Martin Carthy and Eliza Carthy
April 13, 2015, The Parlor Room at Signature Sounds, Northampton, MA
By Lahri Bond
For more than 40 years Martin Carthy has been one of British folk music's greatest innovators. He has enjoyed musical partnerships with, Steeleye Span, Dave Swarbrick, Brass Monkey, Blue Murder, The Watersons, and as part of Waterson Carthy with his wife Norma Waterson and daughter Eliza Carthy. Eliza, for her part, is a passionate singer, and skilled multi-instrumentalist, adept at violin, viola, melodeon, piano, guitar, tenor guitar, and ukulele. She has worked both solo, and in collaboration with The Waterdaughters (a group that featured her mother, aunt Lal Waterson, and cousin Maria Knight), Blue Murder, Waterson Carthy, Nancy Kerr, The Imagined Village and The Kings of Calicutt.
In 2010, Norma and Eliza collaborated on a much heralded duo album The Gift, while last year saw the release of a Martin and Eliza album The Moral of the Elephant, which they are currently touring in support of. The duo were booked to play a relatively new, small venue in Northampton, Massachusetts, called The Parlor Room, which has been a lovely antidote to the high prices, bad food and service, and general decay of another well-known concert hall in town.
As soon as the duo took the stage, Martin in trademark flowered shirt, Eliza in black dress and blue hair, it was evident they share an ease and humor with each other, that spoke of both the joys of family, and a life of performing together. They opened with “Daughter in the Dungeon,” a Bob Cooper song on which Eliza sang and played fiddle. Bathed in blue light Eliza assumed the mantel of a 1940s torch song singer with a gorgeous rendition of “Happiness,” a song originally recorded by Nick Drake's mother Molly Drake. Martin gleefully and masterfully handling all the complex jazz chords, while Eliza made beautiful shapes with her hands as she sang. Often, many of the between song stories were longer than the tunes themselves. Such was the case with their tale of an old UK tradition of a “lock in,” where a pub keeper would lock in his patrons after hours, so they could keep drinking, and being more trusting times, he could go to sleep. Equally long, and entertaining was their song and accompanying true story around the swimming misadventures of one “Princess Caraboo.” Their first set finished with an epic pairing of the “Grand Conversation on Napoleon” and the classic fable-based “The Moral of the Elephant,” from their latest release.
After a brief intermission, Martin took the stage to perform a solo version of “High Germany” that showed he has lost none of his power as a superbly innovative guitarist and highly stylized singer. Eliza followed with a solo rendition of the Marina Russell of Upway classic “Awake, Awake,” here renamed “Waking Dreams.” They joined together again for a song about the aftermath of Napoleon's wars “Bonny Moorhen.” This lively song spotlighted Martin's distinctive voice, while his guitar play with Eliza's fiddle was uncannily empathetic, in the same way as his early collaborations with Dave Swarbrick. Eliza pulled out all stops in her performance of Michael Marra's song “Monkey Hair,” based on the classic novel A Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.
They finished the set with staggering and stark rendition of “Queens of Hearts,” and a rare restored version of “Died For Love.” The encore brought a singularly lovely reading of the traditional “Farewell Lovely Nancy.” With Norma Waterson's health limiting international travel for the family band, it was still lovely to see Martin and Eliza on this now rare stateside visit. The new album The Moral of the Elephant is currently available, and we will, hopefully, be seeing more of this wonderful father/daughter duo.