“This is wonderful music. The more you find out, the more there is to find out.” Reflecting on a lifetime passion for folk music, Martin Carthy MBE celebrated turning 70 in 2011 with a celebratory concert at the South Bank. In typically modest and understated fashion though, he quickly returned to his “bread and butter” of one night stands on the folk circuit.
Folk singer/guitarist Martin Carthy was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. Like many of his contemporaries, Martin’s first musical experience came during the skiffle boom (if one discounts his service as choirboy), but a search for the tunes that were getting the tea-chest bass treatment led him to explore the growing London folk scene.
Attending clubs such as Ewan MacColl’s & Bert Lloyd’s Ballads and Blues Club, Martin witnessed performances by artists such as Sam Larner and the US blues singer Big Bill Broonzy – whose 78rpm records he slowed down on his record player while attempting to emulate the guitar licks.
Playing at the Troubadour Club brought Martin into contact with rising stars including Bob Dylan (who took Carthy’s version of “Lord Franklin” as a template for “Bob Dylan’s Dream”) and Paul Simon, who appropriated the Carthy arrangement of “Scarborough Fair” (and would come to a financial settlement with the publisher).
Joined by fiddler Dave Swarbrick for his self-titled debut album in 1965 and a clutch of subsequent releases, Martin went on to enjoy spells in Steeleye Span – where he branched out into playing electric guitar – and an ongoing association with The Albion Band.
And whilst continuing to release solo records, much of his later output has been collaborative, as part of the Watersons, Waterson: Carthy (with wife Norma and daughter Eliza), Blue Murder, Three City Four, Brass Monkey, 4 Martins and latterly The Imagined Village. Phenomenal.
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And here’s some footage of Martin in action: