1992 : British Fingerstyle Guitar

Martin Carthy

01 : Old Tom of Oxford
02 : Heroes of St. Valery
03 : Siege Of Delhi
04 : La Carde Use
05 : McVeagh
06 : Harry Lime Theme
07 : Seven Yellow Gypsies
08 : Banbury Bill (closing titles – uncredited on sleeve)

VHS video first released in USA and UK 1992 by Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop OV 11208

Re-issued on DVD 2007 by Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop GW927


British Fingerstyle Guitar (video 1992) and A Guitar In Folk Music (book 1987)

A Guitar in Folk Music

Author: Doug Kennedy.
Forward/notes: Martin Carthy
Published by New Punchbowl Music, 1987


About this book
Martin and his music
01 : Scarborough Fair
02 : Lord Franklin
03 : Peggy And The Soldier
04 : Byker Hill
05 : Polly On The Shore
06 : Arthur MacBride And The Sergeant
07 : Seven Yellow Gypsies
08 : Cold, Haily, Windy Night
09 : The Famous Flower Of Serving Men
10 : The Bedmaking
11 : John Blunt
12 : All Of A Row
13 : Willie’s Lady
14 : Lovely Joan
15 : I Sowed Some Seeds
16 : The Devil And the Feathery Wife
17 : The Song Of The Lower Classes
18 : Reynard The Fox
19 : Sovay
20 : The Unfortunate Tailor
21 : The Handweaver And The Factory Maid
22 : The Fox Hunt
23 : Molly Oxford
24 : The Bloody Fields Of Flanders
25 : La Cardeuse
26 : Glorishears
27 : The Third Man

“I loathe tablature because if a hundred people learn to play from it I would hate it if a hundred people ended up sounding like me”. Thus Martin Carthy described his dislike of guitar tablature during an interview with this reviewer back in 1988, making clear his reservations about the then-current publication A Guitar In Folk Music. Unusually perhaps, given the book’s title, tablature is used only for the five featured instrumentals. The remaining bulk of the book – 22 songs spanning Carthy’s career up until the late 1980s – are given in melody line notation only with Carthy’s tunings indicated and full transcripts of the lyrics (with a few interesting additions and amendments to the recorded versions). Occasionally, as in the case of Sovay (here given in the first Brass Monkey album arrangement) a brief note on technique is added to help the reader grasp unusual or intricate approaches but on the whole you’re left to figure these things out for yourself.

Again, it comes down to not wanting everyone to sound the same – the “Carthy Clones” described in the book’s introduction – which forces potential copyists to find their own route through the arrangements. Actually, once you’re used to the tuning (CGCDGA for most of the later songs) it’s a fairly simple (if often laborious) process – even for those like me who don’t read music – to translate the given notation into the most basic single-note melody line on guitar which can then be embellished with bass notes and chords. The only thing you need – other than a rudimentary understanding of the instrument ? is a bucketful of patience. You certainly won’t be bashing out Famous Flower within weeks (or even months), and only the most accomplished players will ever be in any danger of transforming themselves into the dreaded “Carthy Clone”, but most players should be able to at least begin to formulate a few simple arrangements to their favourite songs. Using this technique it’s also just as easy to translate any melody line notation from other sources so now’s the time to dust off those Sharp manuscripts you’ve been hoarding.

If the key to playing songs from this book is to keep it simple then the same certainly can’t be said for the instrumentals. Tablature may give precise note-for-note transcripts of the tunes but it hardly makes them any easier to play. At the time of this book’s publication only one of the tunes (Molly Oxford) had been recorded by Carthy although all five are now available in on form or another. This is useful because these tunes really do require audible clues as to where they are going at any given point. They really should only be attempted by the more experienced guitar players and their complexities make a mockery of Carthy’s concerns about “clones” or copyists.

Interestingly, two of the instrumentals and one of the songs from A Guitar In Folk Music are replicated in the 1993 video lesson British Fingerstyle Guitar. Here Carthy teaches a total of six instrumentals and one song using the conventional “split-screen” mode familiar from most guitar videos.

For each tune Carthy gives a brief introduction (nothing too technical at this stage – more like condensed versions of his stage intros) then plays the tune through once. Any quirks of technique are then briefly explained before the screen is split and each separate part played through slowly (with some parts repeated to show variations where they occur). This whole process goes some way towards demystifying the Carthy technique, but even with the additional help of a booklet giving full notation and tablature for all the tunes (and words for the song) the material here is still largely for the more advanced guitarist.

Heroes Of St Valerie and McVeagh are obviously the easiest tunes here but they both still require commitment and patience to master. The rest will be well beyond the reaches of both beginners and most intermediate players. The reality though is that this release is less interesting as a guitar tutor than it is as a simple performance video. Just watching Carthy perform these eight tracks (morris tune and Carthy live staple Banbury Bill goes uncredited but is played over the closing titles) is the real pleasure here, as is Carthy’s lengthy description of how he came to devise his unique tuning (via Davey Graham and DADGAD you may not be surprised to learn). Any apparent hostility he may have previously displayed towards this kind of project is gone as he finally implores the viewer/player to persevere and “have fun”.

Picture quality is not the best and – more worryingly for this kind of project – the sound manages to be both muddy and full of background hiss, but the overall package is one that any serious Carthy fan – guitar player or not – can’t afford not to own.
Kevin Boyd

Reviewer’s Note:
Subsequent to this review first appearing on the original CarthyOnline website, “British Fingerstyle Guitar” has received a DVD release. Having not seen the DVD transfer I’m unable to comment on whether the sound quality has improved from the VHS version. If you know, please leave a comment below.

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