Cover Story (2) and Dylan at 80: Don't Think Twice It's All Right. Dylan or Baez
Dylan at 80: a respectful comparison of Mr Tambourine Man, by Bob and by the Byrds

Happy 80th Martin Carthy. And Eliza's greeting to her dad tops all

Salut! Live followed the example of Eliza Carthy in wishing her dad, the British folk legend Martin Carthy, a happy 80th birthday a few days before the actual event. In fact, his birthday is today, Friday May 21. We send our our warmest greetings and congratulations, hoping Martin will enjoy a truly special day.

He is one of the performers I was thinking about when I started this group - Richard Rice, founder of the Uncharted Jukebox Facebook Group

            And this is Salut! Live's appreciation changed only to reflect its re-appearance on Martin's birthday ... 

Beat you to it by three days, buddy.

Martin Carthy,  a phenomenally important and respected pioneer without whom the folk revival would have been poorer and probably short-lived, is 80 today. His musical path has crossed Bob Dylan's; Dylan's similar milestone birthday is on Monday.

Martin's daughter Eliza chose in the end not to wait and posted this heartfelt message on Twitter. 

Martin carthy - 1
Martin Carthy at Fylde Folk Festival 1986. From Roger Liptrot's Folk Images site


If it's good enough for Eliza Carthy, a significant musical talent in her own right, undoubtedly to the immense pride of her parents, Martin and Norma (Waterson), it's more than good enough for Salut! Live. We, by which I mean I (though contributors would surely join me) also went a few days early in wishing this delightful man the happiest of days, many happy returns and sincere thanks for all he has done to promote folk music in these islands. 

Gifted, innovative, inquisitive, challenging,  inspirational, encouraging, uplifting, reassuring and bold. All these adjectives and more properly apply,

Martin may recall that my sideline at The Daily Telegraph, where I was otherwise a newsman, was as its "folk bloke". Twenty years ago last month, I drove up from London to the outskirts of gorgeous Robin Hood's Bay to interview Martin about his coming 60th birthday.

He gave me as much time as I needed, shared great anecdotes and treated me with warmth and openness. I shall reproduce the resulting piece below.

But it is also right to recall a little of what makes Martin Carthy so special.

Born in Hertfordshire to politically and socially active parents, Martin grew up in Hampstead, north London. He listened to Lonnie Donegan - taking up guitar as a result - and to such US blues artists as Big Bill Broonzy and Elizabeth Cotten. His vocal development was aided by a spell as chorister at the Queen's Chapel of the Savoy, a church facing the celebrated hotel London hotel.

Later, he would join Leon Rosselson as part of the the Three City Four before trying his luck as a solo artist. Dave Swarbrick brought his superb fiddle-playing to a second solo album, a precursor to a long collaboration between the two that many regard as among his finest work.

But it would be foolish to overlook the crucial role he played in the emergence of British folk-rock (or electric folk as Steeleye Span used to call it). He had two periods in Steeleye and spent some time with Fairport Convention in the Albion Band. His value to Steeleye cannot be overstated. It was not just Maddy Prior's voice, Peter Knight's fiddle and the band's slick rocky arrangements. When I summon their early music to mind, I hear not only Maddy's Long Lankin and Hard Times of Old England.  I am also taken back to Martin's superb lead vocals on False Knight on the Road.

He never abandoned the acoustic folk format. His membership of Watersons dated from 1972 and led seamlessly into the related projects, Waterson Carthy - initially Martin, Norma and Eliza - and Blue Murder.

Martin Carthy's skills as an arranger did not go unnoticed, reaching among in particular the other octogenarian-to-be gobbling up space on these pages.

Eliza and martin carthy - 1
Father and daughter, both MBE appointees. Mum deserves one, too

As John Crosby wrote at the Mainly Norfolk folk site

A young (and then relatively unknown) Bob Dylan, during his first visit to London in early 60s, had been very impressed by Martin's version of the song Lord Franklin. Dylan used the tune and the narrative style for his own song Bob Dylan's Dream (which appeared on his second album Freewheelin'). Nat Hentoff's sleeve notes credited Martin's version as the inspiration for the piece and, in so doing, magnified his name from the confines of the British folk scene to a name for future international attention.

 Acclaiming Martin's achievements as a "supreme solo artist with an immediately identifiable vocal style - cleanly articulated, slightly nasal with a natural vibrato - and a unique guitar style based on British rather than American traditions", he concluded his appreciation with these words:

It is a testimony to an enormously gifted singer and musician, whose intelligent approach to tradition has both made this music more accessible to wider audiences and enriched the British folk heritage.

 I cannot improve on John Crosby's fine words. Happy birthday, Martin; your gifts to music are too numerous to cover adequately in a short website piece. You are also a man with his heart in the right place. As every schoolchild should know, that place is on the left.


**** Here, as promised, is the Telegraph piece I wrote in 2001:

THIRTY-FIVE years is a long time for a feud to last between two musicians when both agree that it should never have started in the first place.

Martin Carthy's grudge against Paul Simon was based on a charge of plagiarism which, he now acknowledges, was mistaken. But it gnawed away at Carthy even as he followed a path towards elder statesmanship in English folk music.

Happily, the rift ended much where it had begun, the two of them running through the supposedly stolen song, Scarborough Fair, together in London. What the belated patching-up meant to the notoriously uncommunicative Simon is not recorded. For Carthy, it had the magic of a long-endured illness suddenly cured. He was able to approach his 60th birthday in a state of contentment about a life of solid musical achievement.

