In the early 1960s, the approach Martin Carthy took to folk music was nothing short of revolutionary, albeit a relatively quiet revolution befitting his humble nature. You wouldn’t find Carthy’s music clambering up the singles charts; his was not a face adorning the teen magazines. Instead, his influence was felt at a grass-roots level. He plied his trade in the folk clubs, which is where the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon sought him out, enamoured of his traditional repertoire and keen to learn songs like ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ‘Lord Franklin’ directly from him before adapting them for their own purposes.
His debut eponymous album, re-releasing on vinyl on 23rd February 2024, by Topic Records as part of their ongoing Topic Treasures series, is a snapshot of the work he was doing at the time. Originally finding its way into the world in 1965, courtesy of Fontana Records, Martin Carthy pulled together fourteen songs from his burgeoning repertoire. Produced by Terry at the Philips Recording Studios in Marble Arch, the album was a must-learn checklist for budding guitarists and folk club organisers, and, to this day, remains an essential listen for anyone attempting to find their way into traditional English folk music. Most people turn up for ‘Scarborough Fair’, very few leave without getting hooked on ‘High Germany’, ‘Sovay’ and ‘Ye Mariners All’.
The album also introduces Carthy’s earliest collaborations with Dave Swarbrick, an enduring and much-copied partnership that lasted, off and on, until Swarb’s death in 2016, and became a blueprint for how guitar and fiddle duos ought to sound. While Carthy had been building up his solo repertoire over the previous five or six years, several of the duo arrangements on this album (‘Lovely Joan’, ‘A Begging I Will Go’, ‘Broomfield Hill’) were thrown together in the studio, adding a fizz and freshness to the recordings. This became the pair’s standard way of working. “We used to rehearse on stage, in front of the audience,” he explains today.
In the years since, Martin Carthy has become the veteran of over 40 studio albums and a veritable beacon for musicians and music lovers seeking “the real stuff.” Pressed to name his favourite, he needs no time to think it over. “I always stand by the first album,” he says of his 1965 debut. “I love it. There are some things on it I think I couldn’t have done better. There was a clarity of purpose.” And, with this re-release, we can be sure that newcomers get to hear that sense of purpose in the best possible quality, as clearly as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and a generation of folk lovers did six decades ago.
Label website: https://www.topicrecords.co.uk/
Not exactly contemporaneous but you won’t complain. ‘Byker Hill’ – live: