Martin Carthy: 11 March 2019

12 March 2019

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 12 March 2019

It’s almost two years since my last Martin solo gig and this one was in the same venue. The Midway in Stockport is a proper old school folk club, with all the attendant pros and cons that come with grass roots music promotion. The seating was cozy to say the least, with people rammed into every available corner, and the lights took on a life of their own, deciding to stage a strike for at least 90% of the gig and only intermittently bursting into life at a few odd, unscheduled moments (see for example my Bows Of London video below at around 6:14).

The set was fairly familiar with only two items I’d not heard Martin sing before: Scarborough Fair has been back in his set recently in a version from Goatland originally learned for the BBC short drama Remember Me and there was a nice introduction referencing his experiences of that recording and his reaction to the finished version; Tea’s Made was one of only a handful of self-written songs regularly sung by Mike Waterson and it’s nice to hear Martin keeping this one alive and with Mike’s introduction/explanation pretty much entirely intact.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that Martin forgot the words to two songs during the evening: Bill Norrie missed a couple of verses (Martin stopped and gave a brief précis of the missing verses before carrying on) and The Devil And The Feathery Wife had to go without its last verse.

First Set:
The Bedmaking
Her Servant man
Scarborough Fair
When I Was A Little Boy
Nancy Of London
Bill Norrie
A Stitch In Time

Second Set:
Don’t Go In Them Lion’s Cage Tonight
Bendigo, Champion Of England
The Deserter
High Germany
My Son John
The Downfall Of Paris
Invitation To A Funeral
The Bows Of London
Young Morgan
Georgie
The Devil And The Feathery Wife
Tea’s Made

 

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This is… Martin Carthy: the album that changed everything!

10 February 2019

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 10 February 2019

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“This is… Martin Carthy – The Bonny Black Hare and other songs” was one of a couple of major compilations of material from Carthy & Swarbricks 1960s recordings to appear in the early ‘70s. It was also the first Martin Carthy album I ever heard about 15 years after its original 1971 release, but I’ve never actually owned a copy until today.

I’d been obsessing over The Watersons for months after hearing them by accident on Andy Kershaw’s Radio 1 show in August 1986 and had borrowed everything of theirs I could find in my local record library. At the time, I worked as a printer and my mate and colleague Allan Wilkinson – you may know his tireless work as head honcho at Northern Sky Magazine – suggested I check out Martin Carthy: “He does the same type of songs as The Watersons but sings solo and plays great guitar. You’ll like him”.

I wasn’t interested. Not one bit! The thing I loved most about The Watersons was precisely their lack of guitars (or any instrumentation, for the most part) and the thing that set them apart was their inspiring harmonies. How could one bloke warbling on his own to a guitar accompaniment ever match the intensity of a Watersons album? I wasn’t having any of it, so I forgot about this “Martin McCarthy” bloke for a while.

Eventually, when it became clear I’d exhausted the record library’s supply of Watersons releases  I took the plunge and borrowed a Martin Carthy album. This was in the pre-CD era when most mainstream record shops simply didn’t stock folk music, and even if they did it’s unlikely I’d have been able to afford them on my meagre wage so I borrowed. I’ve no idea why I chose to borrow this particular album on this occasion. I suspect it was the only one they had available at the time. The fact it was a cassette copy would seem to back this up – I’d always prefer vinyl back then given the option.

I don’t recall what I thought of Side One – The Fowler; Brigg Fair; The Barley Straw; Byker Hill; John Barleycorn; Streets Of Forbes. There was no Road to Damascus moment just yet, but I must have been impressed, or perhaps intrigued, enough to turn over for Side Two because I know I got as far as Ship in Distress, Jack Orion and White Hare. Then the next track started and everything changed…

Anyone growing up in the British Comprehensive schooling system in the 1970s and early-80s will know the excruciating agony of the weekly (if you were lucky – perhaps daily if you were less so!) communal school assembly sing-along. This is where I first learned – and learned to hate – such dross as Kum Ba Yah, All Things Bright And Beautiful, and He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands – the agonising list could go on! And because the Teacher Training Colleges of the ‘60s and ‘70s were breeding grounds not only for our future educators, but also for a future generation of folkies, the repertoire would invariably also be troubled with a smattering of contemporary folk ‘hits’, one of which was Sydney Carter’s Lord Of The Dance.

God, I hated that song! It was an irrational hatred, sure, but a real hatred nevertheless. I should say that I also hated Streets Of London and several of Simon & Garfunkel’s better-known ditties. It didn’t matter that some – probably all – of these were fine songs by any normal standards. The fact we were forced to sing them to insufferable piano or guitar accompaniments instilled a special kind of revulsion in the souls of those pre-pubescent lads and lasses who would much rather be listening to Sex Pistols, The Specials, Big Wheels Of Motown… virtually anything, in fact.

