2004 : Waiting For Angels

Martin Carthy

01 : The Foggy Dew
02 : Bonny Woodhall
03 : James Hatley
04 : Young Morgan
05 : The Royal Lament
06 : A Ship to Old England Came
07 : Waiting for Angels
08 : Bold General Wolfe
09 : Bloody Fields of Flanders / MacGregor of Rora
10 : The Harry Lime Theme
11 : Famous Flower of Serving Men

First released on CD in the UK 2004 by Topic Records TSCD527

Martin Carthy: acoustic and electric guitars, vocals
Donald Hay: drums, percussion on 1, 4, 6 & 7
Christine Hanson: cello on 7
Martin Simpson: slide guitar on 2 & 5
Paul Sartin: oboe on 2
Ben Ivitsky: percussion on 1; viola on 7; trombone on 8; creaking on 6
Conrad Ivitsky: double bass on 1
Toby Shippey: trumpet on 6 & 8
Eliza Carthy: fiddle & melodeon on 1; octave fiddles on 4; harmonium on 8

Recorded and produced by Eliza Carthy and Bent Ivitsky at Bamboo, Borders except 5, 9 & 10 recorded by Oliver Knight at Panda Sound, Robin Hood’s Bay

Cover photograph by Tom Howard
Design and photo-graphics by John Haxby

All tracks Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy except:
01: Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy / Ben Ivitsky
06: Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy / Donald Hay
07: Martin Carthy
10: Anton Karas
11: new words Martin Carthy / tune Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy

Sleeve Notes:

Mike Waterson will occasionally sing The Foggy Dew to the tune which he learned from a recording of the stentorian Norfok singer Phil Hammond. Mr Hammond was a country boy who had risen to the rank of Major in the British army and had learned this beautifully complete way of the song from an unnamed forestry worker and who, having forgotten the man’s tune, had colonised the better known Britten/Pears version, and made it his own. It’s not so much misunderstood as a song as utterly “not” understood – really because the standard version is so truncated. The tune here is from the incomparable Harry Cox who sang The Barley Straw to it. Harry Cox’s singing in exquisite (always) but the sentiments of that song leave me not feeling too good, so I burgled its tune and this is the result.

Geordie Hamilton was a songwriter and coal miner from around Kirkintilloch who I met in Edinburgh in 1961 through Hamish Henderson. He was an exceptionally graceful singer with a beautiful lyrical sense and I always thought of Bonny Woodhall as his party piece. He would often ask people if they wanted his songs and I am one who gratefully took up the offer although I didn’t feel ready to sing it publicly until much more recently, but it’s always been lurking. I have no idea which particular war it actually dates from and indeed it could be any one of a dozen or so of those 17th-19th century conflicts in which the British army was engaged. But it doesn’t really matter. I think that as a song of an ordinary soldier dying on the field of battle it’s just about unique.

I saw James Hatley in print some while ago and knew that one day I wanted to have a crack at it. This here is a composite of the two versions to be found in F.J. Child with a couple of extra bits thrown in for balance. I get the feeling with some of the songs to be found in that awesome collection that they have never – or at least rarely – been sung and the balance here was all wrong when I first tried it. When a song has been through a few people’s hands it will generally acquire balance – a certain poise – and I thought that that was missing. It’s a story of treachery and trial by ordeal with justice finally being seen clearly to be done. The tune here is from the version of Robin Hood and the Pedlar to be found in the Penguin Book of English Folksongs.

I have to thank Dave Ashmore of The Daily Telegraph for being able to get hold of a full set of words for Young Morgan, two riveting verses of which are sung on the CD of the great gypsy singer Phoebe Smith released on John Howson’s Veteran series. Dave periodically drops into the post books which he has come across or which are (perhaps?) review copies which they at the Telegraph have finished with, and Young Morgan comes from Lovers, Rakes and Rogues, a New Garner of Love Songs and Merry Verses 1580-1830 edited by John Wardroper which he (Dave) sent a few years ago. Thank you very much indeed, Dave Ashmore. What is printed there differs fairly sharply from what is sung here for the simple reason that I learned it and subsequently kicked it around in my head a lot over the space of two years or so before actually singing it. Morgan himself was known as “The Flying Highwayman” and was very much admired by the ordinary people – and not because he gave any of his takings to the people because he didn’t do that. The key, it would seem, was his swagger. According to Wardroper, the ballad writers were so stuck by his popularity thet they had him reprieved in a second song, and sent to France to make trouble there but the public didn’t buy the idea. Indeed, another printed version of the song has Morgan getting a pardon from the King himself anyway. But that spoils the defiant ending for me. So he gets hanged (which is what really happened anyway).

