Honored by BBC Radio 2 as Folk Singer of the Year in the early 2000’s, Martin Carthy is one of the giants of contemporary British music. He is regarded as one of the finest singers and interpreters of traditional music of the British Isles, as well as a highly influential, innovative, intelligent and much imitated guitar player.
Like thousands of others in the 1950’s, Martin was hugely affected by hearing Lonnie Donegan sing “The Rock Island Line.” He started to sneak off with his father’s guitar disguised as a trombone, which, with unparalleled lack of success, he was then studying. Later, for reasons he has never fully understood, Martin was drawn towards the traditional music of the British Isles via a musical love affair, the fire of which still burns, with Big Bill Broonzy and Elizabeth Cotten. By the early 1960’s he was resident at The Troubadour Folk Club in Earl’s Court, London, where his playing and highly emotive singing had a significant effect on all sorts of musicians, including Bob Dylan and Paul Simon (who famously adopted Martin’s arrangement of “Scarborough Fair,” intact).
In 1966 Martin teamed up with fiddle player Dave Swarbrick in a trailblazing musical partnership. On a total of five albums, including Byker Hill (1967) and Prince Heathen (1968), the duo redefined the dynamics between fiddle and guitar in a previously ignored corner of this repertoire.
Martin’s work took other turns when he joined Steeleye Span in 1970 and the Albion Country Band in 1973. Shortly after the latter broke up he became a permanent member of the seminal group The Watersons, with his wife Norma Waterson and her brother and sister, Mike and Lal.
Between and during group ventures, Martin has maintained a busy solo career, recording such acclaimed albums as Crown of Horn (1976) and Because It’s There (1979). The start of the 1980’s saw him return to a group setting with the formation of the quintessentially English folk band, Brass Monkey, featuring a trumpet section. Due to overcrowded schedules, they stopped playing as a band in 1987, but regrouped in early 1995 for a brief tour and again in 1998 to record the celebratory Sound and Rumour.
In the early nineties Martin renewed his partnership with Dave Swarbrick, producing two more fine albums: Life and Limb and Skin and Bone. By then Martin was working alongside his wife and daughter, Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy as Waterson:Carthy. Waterson:Carthy (1994) and Common Tongue were both released to showers of superlatives, both capturing the unique musical empathy that lies between members of this exceptional family. Norma Waterson was honored as Folk Singer of the Year 2000 at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. And Eliza Carthy has moved into mainstream stardom with her major label debut on Warner Brothers Records. In 2015 Martin and Eliza Carthy, joined forces to perform songs from their first duo album ever, a new CD of traditional material entitled THE ELEPHANT, released on Topic Records.
Over fifty years into what he still refuses to think of as a career, Martin has lost none of his drive and enthusiasm. He continues to apply a fresh approach to song, preferring to follow an insatiable musical curiosity rather than cash in on his unrivalled position as one of folk music’s great innovators. His considerable skill, stage presence and natural charm have won him many admirers from within and beyond the folk scene.
Martin Carthy has received an MBE for services to English folk music. And The Carthy Chronicles, a boxed set retrospective, has been released on Free Reed Records.