.

Of al the traditional singers I listened to, I think my favourite is still Joseph Taylor of Saxby-all-Saints Lincs. A few years ago, Patrick O’Shaughnessy of the Lincolnshire Association gave ne a copy of a tape of his singing, and it has proved the steadiest source of inspiration. The song ‘William Taylor’ comes from him, although with thinking about it and singing it to myself, a few little variations in the melody have come in. Some sets of the song have the last verse ‘If all young men in Wells and London / Used young girls like he used she / Then all young girls would never marry / Very scarce young men would be’.
Martin Carthy, 1972

Notes from the 1991 Moonscrest CD issue:

Martin Carthy recorded ‘Shearwater’ in 1971, just after leaving Steeleye Span for the first time. His work with that band at the start of their career has just been reissued on Mooncrest’s Please To See the King (CREST 005) and Ten Man Mop Or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again (CREST 009) are now available for the first time on CD, and this reissue of ‘Shearwater’ (which has been long unavailable in the UK) also finds it digitalised, which has never happened before.

Over a career which is now approaching 30 years, Martin Carthy has maintained a solo recording career alongside his work as a duo with both Dave Swarbrick and John Kirkpatrick, and in several bands, including Steeleye, The Albion Band and Brass Monkey. His first solo album was released in 1965, and to date he has recorded at least a dozen albums on his own account, as well as working in theatre productions for both The National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Today he is a member of The Watersons, both as a musician and a member by marriage of this celebrated British traditional folk music family.

His musical style has evolved remarkably over nearly three decades, and his guitar technique has become awesome, particularly in its rhythmic complexity, but each of his solo albums bears listening to in its own right. ‘Shearwater’ is a musical snapshot of the performer as he was in 1971. It has a somewhat stark quality: the guitar playing is driving and powerful, the singing rather slow and deliberate in places. With hindsight, this could well have been due to the novelty of actually being able to hear his own voice again after singing in front of a folk/rock band. Most of the songs on his early albums are from traditional sources, although by the time of ‘Shearwater’ several of them had different tunes put to old words by Carthy, and the text of the epic Famous Flower Of Serving Men is substantially his own. In recent years he has discovered an impressive talent for writing songs about current issues, but songs that he first recorded 25 years ago can still re-appear in his repertoire. Conversely, a song (however popular) will be summarily dropped if he feels its performance is becoming in some way mechanical. He needs to totally immerse himself in a song every time he performs it.

The Songs
There are numerous stories and themes that crop up in the traditional songs of some widely differing cultures worldwide. Subject matter of this type has not necessarily originated from a single idea spread by travellers throughout the ages, but reflects the universal nature of human experience. Most human beings are presumably moved by much the same raw emotions passionate love, jealousy, greed, anger, the desire for revenge, remorse… Even though ‘civilised’ people may try to control their emotions, stories in which they are played out can exert great fascination. Latterday equivalents of the leading characters in the great ballads still appear in local newspapers today: the enraged husband who thinks his wife is unfaithful, the lovers who wait for each other through years of separation, the woman who kills her own illegitimate child, the girl who prefers to die rather than submit to an arranged marriage with a man she hates, the incestuous and jealous brother, and so on. These days there don’t seem to be quite the astonishing vanity of vindictive and murderous mothers-in-law who featured in the old ballads, but the rest are still very much with us, even if they are not necessarily members of the aristocracy and their steeds are made in a Japanese factory and live in garages rather than stables these days.

Several of the songs on ‘Shearwater’ possess this universal appeal/horrid fascination, like the tragic Lord Randal, who is poisoned by his lover, but dies so slowly that he can tell his mother about it and say exactly what revenge must be exacted, or the poor woman in Banks Of Green Willow, who gets thrown overboard with her new-born baby by the captain, a victim to the belief that a female presence (let along such a blatantly feminine process as child-birth!) was such an ill omen for a sea voyage that she would be ditched at the first sign of bad weather. Outlandish Knight (a href=”..child/elfin.html”>Child #4 sounds like a more modern tale of a clever young woman outwitting a would-be thief and murderer, however a creature with impressive mythical credentials appears at the end in the shape of a bird that can talk intelligently and helps its mistress. A personal suspicion is that it was only turned into a less magical sounding parrot by more recent, more pragmatic singers! There are absolutely no frills in William Taylor – he jilts her, she disguises herself as a man to follow him, gets two pistols and shoots him. The End. Almost ‘Frankie & Johnny’-like in its brevity.

The subject of I Was A Young Man is more recognisably modern – the hen-pecked hero just wishes “Death, oh death, come take my wife”, rather than subjecting her to some lingering fate, and any potential violence in John Blunt is stopped short by the humour: the eponymous hero finds himself in a sort of rustic vulgar ‘Catch 22’ situation.