It was Vic Gammon who found The Royal Lament in a book and sent me a photocopy. He says that it was written in the mid-17th century as a lament for the beheading of Charles the First on January 30, 1949 and described that in his accompanying letter as “the greatest day in English history.” Written by a clarsach player called Garve MacLean of Coll it’s an eloquent testament to his (Garve MacLean’s) sorrow at the death of his king. However I still find I’m unable to help myself in agreeing with Vic. And wondering why the English chose to go back so soon afterwards. Ho Hum.

Walter Pardon was a family friend and his truly vast repertoire is a real treasure house. His passion for his songs, that is to say what he considered to be their historical significance and what they meant to him personally, stood in the starkest possible contrast to his utterly understated approach to their singing. I relish the memory of the langour in his voice as he sings A Ship to Old England Came, one of those encounter-with-them-treacherous-French-seadogs songs which seem to abound in the general repertoire. And one of those archaic tunes which still sets my pulse going barmy.

Seems to me that the memory of a remarkable man is looming large over parts of this CD. I’m talking about the late Hamish Henderson, poet, songwriter, scholar, Scot and Internationalist. The title Waiting for Angels, a tune which I began writing about ten or twelve years ago and finished in his memory, is taken from his book of World War Two, Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica. The Bloody Fields of Flanders is a tune from World War One to which Hamish put hie memorable Freedom Come-All-Ye. Actually he once told me that there was evidence that the tune was around before the war and was adopted and named during the conflict itself. Regardless of that, the tune is a corker and his words would make a remarkable National Anthem. Hint. It’s followed by MacGregor of Rora, a lovely brooding tune which I found in the Scots Guards tune book and about which I know nothing.

Bold General Wolfe, as printed in the [Copper Family] song book, differs from the version as sung on record by Jim Copper in 1953, and one of the privileges of this job is that of being able to listen to both and make a choice. And I very much like what Jim does with the song. So I’ve gone there. Both Wolfe and the French General Montcalm were killed in the battle. The other General Wolfe song – sometimes distinguished by it being called Brave Wolfe – has the two of them walking together before the battle starts and “like brothers talking.”

I think that there can be very little doubt but that The Harry Lime Theme is just about the greatest piece of film music anyone ever wrote in an English language film. That’s the objective me. The subjective me says it’s simply the best of the lot. Ever and anywhere. So there. It was written by Anton Karas, who was a jobbing zither player until he played at a party for the cast and crew of the 1940s Carol Reed film The Third Man. He was a part of the package offered by the catering company who provided the food – the sort of package offered at the time by most of the catering companies in Vienna – and that gig must have changed his life. It’s sort of nice that now and again things really do happen in the right way and that the goodies win. Anton Karas died in the early 1990s at a ripe old age having become internationally renowned for the music which he made for that film.

The last song is The Famous Flower of Serving Men – which is very close to my heart. I first recorded it on a now unavailable album called Shearwater and felt that it was time to have another shot at it. Over time these big songs have a habit of revealing more of themselves to you and over the space of thirty years or more this is no exception. The Famous Flower is another name for the May flower which is a symbol of ill luck and mischief. This song is about terminal bullying, child killing, abject humilitation and shame, redemption and terrible revenge. And all in the name of justice. There’s a fury in those first five verses which sends the same shiver through me as when I first read them in 1970. The parson who sent them to Sir Walter Scott never sent the rest (!) so I glued some bits together and made up chunks to tell a story which is clear and terrifying. How people do things like this to each other and survive such episodes is beyond me but they do, don’t they?
Martin Carthy, 2004



fRoots, October 2004
A different kind of Carthy album. A very different kind.

