Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick
01 : Arthur McBride and the Sergeant
02 : The Begging Song
03 : Such a War Has Never Been
04 : Lord Hadde’s Favourite / Lady Mary Haye’s Scotch Measure
05 : The Bows of London
06 : Carthy’s March / The Lemon Tree
07 : A Question of Sport
08 : Mrs Bermingham / No 178 / Blind Mary
09 : The Keesh and the Creel
10 : Lochmaben Harper
11 : Lucy Wan
12 : Byker Hill
VHS Pal video first released in the UK 1992 by Musikfolk MF02
Martin Carthy: vocals, guitar
Dave Swarbrick: fiddle
Recorded live at the West End Centre, Aldershot 1991
Produced and directed by Graham A Coopey
Executive producers for MUSIKFOLK Productions: Steve Sheldon & Ian Rennie
Sound Technician (West End Centre): John Garnett
Cover Design & Artwork: Terri Anderson
Special thanks to all at the West End Centre, Aldershot, especially Jem Brace and Jenny Barrett without whom etc., and Tony Engle at Topic Records.
A full-length concert video of Carthy and Swarb’s “farewell” tours was probably overdue by the time this was release in 1992. Recorded the previous year (the title refers to them both having reached the age of 50) this 70-minute in-concert film is an excellent record of the duo’s tours of this period.
Filmed live at a typical Arts Centre gig there are few surprises here, with the twelve tracks taking in the usual mix of old and new material, most of which appears on their two “comeback” albums Life & Limb and Skin & Bone. The first track, however, was inexplicably omitted from both those albums so it’s particularly interesting to hear their updated take on Arthur McBride. It’s presented here complete with a couple of extra verses that Carthy freely admits to have filched from Paul Brady. It’s a great version and it establishes the mood for the rest of the set. What we get in contrast to the 1969 Prince Heathen album version is – on the surface at least – a much less boisterous performance: more measured though certainly no less indignant towards its subject.
This sense of an almost dignified anger is carried over to stunning effect into the next song, Carthy’s reworking of The Begging Song. Here the version from Life & Limb – itself a rewritten version of the duo’s A-Begging I Will Go from Carthy’s first album – gets a further make-over and reveals a scathing indictment on privilege and position and on the complicity of the so-called free market economy. It’s something that was probably always there in the original but which is here brought to the very surface.
A similar sense of anger populates Such A War Has Never Been, Les Barker’s Gulf War poem set to music by Carthy, which would later become the centrepiece of Skin & Bone. Then follows another rarity: Lord Hado’s Favourite/Lady Mary Haye’s Scotch Measure would later appear on Swarbrick’s solo album Live At Jacksons Lane but this is a unique release for the duo. They make a good stab at it then lead into three tracks featured on Life & Limb: Bows Of London – their version of Two Sisters; Swarb’s double-tribute Carthy’s March/The Lemon Tree; and Carthy’s own double-tribute (of sorts) to Thatcherism and Apartheid, A Question Of Sport. These three – along with The Lochmaben Harper – are clearly well rehearsed elements of the duo’s repertoire by this point and present few surprises for those familiar with either the live shows or the album from which they are lifted.
Of the three other selections that would eventually make their way onto the next album Skin And Bone, two – Mrs Bermingham / No.178 / Blind Mary and The Keesh & The Creel (later re-titled The Ride In The Creel) – appear equally well rehearsed here. The exception is Lucy Wan. It might be unfair to call this rendition “under rehearsed” in light of Carthy’s oft-stated assertion that the duo seldom arrange things and do much of their rehearsing onstage. However, the atmosphere of tragic doom evident in the Skin & Bone recording is clearly missing here. Swarb seemingly improvises an accompaniment to Carthy’s sparse vocal and guitar arrangement. It’s certainly not a complete disaster but this song would clearly be better served by the duo’s later studio recording.
Finally, the set ends with another old favourite Byker Hill, expanded – as with the Life & Limb recording – by a couple of lavish instrumental sections. The usual intricate instrumental interplay is evident here and it’s a fittingly skilful end to an excellent set.
There are plenty of potential grievances about this video release. The sleeve is truly awful, the two-camera format fails to provide any real visual interest and the bland lighting does nothing to counter this impression. More problematically, the sound quality is less than perfect: background hiss is evident throughout and the overall mix is muddy and indistinct. But as a unique record of Carthy and Swarb’s live shows of this period – arguably their best – this is essential viewing. It was only ever sold on a couple of tours in the early 90s so those of us lucky enough to own a copy should hang onto them. Everyone else should lobby its publisher Musikfolk or watersoncarthy.com for an immediate DVD release.