Among old folkies, 2001 brings a cluster of milestones. Joan Baez was 60 in January, Carthy gets there on May 21, Dylan three days later and Simon in October. Martin Carthy MBE has weathered the years as well as any of them. He still plays 200 live dates a year, and the day after we met he was off to Alaska to begin a month-long American tour.

This month, Topic Records issued The Carthy Chronicles, a boxed set of four CDs stretching to more than five hours of music, although the 83 tracks still amount to less than a tenth of his recorded output.

The ill-feeling over Scarborough Fair dates back to the Sixties, when Simon was one of several Americans, loosely lumped together as folk singers, drawn to the London acoustic scene. With another of the troubadours, Tom Paxton, he went for dinner at the Hampstead flat of Carthy. Before the evening was out, Carthy had "given" Simon his own arrangement of Scarborough Fair.

"I wrote the whole thing down, with lyrics and chords, and handed it to him." Carthy recalls. Simon, of course, went off back to America and, with Art Garfunkel, turned the song into the inspiration for their monster 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

With the benefit of his later exchanges with Simon, Carthy says now: "It turned out he had never claimed to have written the song, and had never received authorship royalties for it." Moreover, in at least one interview, Simon had paid due tribute to all the musicians he had known in Britain in the Sixties.

When the boxed set was being put together, producer Neil Wayne called Simon's office to ask if he would contribute a few words for the accompanying booklet.

Simon chose to deliver the quote personally, and rang Carthy at his home in Robin Hood's Bay on the Yorkshire coast. "We had a long talk, and he invited me to one of his concerts at Hammersmith last October," Carthy says.

They ended up singing that song on stage together, and talked again afterwards. "He asked 'Were you mad at me?' and I said that yes, I had been."

Carthy admits to a great sense of relief. "I had decided 10 years earlier to stop being a victim. It's not as if I would have ever have made millions from my own version, or gone on to do what he has done. But he took the time to sort it out and I am so happy about that."

After the best part of 40 years on the road, Carthy today could scarcely be a happier soul. Though probably his own sternest critic, Carthy is a master of the ballad of substance, songs that tell stories, whether they are traditional, his own or from contemporary writers. That rich body of work stands alongside a string of productive and often uplifting collaborations, in bands, duos and trios and with his wife Norma Waterson and their daughter Eliza Carthy, who have won wider acclaim and are both Mercury Music Prize nominees.

Martin has stuck by choice to the folk circuit, and folk music has been generous in its indulgence of his single-minded pursuit of excellence.

"I have been told I have this reputation among musicians for sticking to my guns, but in truth I have been allowed by the folk scene to follow my nose, develop in my own way," he says.

Carthy is referring to the idiosyncratic open guitar tunings he has developed. He had "this particular idea", he says, and worked at it. "The guitar is a fabulous instrument but it just so happened that I didn't think it could do, tuned normally, what I wanted it to do."

Once, he tried out a new arrangement of the old folk standby, Byker Hill. "Is this OK?" he found himself asking, prompting the splendid retort from his occasional musical partner, folk fiddler Dave Swarbrick: "You can do anything you like to music. It doesn't mind."

Advancing years hold few terrors for Carthy. "I am in fairly good nick, he says. "I hate the aches and pains that come with age and I cannot stand the travelling to gigs - I have never driven and getting around by train has become a pain in the bum. But I love the gigs themselves more than ever. It's still a great life.

"I have gone through 40 years and been able to say all along that I don't have a career. That is a huge plus, and I could not have asked for more."



A lovely tribute to a lovely man.
I remember one session in a pub barn in Oxfordshire where a toddler crawled into his guitar case, curled up and dozed off during his lengthy tuning. The smile he gave to the unknown toddler lit up the room.

Alistair Cheyne

Via Facebook

Happy Birthday Martin. My introduction at 15 to folk music was a concert by you at Aberdeen Folk Club in 68. You played solo guitar beautifully and your singing and choice of traditional and contemporary songs was a revelation , a rock fan who also liked Donovan and Dylan. A year later, you established the UK's finest electric folk band , Steeleye Span. I saw you at a London pub gig in the early 70s- The 3 Horseshoes in Hampstead - 2 hardline folkies remarked loudly tjat there was only a crowd because of "that teenybopper group Steeleye Span " ! They didn't know you were standing close behind them ! But you were so coool ! All you did was say "excuse me please. I'm trying to get to the stage " ! My first folk album was The Bonny Black Hare by you and Dave Swarbrick. Its a marvellous epic trad folk song and your version is amazing. But I hope you don't get too many requests for The Famous Flower of Serving Men ! Thankyou so much Martin for introducing me to folk music and your truly exceptional contribution to British acoustic and electric folk. You're a living legend !

Judith Moore

Via Facebook

Happy Birthday Martin. Your music is a delight and an inspiration. I remember meeting up with you and Swarb at the Auckland Folk Festival.

Malcolm Mackay


Malcolm Mackay


John Twigger

Via Facebook

Happy Birthday Martin ,head of the folk family Xx

Richard Rice

Via Facebook

One of my favorite songs in all the world.

John Batts

Richard Rice IT is a wonderous piece! I always wanted to make it into a play with music, or an animation.

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