In the last few years his style of delivery has perceptibly shifted and his transformation from powerhouse prince of the revival to keeper of the flame seems more or less complete. Such a key adaptation may in part be of necessity – his voice has undeniably faded in strength and his delivery has become quieter and more measured. But as any fan of latterday Johnny Cash will tell you, wear and tear can evoke its own stirring sense of drama and there’s a certain organic shift in emphasis going on here too. Carthy has spoken much about learning the value of simplicity, the importance of conveying a tale without stylistic distraction and the uncluttered art of storytelling from listening to traditional singers. He’s essentially now surrendered himself fully to their teachings; indeed, since the passing of Bob Copper, an argument might be made that Carthy is now himself the nearest thing we have to the spirit of a true traditional singer.

The key track in all this is the last one, a 10-minute revisit to Famous Flower Of Serving Men, long celebrated as perhaps THE epic keynote ballad of the impassioned young Carthy. Here he reconstructs it with such care and intimacy you hang on for dear life to every word as the horrific story of infanticide, evil and bloody revenge unfolds. His previous version on the Shearwater album was always a favourite, a symbol almost of the rage, dynamism, colour and drama inherent in good folk song. But I do believe this radically different treatment makes that point even more strikingly, while approaching it from an entirely different, deconstructed angle.

It’s an album that exploits the value of space and understatement, but it’s certainly not dated or old-fashioned. Eliza Carthy and Ben Ivitsky behind the controls appear to have seen to that, giving Martin subtle yet important shades around his own ever lyrical guitar accompaniments. Sympathetic fiddle and rhythmic fills behind a lovely version of The Foggy Dew; trumpet and clashing cymbal lending a faintly avant-garde edge to A Ship To Old England Came; yearning cello and viola underpinning the ghostly instrumental title tune; more brass and a very odd harmonium tone pursuing the melody of Bold General Wolfe; and Martin Simpson adding slide guitar to Bonny Woodhall and The Royal Lament. There’s plenty of outstanding guitar from Carthy himself, of course, not least on one of his stage party pieces, the Harry Lime Theme delivered with such loving delicacy, its inclusion goes far beyond novelty value. And on James Hatley he’s uncovered another demon ballad that’s not far off a match for Famous Flower itself.

The 20, 30 or even 40-something Carthy would barely recognise the 60-something animal, but in its own way this is every bit as much of a landmark as anything he did in those days.
Colin Irwin

BBC Radio 2 Music, 2004
Arrhythmia rules OK! At least it does when it’s a Martin Carthy tool for empowering a song. His characteristic distortion of musical metre to accommodate the dramatic pushes and pauses of lyrical narrative has now been tuned to a fine art and is in full flow here. Ever willing to evolve, Carthy nominates as producers Eliza Carthy and Ben Ivitsky whose bold arrangements – notably the percussive barrage of clanks, bangs and susurrations on several songs including the ponderous, lurching A Ship To Old England Came – will divide opinion but complement, in an odd way, Carthy’s idiosyncratic style.

MC’s love for traditional songs and ballads and the “old fashioned singers” who’ve perpetrated them, rages undiminished. An air of great dignity and stateliness runs throughout this collection of songs sourced from the likes of Harry Cox, Walter Pardon, Geordie Hamilton and Jim Copper. It’s bolstered by a cast of quality musicians including daughter Eliza; Paul Sartin’s keening oboe and Martin Simpson’s haunting slide guitar enhance Bonny Woodhall; Bold General Wolfe features the trumpet and trombone of Toby Shippey and Ben Ivitsky. A thrilling new interpretation of Famous Flower Of Serving Men (the epic ballad possibly closest to the man’s heart) takes on a life of its own; it’s almost as if merely channelled by the singer, though that would be to deny the huge amount of care and effort Carthy gives his material.

Carthy himself composed the solemn, string-laden title tune for the late, great Hamish Henderson; The Royal Lament is a pensive slide/acoustic duet with the sublime Simpson; and our man’s favourite piece of film music ever – The Harry Lime Theme – makes a welcome CD appearance. Worth the six-year wait? Yes, though some fans may be glad of their player’s ‘skip’ feature.
Mel McClellan – September 2004


One Response to 2004 : Waiting For Angels

  1. […] represented by three tracks and we get two each from “Signs Of Life” (1998) and “Waiting For Angels” (2004). “The Dominion Of The Sword” from 1988 is the earliest recorded example […]

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