I wasn’t 100 percent certain the ‘Lord Of The Dance’ listed on the cover of my borrowed cassette was the same song I’d learned to despise several years earlier, but within the first few bars it became clear that it was. Then something weird happened… I found myself actually enjoying it. I mean – REALLY enjoying it! I still don’t know why – all my experience should have told me to hate it but, for reasons I still can’t properly explain, I was strangely fascinated by this odd little quasi-religious song.

Maybe I was finally hearing the song in a new light, or maybe it was just the forceful nature of the performance, driven by Carthy’s occasionally idiosyncratic vocal phrasing and Swarb’s driving fiddle. Whatever it was, it made me sit up and listen in a way I hadn’t quite managed with the previous tracks on the album. When the song ended, I played through the rest of the album – Poor Murdered Woman; Bonny Black Hare – then turned over and started Side One again, this time with a renewed interest in the words, their stories, the phrasing and the rhythmic quality to the guitar playing.

Ultimately, Lord Of The Dance didn’t last too long in my affections and was fairly quickly supplanted by the likes of John Barleycorn and Byker Hill from this album and a whole list of tracks from many other albums. In fact, it may be true to say that Lord Of The Dance is now one of my least favourite tracks from Martin Carthy’s 1960s albums, but I’m not sure that matters. Along with the other tracks on this album it did its job when I first heard it and got me started on a 30-plus-year passion – some may say near obsession (near? Who am I kidding?) – with Martin Carthy’s music. And today I can finally say I own a copy of the album that changed everything…

This is… Martin Carthy in DISCOGRAPHIES


Memorabilia: c. 1971 press pack

19 July 2018

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 19 July 2018

I’m not much of a memorabilia collector but, perhaps because I started my working life in the print industry, I do have a soft spot for vintage posters, press materials and printed ephemera in general. So, after paying an unexpected £16.80 customs bill (not exactly extortionate, but still!) I just took delivery of this.

It’s a c.1971 US press pack from September Productions Limited from the personal collection of Ed Ward, a writer and radio commenter known as the “Rock-n-Roll Historian” for NPR’s program ‘Fresh Air’. Ed is one of the original founders of the SXSW festival and was on the staff of Crawdaddy!, Rolling Stone and Creem magazines in the 60’s and 70’s.

Martin was signed to September Productions throughout the period he was in Steeleye Span during 1970/71 and for a brief time afterwards. The Carthy/Swarbrick album referred to in the hand written letter is most likely the 1971 Selections compilation that has been reissued several times and is still widely available. The album they hoped to make “for Europe and most English speaking countries” with the help of Transatlantic Records never really happened, although there was a (now extremely rare) release in New Zealand and Australia, also called Selections and including the two songs quoted in the letter. I’ve written about this ultra-rare release in a bit more detail previously.


‘Martin Carthy’ (1965) infographic

29 January 2018

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 29 January 2018.

In the first of what I hope may develop into a series, I’m posting this infographic telling the story of  Martin Carthy’s first solo album. Click on the image to view in full size.

MC infographic


New website: The Martin Carthy Broadcast Archive

1 January 2018

For the past couple of months I’ve been working on a new Martin Carthy website which is now live.

The Martin Carthy Broadcast Archive is an attempt to catalogue six decades of radio and TV appearances and to preserve the available recordings if they are not currently available commercially or otherwise in the public domain. It’s very much a work in progress and there’s lots still to be done (so be gentle with me) but this launch video should give you an idea of what it will include.


Photo Gallery: The Watersons, 16 October 1987

16 October 2017

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 16 October 2017

In a slight departure from my usual photo gallery posts, I hope you’ll forgive my indulgence as I post a few shots from the first time I saw Martin sing live exactly 30 years ago today. This lineup of The Watersons – Mike, Lal, Norma, Rachel and Martin – operated briefly and only sporadically towards the end of the 1980s. I’ve seen several variations of the ‘Waterson Family’ in subsequent years and I’m closing in on 80 Martin Carthy gigs of various lineups and ensembles in total (I’d like to say I wasn’t counting, but I’d be lying!) but this gig remains a special memory. I happened to have a camera with me that night and although these are not my best shots I’m happy that I still have a record of the gig. The Rockingham Arms advert appeared in the Sept-Nov 1987 issue of Sheffield-based folk listings magazine Stirrings.


Fake Martin Carthy singles

30 May 2017

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 30 May 2017

This isn’t a post about bootleg or pirate releases – that may provide an interesting subject for a future post but this is something altogether different. This concerns the kind of fake single I recently posted about on this site’s Facebook page. I speculated as to what, in an imaginary parallel universe where 7-inch singles were part of Martin’s standard output in the pre-CD era, would have been the perfect single from his 1960s to 1980s output. To illustrate my post, and just for a bit of fun, I mocked up some artwork to show what my initial choice – Three Jolly Sneaksmen – might have looked like on 7-inch vinyl.

