Martin Carthy Durham Launderette 9 March 2023

carthy ticketThe last time I had the pleasure of being in the company of Martin Carthy was when I saw him, then a member of folk rock band Steeleye Span, supporting Jethro Tull at Sunderland Empire in 1971. Roll on 52 years and I am once again witnessing a performance by a man who has, quite rightly in my view, earned the title of “the Father of British folk music”.

The Durham Launderette is a quirky, exquisite venue. It is by day an ordinary launderette, used by the public to bring along their bags of washing. By evening it transforms into an intimate venue, which hosts concerts by folk artists and others. It cannot hold more than 60 or so people. My daughter, Laura, has performed there twice with her band the Shining Levels.

carthy 3The Laundrette announced the concert thus: “For more than 50 years Martin Carthy has been one of folk music’s greatest innovators, one of its best loved, most enthusiastic and, at times, most quietly controversial of figures. His skill, stage presence and natural charm have won him many admirers…….Trailblazing musical partnerships with, amongst others, Steeleye Span, Dave Swarbrick and his award-winning wife (Norma Waterson) and daughter Eliza Carthy have resulted in more than 40 albums… [Including]… 10 solo albums. [He has]…influenced a generation of artists, including Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.”

“Arguably the greatest English folk song performer, writer…… of them all’ Q Magazine

“Carthy is a master of the ballad of substance, songs that tell stories, whether they are traditional, his own or from contemporary writers.’ The Telegraph

And so it was that my carer Elaine and I joined a packed house of Carthy fans and devotees to see a folk legend in the first of two nights at the venue. Martin was supported by a young lady who had come over from the Netherlands to study at Newcastle University on their highly regarded Masters in Traditional Folk Music. She has since stayed on as a performer of traditional English folk. She performed (to my shame her name escapes me) some lovely songs including an exquisite version of “The Sparrow”.

carthy 2Martin looked great wearing a brightly coloured shirt, a red scarf which he removed and placed on his guitar case, and two gold earrings in his left ear. He is a great storyteller, starting each song with a prolonged introduction setting the scene for the tale which would unfold in the song, and explaining to us from where, and from whom, the song originated. Sometimes he might have to think a little in order to remember the names of the songs origins, but hey, respect to the guy who is now in his early 80s. Each song comes from a poem, an old folktale, or an ancient ballad. He crafts each one carefully. He includes the traditional “Scarborough fair” which features on his first, early 1960s, album and was since made famous by Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Simon probably having picked up the song from Martin when he toured the UK folk clubs in the 1960s.

Other tales included “Napoleon’s Dream” a traditional song with a long, interesting history: “Gale Huntington… commented: “This is another of the songs that show so clearly the strength of the Napoleonic myth. The line, “From that land of your fathers who boast they are free,” seems to indicate that this particular Napoleon song is American. But most of the song has the feel of an Irish lament.” (From the website: Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music). Martin spent a lot of time telling us about Napoleon, his life and ultimate downfall. Fascinating stuff from a masterful storyteller.

carthy 4Another song was about Bendigo: “The Noble Fox-Hunting, also known as Dido Bendigo and The Duke’s Hunt, is a hunting song from England. English folk song collector A.L. Lloyd describes the song: “A stirring old hunting song known all over England from Cumberland to Cornwall.…… and, though the name of the sporting Duke may vary, the list of hounds stays much the same. Country people must have loved to roll the grandiloquent syllables of names like Dido and Bendigo around their mouths… The song has had a long life and still flourishes.” …… “Dido Bendigo describes the excitement of a noble fox hunt: the Duke of Wellington and some of his noble friends set out with their brave fox hounds, and each fox meets with a dreaded fate as they try to escape.” (From site). Again, Martin spent time explaining the story, its history and origin and the name of the guy who originally “gave it to him”. Another major lesson in storytelling both in word, song and music.

Martin treated us to two sets with a short interval. Quite unlike me, but hey I enjoyed it, I had a bottle of Budweiser at the start of the evening, a large glass of red after the young lady’s set and a gin and tonic during Martin’s interval. My head was reeling by the end of the evening. I am not sure how much of this was from the power of the stories and how much was down to the alcohol!

Sadly, our taxi was awaiting us, so we had to sneak out before the end, which was a shame. A wonderful evening, with the legend, folk singer, storyteller and lovely gentleman that is Martin Carthy.

And thank you Martin for signing my ticket which I will treasure.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lesley Griffin on March 15, 2023 at 10:04 pm

    What a fantastic venue to find!
    Love Jethro Tull especially after I saw them at the City Hall for the Thick as a brick tour – happy days


    • Posted by vintagerock on March 16, 2023 at 12:41 pm

      Hi Lesley yes it is a lovely venue and so intimate! And yes I am still a strong Jethro Tull fan. Happy days Peter


  2. The first folk club I visited was in Durham (a lovely city I spent quite a bit of time in the 60s/early 70s. A chap (a friend of a friend) hired a bus to drive about 20 people and a couple of crates of Newcastle Brown Ale up from Darlington and the die was cast. Folk through to psych and blues et al. Remember very little about it except my friend playing and being told that because there was alcohol in the venue we had to falsify our birthdates on the club membership form. I was 15 at the time. Such was youth!


    • Posted by vintagerock on March 16, 2023 at 12:24 pm

      The joys of youth Alistair! Sounds like a great night. I hope you relive such nights now. Happy days Peter


  3. Posted by John on March 16, 2023 at 9:54 am

    Hi Peter,

    Another one of my favourite artists. He lived and I think still lives in Robin Hoods Bay down the coast from me. He taught Paul Simon how

    to play Scarborough Fair and Paul Simon made some slightly dubious claim to it. I think his acoustic folk guitar work is second to none.

    Did he play the long version of Byker Hill I wonder – an amazing piece of guitar work –

    used on a North East folk song that he used to play with Dave Swarbrick. Sounds like a great night!

    There is a youtube video with the Dream of Napoleon (and other songs) at the,vid:XyZmrauw2Ws

    All the best, John


    • Posted by vintagerock on March 16, 2023 at 12:19 pm

      Great to hear from you John

      Yes Martin Carthy is a legendary figure and quite rightly so

      I know the song Byker Hill and he did not perform it

      A great night with a great legend

      Best wishes Peter


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