Martin Carthy Essential Review

Compilation. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A collection marked by the many shifting contours of his remarkable career.

Colin Irwin 2011

You don’t need to explore the history of the British folk revival for very long before getting a measure of the enduring influence of Martin Dominic Forbes Carthy, MBE.

He’s been a towering presence over various aspects of the scene since being electrified as a 17-year-old in the early 1960s by the traditional singing of an elderly Norfolk herring fisherman called Sam Larner. Carthy went on to be a master guitarist and a boldly individual song interpreter; an electric folk pioneer; a central figure in numerous, diverse bands; and, very occasionally, a formidable writer of political song.

To mark his 70th birthday, Topic – the label on which he has spent the large majority of his recording career – has compiled a 34-track double CD reflecting 40 years of recordings from over 20 albums. It’s far from exhaustive (you’ll have to forage for Free Reed’s The Carthy Chronicles box set from 2001 for the closest thing to that) but, illuminated by extensive sleeve notes, it still offers a thorough and entertaining insight into the jaw-dropping range and richness of the man’s magnificent career.

The earliest tracks include his landmark arrangements of Scarborough Fair and Lord Franklin which helped ignite the imaginations of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan respectively. There are also plenty of the spritely collaborations with fiddle player Dave Swarbrick, which galvanised the nascent folk scene back in the day.

With so much outstanding material at their disposal, the compilers must have had a nightmare deciding what to omit. But they’ve successfully covered most of the bases: the epic ballads Prince Heathen and Famous Flower of Serving Men; Watersons and Brass Monkey cameos; the starkness of David Ackles’ His Name Is Andrew. There’s fun stuff like The Devil & The Feathery Wife and A Stitch In Time, guitar wizardry on Siege of Delhi and The Harry Lime Theme, and his own momentous anti-war tirade The Dominion of the Sword.

In a collection marked by the many shifting contours and altering styles of his remarkable career, its distinguishing feature is the inspirational compassion and humanity that threads through both the material and the performances of Carthy himself. A celebration, indeed.

Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you choose to use this review on your site please link back to this page.