Rarities: ‘Byker Hill’ South Korean mini LP replica CD

7 May 2017

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 7 May 2017

Byker Korea 06

Mini album CDs are scaled-down reproductions of albums that were originally issued as 12” LPs and are perhaps most popular in Japan. Packaging reproduces that of the original vinyl LP rather than any later CD reissues and will often include any inserts or inner sleeves that may not be included in the standard CD.  A paper insert with additional information in both English and Japanese may also be included and an ‘obi strip’ – a small strip of paper or card wrapped around the cover – is a standard feature.

This is an August 2015 release of Martin’s 1967 Byker Hill album from Media Arte Records and rather than being from Japan this was issued in South Korea. It’s something I picked up around a year ago but have been reluctant to post here as I wasn’t sure if it was a legitimate release or one of the many available pirate/bootleg issues. I was recently reassured by David Suff of Topic Records that this was indeed a legitimate issue so I’m happy to post some detailed pictures here.

As you’ll see, reproduction of the original Topic LP sleeve and label are of a high quality and while the mastering on some Japanese albums gives a notoriously ‘brittle’ sound, the sound quality here is at least as good as the standard issue Topic CD of the same album.

There are now a number of Japanese mini album CDs of Martin’s solo and duo albums available – just last week a pirate version of his first album was released – but this is the only issue I can confirm as a legitimately licenced product. As it’s also the only one I actually own I can’t vouch for the quality of any other releases in terms of the overall packaging or sound quality so I guess a general ‘buyer beware’ warning should go along with any of these items. And of course, it goes without saying that neither Martin nor Topic Records (or any of the other relevant artists or labels) will receive the necessary royalties from pirate releases.

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‘Swarb & Carth’: An appreciation

10 June 2016

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 10 June 2016

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“My wife calls me Spider-Man… because I can’t get out of the bath”. Dave Swarbrick

It’s been a week since the passing of Dave Swarbrick and social media has been filled with celebrations of his life from some of the thousands of people whose own lives were touched by his music, kindness and wit. I never really knew Swarb but I saw and heard him more times than I can remember over the last 30 years: guesting with the late-80s Fairport lineup at Cropredy; leading the brilliant acoustic quartet Whippersnapper; as a virtuosic solo performer, but by far the most frequent guise I witnessed, maybe not surprisingly, was his duo with Martin Carthy. So whilst the wider media may, perhaps rightly, heap praise on his more commercial achievements with the likes of Fairport, it seems more appropriate for me to pay tribute to his partnership with Carthy.

My best guess is that I saw ‘Swarb and Carth’ 17 or 18 times in nine different towns or cities between October 1988 and September 2015. You never quite knew what you were going to get at one of their gigs, perhaps because they rarely rehearsed and both relished the challenge of ringing the changes and equally abhorred the idea that their music might become staid, petrified, a beautifully preserved fly in Jurassic amber. If you saw them on the first date of one of their annual September tours it’s likely that their first song would have been the first time they’d performed together in anger since their last gig, which could conceivably have been the best part of a year ago. On that basis you might have forgiven them for playing safe when they had the opportunity but that was never their style so that opening number might well have been suffixed by a sly look between the pair and maybe a chuckle, as if to say, “We made it!” and the last gig of a tour could differ vastly from the first as they tweaked and generally mucked about with either the repertoire, specific arrangements, or both.

Right up to the last time I saw them, on what transpired to be their last full tour about nine months before Swarb’s death, they were tinkering with some of the oldest pieces in their repertoire – the likes of Sovay and Byker Hill – as well as some of their more recent work. Occasionally (usually at Swarbrick’s insistence) they would wing it completely, such as the occassion when Swarb insisted on playing a set of tunes they’d not yet fully learned. Carthy was not entirely enamoured of the idea but they did it nevertheless – just about – and in the process displayed not just their musical chops but a collective fearlessness and confidence in their own abilities that is perhaps the greatest clue to the puzzle of how and why they continued to innovate and experiment up until the end.

Despite Swarb’s passing we still have their recordings – their innovative and occasional controversial sixties albums and their all-too infrequent post-reunion CDs from the late-eighties onwards – but these never really reflected anything but the briefest of snapshots of what they were doing at the time they were recorded. Their union really came alive on stage, in front of an audience, and in many ways Carthy and Swarbrick were the ideal partnership. Each was equally the other’s teacher and pupil and the respect with which they held each other was evident whenever they played together. Ask Carthy now who taught him the most about music – not just ‘folk music’ – and the odds are he’ll not hesitate to credit Swarb, perhaps quoting him as saying, “You can do anything to music, it doesn’t mind”. It’s a simple enough phrase but one which, when acted out in the hands of two masters of their craft, resulted in some incredible, diverse and often boundary-breaking, music.

They were the first to admit they didn’t do ‘happy’, but despite the often bleak, if not downright heartbreaking, nature of much of their material, their live shows were scattered with humour and good natured banter. Not for nothing was Swarbrick labelled ‘the world’s first sit-down comedian’. They would often end shows with My Heart’s In New South Wales – Swarb’s beautiful, plaintive paean to the time he spent living in Australia – which would invariably be introduced through a hilarious catalogue of the various ways in which you could be killed by the country’s indigenous wildlife. It may be this incorrigible streak of humour, often as self-deprecating as it was wicked, that I’ll miss as much as the music about those regular September dates with Carthy and Swarbrick.

My thoughts are with Swarb’s wife Jill, his regular touring companion in recent years and sitter to Ruby, the most widely-travelled dog in the folk world who has no-doubt slept through more Carthy and Swarbrick gigs than I could ever hope to have seen.

Kevin Boyd, 10 June 2016

Here are a few personal favourites of my photographs of Carthy and Swarbrick. The shot above was taken in Bury in September 2011 and is one that Dave asked if he could use for publicity – he thought it made him look almost presentable! I was happy to send him a copy and have been pleased to have seen it used frequently over the last few years. The rest are from subsequent gigs, with the exception of a couple of early shots from their ‘first farewell tour’ in 1988.

 


#MC50 : Carthy & Swarbrick 1988 BBC Session

1 June 2015

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 1 June 2015

June’s #MC50 YouTube video, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Carthy’s debut solo album, is a session recorded by Martin and Dave Swarbrick in October 1988 at the BBC Pebble Mill studios for the BBC Folk On Two show.

The session was recorded half way through their First Farewell Tour – their first major set of gigs since they had split in 1969 – and includes a number of rare or unique recordings. It was broadcast on 12 October 1988 on BBC Radio 2 and the photos are from their gig in Rotherham the following night (not Sheffield, as the broadcast suggests).


#MC50 : 50th Anniversary Record Store Day release

5 April 2015

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 5 April 2015

Topic Records are to release a limited-edition version of Martin Carthy’s debut album for UK Record Store Day. The edition will carry the catalogue number 12TS2015 and will be limited to 750 copies with audio remastered for 180g audiophile vinyl that has been pressed at Optimal in Germany. It will be available initially in-store only at participating record shops on Saturday 18 April but it’s likely that Topic will make any remaining copies available via their website in the following weeks, as they have with their previous RSD releases.

Previous Topic RSD releases have reproduced the original sleeve notes, artwork and production techniques (foldback sleeves, etc). So far I’ve been unable to determine if that is the case here although Topic have released this cover image showing that they have finally made a decent job of dealing with the old Fontana logo that appeared in the top-right corner of the original release. I’ll post more details once I get my hands on a copy.

MC50 Cover1

View Martin Carthy in DISCOGRAPHY

View list of #MC50 posts in Come Sing It Plain…


Photo Gallery: Carthy & Swarbrick, 4 Sept 2014

6 September 2014

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 6 September 2014
Updated: 8 September 2014

Another September; another Carthy & Swarb tour. Here they are at the Met Theatre in Bury a couple of days ago.

Update: Here are a few more different edits in colour of Martin from the same gig:


Photo Gallery: Carthy & Swarbrick, 29 September 2012

30 September 2012

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 30 September 2012

Martin and Dave’s 2012 tour continued on to the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, Greater Manchester on 29 September. Here are a few shots from that gig. 


Rarities: “Selections” (1972)

12 September 2010

Posted by Kevin Boyd, 12 Sept 2010

Selections
Transatlantic Records TRA 206 (New Zealand) and Transatlantic/Festival TRA 206/STAL 934485 (Australia)

This is probably one of the rarest of Carthy collectables, certainly for European or North American collectors. In fact, until I found this copy on eBay a couple of years ago I never even knew of its existence and at present I know of only two extant copies.

This album is not to be confused with the much more widely available 1971 Pegasus compilation of the same name and is essentially a collection of tracks from all five 1960s Carthy & Swarbrick albums but the track selection somewhat favours Byker Hill from 1967 (three tracks) and Prince Heathen from 1969 (four tracks). And unlike the Pegasus album, although Swarbrick gets a brief mention on the rear cover, the front cover and the label credit this release to Carthy alone.

The cover photograph, title and graphics all suggest a strong link with the Pegasus compilation of the same name. The graphics are by Davis, Berney & Wade who were responsible for the artwork on a number of early-1970s Steeleye Span releases and for various acts within Sandy Roberton’s September Productions company as well as others, including Velvet Underground. The hand-lettered approach is particularly reminiscent of the artwork on the Pegasus Selections release.

This Selections is Carthy’s only official release on the Transatlantic label (with the exception of tracks that appear on a couple of compilations and a handful of guest appearances on other people’s albums). Although no date appears on the sleeve or the labels I had originally listed this as having been released in 1969 based entirely on the fact the Transatlantic releases which immediately preceded and followed it in the catalogue – Basket of Light by Pentangle (TRA205) and Circus’ eponymous debut album (TRA207) – were both released in 1969. I’ve since come to agree with Reinhard Zierke who originally listed it as 1972 (although he now also appears to show 1969 as a possible date, such is the scarcity of reliable information on this release).

The deciding factor on the release date for me is the cover photograph which was taken by Keith Morris and comes from the the same set that is used on Topic Records’ 1977 Prince Heathen re-issue and on the 1971 Pegasus Selections album. In fact, the photograph on the rear cover of the Transatlantic album is the exact same one that is used on the front of the Pegasus album. The Jan/Feb 2010 issue of fRoots magazine published a photograph from this same set and listed it as being from 1971. fRoots editor Ian Anderson tells me that the precise dates in Morris’ database are “a bit haphazard” but he’s certain of the year in this case. He further adds, “As far as I can see, Keith didn’t photograph Martin until Steeleye Mk2 onwards. From then he seemed to become the photographer of choice for Steeleye and certain folk or folk rock artists connected with Joe Boyd and Sandy Roberton”.

A bit more research reveals that Carthy & Swarbrick – having formally ‘split up’ two years earlier – performed as part of a concert at Tupholme Manor Park on 24 July 1971. Others on the bill included Steeleye Span (with Carthy still in the lineup at this point), The Byrds, Pentangle, Incredible String Band, Ralph McTell and others. There’s a good chance that the cover photograph comes from this concert because although Carthy and Swarbrick are known to have played the occasional early-1970s concert after their formal split, these shows were still somewhat few and far between.


UPDATE: I had a longish debate online with Ian Anderson of fRoots about the date of the Keith Morris cover shot. I was convinced it was from the Tupholme Manor Park concert on 24 July 1971 (which just happens to have been my third birthday) but Ian was unsure. He has access the the Morris archive and pointed out that there are unusually no shots of Steeleye Span from the same show, which one might have expected if Keith was there and shooting Carthy and Swarb. Some time later I bumped into Ian at Martin’s 70th birthday concert and at the backstage aftershow he asked Martin directly about the shot (I’d have asked him myself but didn’t get an invite!). Martin confirmed that the shot was from Tupholme Manor Park and that Keith had been commissioned specifically to shoot Carthy and Swarb at that gig for an album cover. This must have been for either this album or the more common Pegasus Selections release and dates this album at late-1971 at the very earliest. On a tangential note, shots from this same concert feature on four different Carthy album covers: The Topic reissue of Prince Heathen; The Pegasus Selections; The Transatlantic/festival Selections; The live archive album The January Man: Live in Belfast, 1978


The label indicates that this was made in New Zealand but Reinhard Zierke also shows it as having been released in Australia on Transatlantic/Festival in 1972 under catalogue number TRA 206/STAL 934485. I’ve yet to see any firm firm evidence that it was ever issued outside the Antipodes.

My album comes from Dave Swarbrick’s personal collection that was sold on eBay in 2007 and with the exception of the version shown on Reinhard’s website – which incidentally appears to be in much better condition than mine – it’s the only copy I’ve ever seen.

One final point of interest is that all the song credits on this release are shown as “K/A” on the label. I don’t recall ever seeing this before and thought it might be something that was unique to Australian or New Zealand releases but Garry Gillard (who previously authored Reinhard’s Carthy website and who is a resident of Australia) was unable to confirm this. Garry and Ian Anderson offer the suggestion that this may be a variation on “T/A” or “Trad. Arr” although there’s also the possibility that it’s a simple typo. If this is the case it’s not the only one as “Bruton Town” is incorrectly listed on the label as “Brunton Town”.

If you can shed any light on the meaning of “K/A” – or any other aspect of this rare and fascinating release – please feel free to add a comment or email me the details.

Kevin Boyd 12/09/2010

External links:

Selections on Reinhard Zierke’s Mainly Norfolk
Transatlantic discography
fRoots


UPDATE:  12 Feb 2011

Reinhard Zierke recently sent me the following scan of the label from his copy of Selections which finally resolves the year of issue as it clearly shows the publication date of 1972.

The label on the other side is the standard colour Transatlantic illustration that also features on my copy.

This is the Australian Festival Records version and some of the other details differ from my copy although it also also mis-spells “Bruton Town” as “Brunton Town”. This version has “Made in Australia” printed in the perimeter and all the songs are credited simply to “Martin Carthy” rather than the more accurate “Trad. arr.” (or the “K/A” shown on my copy). 

Reinhard adds, “I don’t know what the K/A on your label stands for; if this were a German record I would guess ‘Keine Angabe’, i.e. ‘not specified'”.

Label from Reinhard’s copy of “Selections”

Label from my copy of “Selections”

The standard Transatlantic label that appears on the reverse side of both copies of the “Selections” album (this one is from mine)

Thanks to Reinhard for the scan and the additional information.


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