By common consent, the finest piece on the album is Famous Flower Of Serving Men. The plot (brace yourself!): a mother sends violent thugs to her daughter’s house to kill her husband and baby. The young woman digs their graves, buries them, dries her tears, cuts off her hair and dresses herself as a man. She goes to work at the King’s court, where the King falls in love with her although he thinks she is a man, so he makes her his chamberlain. The King goes hunting one day and is led deep into the forest, to the site of the graves, by a magical white hind. He is visited by a white dove who is the spirit of the murdered husband and tells him the whole story, whereupon the King rides home, swearing vengeance on the mother, and sweeps the ‘Famous Flower Of Serving Men’ into his arms, and has the mother taken prisoner and burned at the stake. No mention of happy ever afters. The song is utterly compelling, with its complex but hypnotic rhythm and the vivid images it inspires: ‘They left me nought to dig his grave but the bloody sword that slew my babe’ – it could easily be the substance of a full length opera, a film, a classical ballet, and Shakespeare could have made a major play out of it. Carthy manages to convey all this immense drama and emotion in under ten minutes. A. L. ‘Bert’ Lloyd (one of the doyens of English folk music) apparently once said something about this: one shouldn’t be surprised at such a song being so many verses long, but that it should be so many verses short.

The music on this album is typical of Martin Carthy completely committed, avoiding hype and hating cant. His intensity of focus has proved useful to many friends over the years – one famous singer told me how, at a Festival many years ago, he had left the stage feeling depressed about his performance and that his music lacked direction, and wondering if there was any point in it all. When he mentioned this to Carthy, he was straightened out in a few words and reminded of what the most important things were. Martin Carthy also convinced me to sing naturally, and he is one of the few people who could have done such a thing. It is a rare and wonderful thing that a musician of such enduring quality should still be performing in local, accessible venues. Seek him out.
Maggie Holland and John Tobler, 1991

Notes from the 2005 Castle CD release:

To write about the magnificent career of Martin Carthy is to write about the rich and diverse history of the English folk song revival since the early-1960s. Over the past four decades he has been widely regarded as one of the revival’s pivotal figures; his influence extended far beyond the British Isles – it is well documented elsewhere that Martin’s early work was an inspiration to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Carthy’s reading of Lord Franklin became the template for Bob Dylan’s Dream, whilst his version of Scarborough Fair was the basis of the popular Simon & Garfunkel hit. For four decades his tremendous respect for traditional music has served as an inspiration to generations of folk musicians, whilst his influence has been detected in the work of artists as diverse as Paul Weller, Richard Thompson and Chumbawumba.

Martin Carthy was born on May 21st 1941 in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. His recording career began in in 1963 – at a time when the very notion of accompanied folk song was hotly debated. Early in 1966 Martin began an association with Dave Swarbrick – the finest fiddler on the British folk scene and a remarkably sympathetic accompanist. During the early 1970s he was a member of two pioneering folk-rock ensembles  – Steeleye Span and the influential Albion Country Band. In 1983 he formed the splendid Brass Monkey with accordion maestro John  Kirkpatrick. Since his marriage to Norma Waterson in 1972 Martin has had a parallel performing career with the family ensembles – the Watersons and more recently Waterson:Carthy – and in 1998 was awarded an MBE for his services to folk music.

Shearwater was recorded at London’s Sound Techniques studio in 1971 just after Martin had left Steeleye Span. The album is something of a pivotal piece; Carthy had played an electric guitar and relished the challenge of working in the studio with an acoustic guitar again. In an interview at the time, Martin spoke about his guitar style being rooted in listening to fiddlers, not guitarists, and any traditional music. “I have to say that I don’t really listen to guitar music as such… I’m not a solo guitarist; I’m an accompanist, which is a recently developed style in England, and I’m interested in finding a was of doing it in an appropriate way.”

The album presents a fascinating snapshot of Mr Carthy’s repertoire at that time; a carefully chosen collection of traditional songs, rich with stories which resonate in the contemporary world. For Carthy traditional song embodies the lives and hopes of all those who have handed the songs on. The apparently simple arrangements are very carefully realised and betray his profound ear for every nuance of both the melody and the story of the song. His singing style was influenced by hearing Joseph Taylor, the great north lincolnshire singer recorded in 1908 by Percy Grainger.

Throughout his career Martin has returned to songs again and again, the material on Shearwater os no exception. He has recorded a new performance of ‘Famous Flower Of Serving Men’ on his latest album – Waiting For Angels Topic 2004). Whilst the subtly double-tracked arrangement of ‘I Was A Young Man’ developed during Steeleye Span rehearsals, and was taken into the Albion Country Band sessions in 1973.

Shearwater has been out of print for some years now. For this remastered edition we have taken the opportunity to add Martin’s radio session for John Peel from May 1972, soon after the album was released. At the time, Peel, and his producer John Walters, had become besoted by Carthy’s reading of ‘Famous Flower Of Serving Men’, working up one of their famous tall stories claiming that each time Martin did a session for the Radio 1 show the song had grown by a verse or two!
David Suff, January 2005

2 Responses to 1972 : Shearwater

  1. […] to the majority of Carthy’s recorded output: 17 out of 18 solo albums (1972′s “Shearwater” continues to evade Topic), half a dozen each from Waterson:Carthy and Brass Monkey, plus of […]

  2. […] Flower of Serving Men (1972) Peg Records Taken from the album ‘Shearwater’ PEG 12This iconic track from the underrated (and currently unavailable) ‘Shearwater’ album […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: