Martin Carthy at Bromley Cross Folk Club - 19th June 2009

The evening got off to a splendid start with a fine set of fiddle tunes from Emily Roe, ably supported by Francis (guitar), Eddie (bodhran) and Roger (percussion). A strong feature throughout the set was the well managed changes of tempo and she finished with the tunes she had performed for her Music A level earlier in the week - that's one A in the bag then Emily.

Martin Carthy started the first half with his timeless version of "John Barleycorn", which I first heard him perform live some 40 years ago. He hasn't changed it in the slightest and why should he? It worked beautifully then and it still works beautifully now.

It was soon clear that we were in for a night of "hard core folk music", where Martin's famed ability as an accompanist were still secondary to the requirements of the song he was singing. This particularly stood out on his singing of the Nic Jones version of "Sir Patrick Spence". He interspersed the songs with some tunes, including the Brampton Morris tune "Swaggering Boney", which had me recalling my, mercifully long in the past, Cotswold Morris dancing days.

While some of the songs were quite bleak there was some humour too, particularly in the chorus song, "Six Jovial Welshmen", which somehow managed to work in a reference to Barbara Cartland's hair. The first half finished with an accappela version of his brother-in-law's great song "A Stitch in Time", which he has started singing again, now that a lady in Bangor has convinced him that it isn't an "urban myth", but actually happened. The main feature of this song - a resourceful and determined woman - was to become a recurring theme through the rest of the evening. I suspect Martin is well acquainted with one or two!

In the second half we had the chilling ballad, "Bill Laurie" in which the mother is tossed her child's head with the remark "…lady catch the ball". The murderer discovers that the person he had slaughtered was the ladies son and not her lover as he had thought. Followed by "Young Morgan" and "Georgie", another long time favourite, the body count is going up here, but relief comes in the form of "The Blind Harper" where a resourceful woman comes to her man's aid in time of need. I remember this one particularly from Martin's Steeleye Span days.

Eddie McGurk has a fine song about the 51st Highland Division's capture at St Valery at the same time as the Dunkirk evacuations. He will probably want to add to it the fine tune of the same name, which Martin played hunched over and with consummate timing. We then had "Company Policy" one of Martin's rare ventures into songwriting and a vigorous polemic against the Falklands War. The tune and style of it rather remind me of Leon Rosselson, a songwriter Martin has long championed.

We then had the classic "Prince Heathen" followed by the "Theme from the Third Man" - now there's going back a bit. For an encore Martin sang, "The Devil and the Feathery Wife", yet another resourceful woman getting her husband out of a bit of demonic bother.

…and we cheered the man to the echo - as well we might - fabulous stuff.

Brian Frew  (MC of the evening)


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