Saturday, May 21, 2016

You Can Call Me Albion: Martin Carthy At 75

It's the weekend and a huge milestone birthday for one of my all-time favorites, accompanied by all sorts of special treats.
But first, some backstory: When I was 15 years old, I went to my mom's parents' 50th wedding anniversary party at a big catering hall. We sat at the same table as my cousins on my mom's side, whom I had never met up to that point.
Now, some time before this, an older cellist friend of mine and I had become obsessed with a radio program that aired on WBAI-FM in NYC on Saturday mornings just such as the one on which I am typing this. This show was hosted by a guy called Ed Haber and was called The Piper In the Meadow Straying, and featured all manner of folk musics, especially that of the Celtic variety.
The theme song was called Sails of Silver, by a group which Ed Haber featured heavily and which sounded to my friend and I like "Steel Eyes Band" when he said the name. This was way back well before the internet would have solved the puzzle in ten seconds flat, and he and I walked around for months trying to figure out what the name of this band was.
So, yeah, the anniversary party. Turns out my cousins knew. I related the mystery with which we were suffering and immediately they sort of lit up with that ohhhhhhhhh look. You mean Steeleye Span. We'll be in touch, they told me. Watch the mailbox.
Two weeks later, a cassette arrived in the post. It was of the second and third Steeleye Span records, dubbed from vintage vinyl like in the good ol' days. The gates had been opened, the mystery solved. My cello buddy and I positively wore that tape out to the oxide particles. Little did we know my cousins had picked two of the Steeleye Span records that had featured the man who turned out to be the Gate Keeper Supreme of traditional Celtic music itself. Steeleye Span was just a taste; we had discovered the Feast Master of Ceremonies, and supper was ready.
There aren't words to describe what this music means to me and what its greatest living curator and Maestro mean to me. When I finally got to meet him and see him play years later in Berkeley, California, I didn't know he had even more gifts with which to regale me. When we chatted between sets and I asked him if he'd lead off the second with one of the most complex, intense and alternately-tuned tunes in the Collection. I never expected he'd withdraw a second guitar from its case, tune it to the required tuning, and exclaim, "I'll do it!!!!" like Gene Wilder to Zero Mostel sitting on the Metropolitan Opera fountain in The Producers.
So Martin Carthy got back up onstage at the Freight and Salvage and whipped out the baddest version of Famous Flower of Serving Men I ever would hope to hear, even taking time to dedicate it to me. All 10 minutes of it, every verse. To say that when you go see live music you don't expect that sort of attention goes without saying, but to get such treatment from your heroes is something I know I will never, ever forget.
Today, as you may have guessed, is the 75th anniversary on Earth of Martin Carthy, probably the greatest living repository of traditional Celtic music still breathing. As you can see, I have loved him and what he does since I was a teenager. I'm by no means alone, as he is as responsible as any human being for the resurgence and modernization of this music in the last 50 years.
The innovations people like Martin (and his astonishing partner David Swarbrick, one of the Mount Rushmore of fiddlers), Davy Graham, Bert Jansch and Annie Briggs made to traditional music -- marrying instrumental melodies to lyrics found in the Cecil Sharp library, where most of the songs in the centuries before the 1960s were either sung a capella or played on stringed instruments, but never both at once -- turned a tradition that was, with the advent of radio in the middle of the 20th century, in danger of being lost into a revitalized art form revered by millions upon millions of people.
It sure paved the way for the music to be made into a pop juggernaut by the bands like Fairport Convention and its sister group Steeleye Span -- named by Martin after a character in the folk song Horkstow Grange -- who took the building blocks laid down in the Sixties and took the tradition electric, aligning it with the Rock music of the time and in a way ensuring Celtic music would last forever plus one day. Decades later, it's stronger and more popular than ever before.
Did I mention he taught Paul Simon -- who came to the UK in 1964 to investigate the burgeoning resurgence in British folk then being instigated by folks like Martin Carthy -- the traditional story song Cambric Shirt, sometimes referred to by its more renowned title of Scarborough Fair? Martin's arrangement was copped by the visitor, setting yet another brick in the edifice of music we all take for granted, but which did not really exist in the form in which we recognize it before the Martin Carthys of the world took it viral.
It's not often we get to tribute a prime architect like Martin, so I have got all sorts of goodies to mark this auspicious occasion for you all. One is a lovely hour-and-a-half DVD of a recent performance of Martin solo and in full flight, and the other is a compilation of some of his best performances I keep in my phone for my own personal Renaissance Fair that is almost always playing in my head at most hours.
Martin Carthy
Wren & Now

Company Policy
1965 - 1988

01 Steeleye Span - Sweep, Chimney Sweep
02 Steeleye Span - Cold, Haily, Windy Night
03 Martin Carthy - I Was a Young Man
04 The Albion Country Band - Hanged I Shall Be
05 Martin Carthy - Seven Yellow Gypsies
06 Martin Carthy - King Henry
07 Steeleye Span - Boys of Bedlam
08 Martin Carthy - Bold Poachers
09 Martin Carthy - Company Policy
10 Martin Carthy - Scarborough Fair
11 Brass Monkey - The Maid and the Palmer
12 Steeleye Span - False Knight On the Road
13 Martin Carthy - Famous Flower of Serving Men
14 Steeleye Span - Marrowbones
15 Martin Carthy & David Swarbrick - Arthur McBride
16 Martin Carthy - Palaces of Gold
17 Steeleye Span - Rave On

Total time: 1:18:49

classic collaborations and solo tracks featuring Martin Carthy, compiled and remastered by me

Martin Carthy
7th Annual SOL Party
Hawkhurst, Kent, UK

01 intro
02 Green Broom
03 Jim Jones
04 The Royal Oak
05 A Foggy, Foggy Dew
06 Sir Patrick Spens
07 Six Jovial Welshmen
08 The Downfall of Paris
09 Young Morgan
10 Georgie
11 Oor Hamlet
12 Swaggering Boney
13 The Trees They Do Grow High
14 Morris Tune
15 Willie's Lady
16 The Devil and the Feathery Wife
17 "The Third Man" Theme

Total time: 1:34:55

Martin Carthy - guitar & vocals

PAL DVD of stationary single camera footage with soundboard audio
3.85 GB total

both the CD and the DVD are in the same folder/May 2016 archive link
That's a bit, but you only turn 75 once, so there you are... I created separate links so you can get both items or one or the other. Whatever you decide, remember that all the Celtic music you take for granted, from Scarborough Fair to Riverdance, exists as you know it today in large part because this gentleman came into our world on this day in 1941, eventually to shape it into the form with which we are familiar. That's reel talk, and I'm not jigging! Happy Birthday Martin, and many more <3--J.

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