Talking Martin Carthy: folk legend and 'human juke box'
Cover Story (32): Fairytale of New York. The Pogues but also O'Hooley & Tidow and now Eliza Carthy & Jon Boden in extraordinary remakes

Song of the Day: Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick ... Byker Hill

Dec 2023: another update to make this a useful companion to Andrew Curry's review of the tour. And I still haven't managed to renew contact with my old mate Geoff.
July 2021 update: this appeared 10 years ago today. Geoff, once a good friend and I was best man at his wedding, have drifted apart over the years. I would love to make contact again and wonder if he remembers this occasion. I republish it in tribute to the great duo that was Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick (Carthy passed 80 recently but Swarb, sadly, is no longer with us) ...

One night long ago, a friend called Geoff was wondering how to celebrate his 21st birthday.

I suggested that we should take the bus, or buses, to Sunderland, all of 20 miles away, and see Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick at the excellent folk club to be found there.

Even Geoff, not really a lover of folk, agreed they were very good.

For me, definitely by then a lover of folk, it was akin to the pop fan of the age getting tickets for the Beatles.

What Geoff was less chuffed about was the journey home long after public transport had finished for the night. We hitched.

And some kindly soul, on hearing of Geoff's birthday, took us all the way back to our out-of-the-way little town of Shildon.

I must look up Geoff, send him a link to this clip of Byker Hill and see whether it brings back happy memories or rekindles an old grievance.


Byker Hill? Great Tyneside song, it has been sung by so many people that choosing who to feature might have been tough. It wasn't.

My friend Eileen Sheehan, from Darlington and now Swaledale, would have won hands down (I still remember the foot stamping accompaniment she gave herself as a teenager) except that she is not a professional singer and has almost certainly never been recorded singing it.

I recall a lovely off-beat version by Barely Works but could not find a clip of sufficient quality.

In the end, there was no competition. Carthy and Swarbrick were English folk heroes of their time, and have continued (separately but sometimes together in reunions) to produce special music in the decades that have elapsed since Geoff's 21st.

Their version is as good as you'll find and therefore an easy choice for Song of the Day.

* Explore the various ways of buying music by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick by visiting the relevant pages at Salut! Live's Amazon link.



Lovely story. Strangely, I played this only last night.

Bill Taylor

Superb as Swarbrick's fiddling always is, I really don't like this version. The tune is not quite the one I'm accustomed to, and Carthy - whose singing strikes me sometimes as rather too mannered - seems to be shoving in extra words where they don't quite fit. The whole thing just sounds odd.
Like you, I've heard a lot of different versions of Byker Hill. It's a great song. Here are two quite different renditions, one an almost orchestral treatment by the magnificent Bellowhead:
and the other by the Cottars, a Canadian group from Cape Breton Island:
I'll grant that it's strange to hear it sung with a North American accent - especially noticeable on "Walker" - but I think it's lovely.

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