Having thought a little more I concluded that it would also have been totally remiss to have not released Scarborough Fair in 1965 had singles rather than albums been the common currency in folk music. I mocked up another illustration before it occurred to me that it might have been interesting if all five labels that issued solo albums by Martin during this period had also released accompanying singles. It was a short step from there to me attempting to put together a further three illustrations to complete the set.

This project – if you can call it that – has just been a bit of fun so below are my five fake Martin Carthy singles with some brief thoughts on why I think they would have made great releases and notes on the sources used to replicate the period label and cover artworks. Production and publishing credits would have all been correct at the time of original release and where catalogue number prefixes are used they are true to the various labels (although the actual catalogue numbers are invented).


‘Scarborough Fair’ (1965) Fontana Records
Taken from the album ‘Martin Carthy’ TL5269
Fake Single - SF1965
The archetypal 60s Carthy track from his first album would surely have been an obvious choice as a single. It might have also provided the perfect foil for Simon & Garfunkel’s version that Simon famously learned/borrowed/stole (delete as applicable) directly from Martin. Simon’s version may be much better known now but in 1965 it wouldn’t appear on record for another year and took three years to emerge as a single.

The label is based on existing Fontana labels from the period. The sleeve is fairly closely based on an existing Fontana sleeve from around this time (or possibly slightly earlier) with a change of colour to match the label and a couple of additions to heighten the period feel. The ‘sample record’ sticker is standard for promo/non-sale Fontana and Philips items from this period.


Cold Haily Windy Night (1971) Philips Records
Taken from the album ‘Landfall’ 6308 048Fake Single - CHWN71There are several unaccompanied songs amongst the 10 tracks on ‘Landfall’, which is perhaps not the most appropriate material for single release. Of the guitar-based songs this is a strong standout that Martin would also perform at around the same time during his first period with Steeleye Span. This has always been a favourite and was an obvious choice from this album for me.

The label is the standard Philips Records promo type and based on the ‘PHILIPS’ typography is from around this period but could also be a little earlier. The sleeve is not based on any known design although the ‘PHILIPS’ logo is about the same size and placed in roughly the same place as it appears on a number of known sleeves. The text ‘The Records of the Century’ and ‘PRODUCTS OF PHILIPS RECORDS LIMITED’ appear on some existing sleeves, in the case of ‘The Records of the Century’ in a slightly different typeface.


Famous Flower of Serving Men (1972) Peg Records
Taken from the album ‘Shearwater’ PEG 12Fake Single - FFSM72This iconic track from the underrated (and currently unavailable) ‘Shearwater’ album would have been well deserving of the single treatment, if only to test the patience of DJs across the country! When this track appeared on Peg Records’ 8-track tape version of the album it was so long it had to be split across two of the available tracks. On my imaginary version I’ve avoided this by making it play at 33⅓ rpm.

The label is based on existing contemporaneous Peg singles. The sleeve is designed from scratch using a simple inverted repeat of the ‘PEG’ logo to give a period effect.


Three Jolly Sneaksmen (1974) Deram Records
Taken from the album ‘Sweet Wivelsfield’ SML1111Fake Single - TJS74Taken from what is perhaps another underrated album – certainly Martin has been less than complimentary about it at various times – this is one of several standout tracks for me and one that would remain lurking in Martin’s live repertoire for at least the next two decades. The rhythmic, percussive guitar and incessant chorus would have made a striking single if released at the time.

The label and sleeve are both based closely on known Deram Records examples from around the period, with just a couple of embellishments to the sleeve for the sake of detail. The Gama Records logo appears for the first time on one of these labels.


The Devil and the Feathery Wife (1982) Topic Records
Taken from the album ‘Out Of The Cut’ 12TS426Fake Single - TDATFW82There is an actual Martin Carthy solo single between the last example and this. ‘The Bonny Lass of Anglesey’ was released in limited numbers in 1976 to promote his first album for Topic Records so there’s a bit of a gap before we get to this final ‘fake’ example from Martin’s final solo album of the pre-CD era. This is a song that’s light-hearted yet hides a sobering maxim and there’s rarely a solo gig to this day that doesn’t end with it still.

The label is very closely based on the existing Topic label used for ‘The Bonny Lass of Anglesey’ in 1976 at least one other single release by Topic in the mid-70s. The sleeve is created from scratch and is loosely based on the colours, layout and typeface used on the rear cover of the original vinyl issue of the ‘Out Of The Cut’ album.


I hope you have as much fun scrutinising these as I had making them. I’ve tried to remain true to known releases from the relevant times on the respective labels but where this has not been feasibly I wanted to at least retain some of the period feel. As I said earlier in this post, this has just been a bit of fun so please don’t waste too much time trawling through eBay for copies of these or scouring YouTube for those elusive Top Of The Pops performances. Having said that, if anyone knows where I can pick up a copy of the fake singles box set will you give me the nod…? 😀


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