Monday, April 23, 2018

Concert Review: Martin Carthy

The man's a traditional folk music legend. I first heard his name because he was a member of Steeleye Span for two classic albums, Please to See the King and Ten Man Mop. Then I discovered his copious solo career, and we were off. These days I'm not as much of a fan as I once was (honestly, I'm more into his fantastically talented daughter Eliza), but he's still very important and responsible for some great music.

Still, when I saw that he was playing two-ish hours from where I am, I was...unsure. That's quite a trek for a weeknight. BUT: he's almost seventy-seven years old, and I'd heard he was having health problems and not performing much, and you'd think that if he was doing it at all, he'd do it in the UK where (I presume) he's relatively better-known and where he wouldn't have to deal with the hassle of transatlantic travel. It seemed like a bit of a miracle that he was here at all, and I thought NOW OR NEVER. So I made the journey to the village of Voorheesville, New York, to see what was what.

It was a very small venue, and not a devoted theater. Just a small stage in front of an empty area where a bunch of chairs had been arranged (they asked us to fold and stack our chairs against the wall after the show, which shows you just how fancy it all was). From a rough count of the rows, I feel confident in saying that there were about a hundred people there. I wasn't the youngest person--there were a few twenty- or thirtysomething hipsters, and a young boy who was probably someone's grandson, but MY GOODNESS was it a geriatric audience, in general. Median age sixties at least.  Maybe older.  Not a great surprise, I suppose, but you kids are missing out. Seating was not assigned, but I got a good one in the middle (though really, there were no bad ones). A woman next to me was knitting throughout the entire concert.

I really didn't know what to expect; Carthy's released a lot of albums, but it's almost all traditional folk material, and he hasn't exactly had "hits" that you would expect him to play. That facilitated a good experience, though, inasmuch as I wasn't really listening for anything in particular; just taking it as it came. He looked good for his age, wearing a blue button-down short-sleeved shirt and had one earring. He sounded good, too; his voice wasn't quite what it was at his prime, but it was still quite solid. In terms of elderly musicians I have seen, he was behind Leonard Cohen but miles ahead of Gordon Lightfoot (who basically had no voice left at all). He even did a few a cappella songs, as he occasionally has on his albums, and it always impresses me that he's able to make those come across. It was, as you'd expect, just him and his guitar; he played for two and a half hours with intermission. I was thoroughly entertained, both by the songs and his introductions, in which he would talk about where a song was from and who had collected it and whatnot. It's just cool to see someone so knowledgable about stuff like that.

Highlights. The single number one highlight to me was "My Son John," a song in the "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye"/"Fighting for Strangers" family. I'd previously heard a version by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior on one of their pre-Span albums, but Carthy's was a bit longer and more involved, with lyrics slightly updated to reflect our Middle Eastern misadventures (and the politicians who sent the title character to be maimed were referred to as "chickenhawks"). It was really powerful, more than I was expecting. Other things I liked: a version of "High Germany," which was actually the first track on his first, self-titled album way back in 1965. It's really a great song. Also a nice version of "Scarborough Fair" (with a different arrangement from the Simon & Garfunkel version). "The Two Sisters," known in some versions (like Pentangle's) as "The Cruel Sister." And this was a cool surprise: a version of "Willie's Lady," which if you know at all you know as the title track of the inimitable and much-missed Ray Fisher's second album (and doesn't it suck that she only released three albums total?). I can't say it was as good as that version, but it was still pretty neat.

So there you go. A fun time was had by all, and during the intermission I shook his hand and got him to sign my CD booklet. A very fulfilling evening.

Oh yeah, did I mention the part where he began the show by talking about his love for the movie Avatar, which I gather he had just seen for the umpteenth time? That's a detail too weird for anyone to have made up.


Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Whoa, I've been to Voorheesville! It's in a pretty picturesque mountainous region, as I recall. A very remote place for just about any concert, much less a folk legend...


11:04 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

I can only say that the one single street of Vorheesville I drove on seemed nice.

You've gotta figure that "legend" is relative inasmuch as traditional folk music has always been a niche area (as opposed to people like Dylan who work in a folk-inspired idiom which nonetheless looks almost unrecognizably different to me), notwithstanding Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span briefly flirting with mainstream success in the early seventies. I have this idea that someone like Carthy should be playing larger venues, but I can also recognize that it's probably not realistic. At any rate, it made for a nicely intimate evening.

8:40 PM  

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