Singer and guitarist Martin Carthy has brought an ecumenical breadth to British folk tradition for nearly six decades | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Singer and guitarist Martin Carthy has brought an ecumenical breadth to British folk tradition for nearly six decades 

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click to enlarge Martin Carthy

Martin Carthy

Courtesy of the artist

Few figures have been as important, ubiquitous, and reliable in modern British folk music as singer and guitarist Martin Carthy. He was born in 1941, and like so many teens of his generation was sucked into music by England’s mid-50s skiffle craze. The first song he learned to play was “Heartbreak Hotel,” but by the early 60s he’d become fully absorbed by the folk revival. Nearly six decades later he remains one of the genre’s greatest and most profound proponents. In the mid-60s Carthy launched a long partnership with fiddler Dave Swarbrick, a key member of Fairport Convention, and during the 70s he served stints in important folk-rock bands like Steeleye Span, Albion Band, and Brass Monkey along with countless one-off projects such as Lal and Mike Waterson’s brilliant record Bright Phoebus. After marrying their sister Norma Waterson in 1972, he became a longtime member of the family’s popular band, the Watersons, and when the couple’s daughter, Eliza Carthy, also became a first-rate musician, the three of them formed a new group, Waterson:Carthy. Throughout his career, Carthy’s been known as a nonflashy but superb guitarist and exemplary vocalist who deftly illustrates time-tested tropes of folk music with the nuances of his singing. He’s a veritable human jukebox, a committed student of Britain’s vast repertoire, and an adherent of updating tradition with tasteful rock influences. These days Carthy—who turns 77 next month—doesn’t tour nearly as much as he once did. But his most recent recording, a lively, interactive duo effort with Eliza from 2014 called The Moral of the Elephant (Topic), captures his typical mix of soul, erudition, and historical fidelity.   v

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