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.
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.
Woah! 🤗🤗🤗 https://t.co/7xGamzplAg— Eliza Carthy MBE (@elizacarthy) May 15, 2021
**** 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.