I’ve retained the transcript of this interview for anyone who’s interested in reading it (below) but you can now also listen to the complete recording here:
A complete transcript of Martin Carthy’s appearance on BBC Radio 3’s Andy Kershaw Show on Sunday 17th October 2004.
AK: So to our live entertainment. One of our finest traditional singers and guitarists, and historians for that matter; the head of the Waterson:Carthy dynasty; husband of Norma Waterson; father of Eliza Carthy: playing live for us here in the studio. The great Martin Carthy.
Martin Carthy sings Jackie Tar
AK: Well that’s one way of getting the girl. That was Jackie Tar performed live here in the studio by the great Martin Carthy who’s our guest on the programme this evening. Martin, smashing to see you.
MC: It’s nice to be here Andy. Thank you.
AK: Thanks for coming in. Where did you get that from?
MC: Erm, I don’t know where I learned it except the words I learned originally on one hearing from a fella called Neville Labworth in a coffee bar called The Witches Cauldron when I was seventeen. And he wouldn’t give me the words and I went home furious and I sat in my bedroom on my bed and played the bits he’d played on guitar until I’d remembered all the words (laughs).
AK: And have you, on any of your albums over the years, recorded that or is that an exclusive for us on this session?
MC: Well it’s… I’ve recorded it with a different tune on an album years and years ago but that’s actually a preview of an album I’m making with Swarb.
AK: Oh right. Right now?
MC: We’re doing an album at his place right now.
AK: How is he?
MC: He’s better than a person with emphysema would expect to be. he’s doing very well ’cause he’s a very determined bloke you know.
AK: This is Dave Swarbrick, obviously, we’re talking about.
MC: Yeah. We did a tour last September and he was playing absolutely breathtakingly well, he really was.
AK: And when’s that likely to be released?
MC: Well, when we get it done. It’ll be some time, I imagine, in the new year because I’ve just done a family album, just done a solo album, just done a Brass Monkey album so I don’t think Topic want to crowd things together too much. So it’ll be some time, I imagine in the spring, my guess.
AK: Well, as you say,m a new solo album Waiting For Angels on the Topic label has just been released, your first one in six years – your first solo album. Why has it taken you that long?
MC: Well I don’t know. A mixture of indolence and clumsiness. I started doing it about five years ago and was doing really well and then I just got interrupted basically. I kept stopping and finally I just couldnt keep it up and I just completely lost my way and I just gave Liza a ring ’cause I’d had an advance from Tony [Engle – head of Topic records] to do it and it was five years or four-and-a-half years bt that time. And I rang Liza up and said, help! Can you help me make this album? So she just said, how do you feel about some of my Edinbrough mates playing on it? And I said, fine, do what you want. So I went up to hers and did it. We did it in a week.
AK: How is the family anyway? How’s Norma? How’s Liza?
MC: Liza’s fantastic. She’s living outside Edinbrough. She’s very happy. Norma’s singing beautifully but she has proiblems with her arthritis and it’s osteo-arthritis which is the nasty one. So she’s up-and-down but there’s a lot to that woman.
AK: There certainly is. Do give her our best wishes.
MC: I certainly will.
AK: On the new record Waiting For Angels you’ve revisited one-or-two old favourites. I note there’s a version of General Wolfe which you do with The Watersons
MC: That’s right.
AK: And The Harry Lime Theme which you recorded for us in a session probably the best part of 15 years ago, something like that. And well, the old favourite Famous Flower Of Serving Men. Why have you gone back to do those songs again?
MC: Well the Harry Lime theme, people were asking – I’ve had a lot of people asking me about it: is it on record? And the only thing it’s on – well, the only things its on – there’s a Cambridge Festival record which you mcan’t get, there’s a Kershaw Sessions which you can’t get…
AK: Thank you BBC Enterprises!
MC: BBC Enterprises! And then there’s a box-set which costs 40 quid so I can’t really ask people to pay out 40 quid just for one track so I decided I’d just put it on the album. Famous Flower? I don’t know. It was time to have another go at it on record.
AK: Because the album it was on, Shearwater, about 1972, is…
MC: Two, three? Yes, something… Yes you’re right.
AK: …is the only one – the only album in your back catalogue which I think is unavailable. Why is that?
MC: Well, because it was originally made for B & C which became Pegasus, which became Peg, which became Mooncrest, which became Crest and it’s sort of leapfrogged from company to company. I don’t know who owns it now but it’s the only one that Topic can’t get their hands on. And again, people have been asking for it and it’s a song that means a lot to me, it really does.
AK: You had to piece it together from a number of sources, didn’t you?
MC: Well, what I did, I read it in… it’s in the Child Collection and with most of the things there’s a fairly long introduction before you actually get to the words of the thing and I was reading the intruduction and I was flipping over. Prince Heathen is – it’s actually coincidental really ’cause Prince Heathen is number one-hundred-and-four and that’s one of my all-time favourites and I can’t remember what’s number one-hundred-and-five but I skipped over that and I got to number one-hundred-and-six and I start reading this… And I read these four-and-a-half verses and I felt like I was on fire. I couldn’t believe it and it was The Famous Flower Of Serving Men and those first four-and-a-half verses which one of those parsons, who was always around collectors and antiquairians, had sent to Sir Walter Scott. And he never sent him the rest. He just sent the four-and-a-half as a teaser or something and I went from that to the words that were printed and they just didn’t do anything so I just set about trying to tell the story.
