Martin and Eliza Carthy review – folk music at its best

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
The folk dynasty father and daughter's first outing as a duo counterpoints their voices, guitar and fiddle to enthralling effect

Veteran guitarist Martin Carthy and his fiddle-playing daughter Eliza are here to play from their new album, a spartan duo collection called The Moral of the Elephant. Despite working on nearly 200 LPs between them, it's their first as a duo, and it's a welcome chance to hear them unfettered by the ugly clamour that a rhythm section can often impose upon their work.

Tonight's show reminds us that folk music, at its best, doesn't groove like rock, blues or jazz music. Its pulse is dictated by the narrative: it pauses, it hesitates, it bends time. Such elasticity suits Carthy senior's extraordinary guitar style. Using his own arcane tuning - CGCDGA - he turns his instrument into a baroque harp, his left hand a tangle of spidery fingers and wrapped-over thumbs. He'll often suspend time by lingering over some of his weirder chords, like a medieval lute player who has surprised himself by unwittingly inventing bebop. When the Carthys are joined by sitar player Sheema Mukherjee for the first third of this show, it reveals how much Martin's guitar style has in common with a sitar: the same drones, dissonances and filigree flourishes.

Eliza here takes the fiddler's role that Dave Swarbrick has long played with her father, but she's a more agile player, weaving in and out of Martin's melodies using complex harmonies and counterpoints. She also switches effortlessly between voice and violin, and has clearly recovered from the nodule damage that has plagued her in the past. Her voice is amazing on Happiness, a charming parlour ballad written by Nick Drake's mother, Molly Drake. During the song's outro, the Carthys are joined by Nick's sister, the actress Gabrielle Drake, who reads one of her mother's poems. It's a poignant reminder of another parent/child musical dynasty who have quietly revolutionised traditional English music.

Contributor

John Lewis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy - review
The lady who heads the most extraordinary folk music dynasty in England was in magnificent voice, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

31, Oct, 2010 @9:44 PM

Article image
Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick review – folk titans join forces
The longtime collaborators showed their ease with each other as they moved smoothly between traditional and modern duets

Robin Denselow

18, Feb, 2016 @12:39 PM

Martin Carthy 70th Birthday Concert – review

Martin Carthy has always been an easy-going, modest performer, and that wasn't going to change just because he is about to turn 70, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

16, May, 2011 @5:05 PM

Paul Morley Showing Off ... Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy

Paul Morley introduces a legendary folk family and wonders how the music they lived off and through has changed over time

Paul Morley

02, Oct, 2009 @6:51 PM

Article image
Martin & Eliza Carthy: The Moral of the Elephant review – ease and delight

The father-and-daughter folk stars' first album as a duo is a brave and anything but predictable, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

29, May, 2014 @8:40 PM

Martin Carthy: Essential – review
The problem with this impressive set is the title – the compilation only tells part of Carthy's story, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

05, May, 2011 @9:40 PM

Eliza Carthy & Jim Moray – review

It's 21 years since Eliza Carthy began her career, and the lady who kickstarted the still remarkably healthy contemporary British folk scene is celebrating in style, says Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

17, May, 2013 @2:34 PM

Article image
Eliza Carthy and Tim Eriksen review – united in folk fearlessness
Combining British and American folk with noisy, grungy experiment, Eriksen and Carthy take full-blooded liberties with traditional music

Colin Irwin

01, Jun, 2015 @11:11 AM

Article image
'Without Pete Seeger, the UK folk scene wouldn't exist' – Martin Carthy

The English folk star pays tribute to the man who inspired not just him but scores of other UK musicians

Martin Carthy

29, Jan, 2014 @11:34 AM

Article image
Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy on their first mother-and-daughter album
Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy are part of the first family of British folk music, and as they prepare to release their first album as mother-and-daughter, they talk to Jude Rogers

Jude Rogers

08, Jul, 2010 @9:30 PM