If there is one musician who embodies the dynamism and vitality of the current English folk revival, it’s Eliza Carthy. Beloved of staunch traditionalists and iconoclasts alike, Eliza’s music effortlessly crosses boundaries of genre and style. Whether performing a centuries-old ballad or a self-written song, her powerful, nuanced voice, fiercely beautiful fiddle playing and mesmerizing live performances have influenced a whole generation of young musicians.
Describing herself simply as a “modern English musician”, Eliza Carthy is one of the most recognisable faces in British folk. Launching head-on into the scene in the early 90s, she quickly became one of its great innovators. She has spearheaded the re-emergence of English traditional music as a vibrant, exciting genre that could stand proud next to other world musics. At 39, with a wealth of experience under her belt, Eliza’s talent has matured and is flourishing. She continues to bring new audiences to English folk through well-judged collaborations, recordings and performances.
Born into a formidable musical dynasty, Eliza grew up steeped in the folk traditions of England. Her mother Norma was one of The Watersons, whose tight harmony arrangements of traditional songs became one of the defining sounds of the 1960s folk revival. Her father, Martin Carthy, is a hugely significant singer and guitarist, who influenced the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. As a youngster Eliza was profoundly inspired by the incredible range of traditional and contemporary musicians who were part of the Waterson/Carthy world. But far from being a copyist, Eliza began from an early age to develop her own, unique approach to traditional music. This was at least partly because of her own vastly eclectic tastes: she is knowledgeable about and interested in musical traditions from all over the world, which continue to fuel her creativity to this day.
Championed from an early age by the likes of John Peel, Andy Kershaw, Billy Bragg and Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis, Eliza has rarely stood still artistically. From the purest unaccompanied traditional songs to original music incorporating myriad influences, she has moved through English folk music like a force of nature, both stirring it up and putting it back on the map through television, radio and live performance.
Eliza’s musical knowledge and ability is also well respected outside of the folk world: she has been a judge at both the Q Awards and the Ivor Novello Awards, and in 2005 co-presented the BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards with Benjamin Zephaniah. Her achievements have been acknowledged with numerous BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, two Mercury Prize nominations, and in 2003 she was the first English traditional musician to be nominated for a BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music.
After more than a decade based in Edinburgh, Eliza is delighted to be back home in Yorkshire. Never one to sit still for long, she has released three collaborative albums: The Moral of the Elephant (2014) with her father, Martin Carthy, Bottle (2015) with American traditional musician and singer Tim Eriksen (Cordelia’s Dad) and Anchor (2018) with her mother, Norma Waterson. Even with all that going on she had time to release Big Machine (2017) with The Wayward Band, Restitute (2019) and Through That Sound (My Secret Was Known) (2020).
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