AK: So you wrote a lot of it yourself them?
MC: I wrote a lot, yeah. I wrote a lot of it. The bit that sort-of came out of thin air is the bit about the dove and the hind and the tears of blood and all that. that’s my bit.
AK: I notice on the new album, the new version of Famous Flower Of Serving Men is actually longer than the version that was on Mooncrest which would seem to confirm… remember my dear departed former Radio 1 producer John Walters? Whenever you did Famous Flower for either myself or for John Peel you would always find Walters standing by the tape recorder in the office going, Hmm, makes it up as he goes along you know. Gets longer every time he does it. The fact that it now comes in at 10 minutes and five seconds instead of eight minutes and twenty would seem to confirm Walters’s theory, Martin. I think we’d better have it, don’t you?
MC: Well, it’s a good reason actually. Well, I think there’s a good reason. I tell myself there’s a good reason and I think it’s only ’cause I sing it slower. I’ve not heard the Mooncrest album for a long time. All I can imagine is that I must have sung it at Grand Prix speed.
AK: yes. I was going to use the phrase ‘youthful attack’, I think you approach it in 1972.
Martin Carthy sings The Famous Flower Of Serving Men
AK: Nine minutes and 40, Martin.
MC: Oh, I’ve let you down.
AK: I’m afraid you haven’t broken the record. We were hoping to crack the eleven-minute barrier tonight.
MC:I’ll do it again?
AK: Of all the bits you had to compose yourself, was the line about the fire that ‘spat and rang in her yellow hair’, was that one of yours?
MC: I don’t think so. Could have been. I’m not sure. I don’t think so.
AK: I was gonna say, bravo if it was. It’s such a vivid image of somebody going up in flames.
MC: Spat and rang? Spat and sang? Actually no, it’s ‘spat and rang’ is mine. ‘Spat and sang’ is what I’d heard before. Spat and sang, yeah.
AK: Wonderful. That was Famous Flower Of Serving Men. Martin Carthy live here on the Kershaw programme on Radio Three and we’ll have a bit more music from Martin later in the programme.
AK: Martin Carthy’s still with us and we’ll have a bit more music from Martin now. This one: The Foggy Dew.
Martin Carthy sings The Foggy Dew
AK: Another of your shagging songs, eh Martin?
AK: Quite a number of them in your repertoire.
MC: Yes. (laughs)
AK: Go on, tell us a bit about the history of that one.
MC: Well, it comes from a bloke in Norfolk whose name was Phil Hammond. Of all the full versions of that song that’s the one I really do love because it seems to me you’ve got a story of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone’, you know? And I just love it. The line towards the end, “I put my boots and my trousers on and I ran for my neighbour too” never fails to move me, you know. Even when I’m singing it. When I first heard that song in the fifties all you had was a two-verse version or a three-verse version and the two-verse version had the middle verse cut out because the editor thought it was ‘unseemly and unnecessary’, right? And me and my mates used to talk about it and we decided that one day someone was going to come along and collect it and we didn’t know that all those guys from the BBC had actually been going out and doing that in the late-forties and the early-fifties and mid-fifties.
AK: Very good. And your version of it opens your latest CD which is Waiting For Angels on the Topic label. Since you were last with us Martin, and I know it’s been a few years now and we’re going back a year or two for this too, you were honoured, weren’t you? Which did you get?
MC: I got an MBE, yeah. And I also got a doctorate from Sheffield University.
AK: Fantastic! I got one from the University of East Anglia.
MC: Did you really?
MC: Ah, Doctor Andy and Doctor Mart!
AK: Absolutely. And what was the citation for?
MC: For services to English folk music.
AK: Congratulations. And who gave it to you? Was it Brenda herself?
MC: I got Brenda, yeah. Madge!
AK: Not one of her deputies.
AK: What did she say to you?
MC: She said, “Glad to do this one”
AK: “I’ve got all your albums”, did she say that?
MC: Every one.
AK: Did she say, “have you come far?”
MC: No. Does she say…?
AK: You know, they usually say, “Have you come far?”, the Royals, when they meet ordinary folks like us. Play us another one, Martin.
MC: Okey doke.
AK: What have you got for us?
MC: Do you fancy The Royal Lament?
AK: Instrumantal off your new CD?
MC: Off the new CD.
AK: And again, the provenance of this was…?
MC: Oh, a chap called Vic Gammon who sent it to me with a great message written on it: “You should play this on guitar. Ps. This celebrates the greatest day in English history: January 30th 1649″. Which is the day of the beheading of Charles the First”
AK: Did you point this out to the Queen when you met her?
MC: I did. Well, I didn’t play it to her. (jokingly) I thought she might be interested.
AK: This tune was originally written for which instrument?
MC: It was written for the clarsach and was written by a guy called Garv Maclean of Coll.
AK: What’s a clarsach?
MC: Clarsach is a small harp. Small table harp Scots play. And I’d really like to know if there’s any more of this blokes music around. I love this tune. It’s a simple tune but it’s got so much heart.
AK: Been great to see you. Thanks very much.
MC: Thanks Andy. Been good to see you too. Here y’are…
Martin Carthy plays The Royal Lament (instrumental)
AK: Martin Carthy finishing off his live session for us with that one called The Royal Lament and you’ll find a version of that on Martin’s new album Waiting For Angels on the Topic label.