Friday, June 17, 2011

Eliza Carthy: Good Folk

Last night while I was doing other things on the internet I watched a programme about 'folksinger' (since we must classify everything) Eliza Carthy. It was narrated by one Tom Ravenscroft. He wouldn't be the son of grievously-missed John Peel (born John Ravenscroft) would he? or am I exhibiting a romantic side to my nature I would do better, in the defence of my hard-won image as an emotional ice block, to conceal? No matter. In addition to Mr. Ravenscroft, whoever he may be, the programme also featured Eliza herself (obviously, you might think, although if she gets very famous she will absent herself from such flummery), Billy Bragg, 'comedian's comedian' Stewart Lee and Eliza's parents 'folk legends' Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson. And I don't know why - who can say what happy commingling of astral forces and bodily courses makes these things come about - but from the beginning to the end of the show I was mesmerised by the music, the interviews, even the footage of green hills and long empty beaches that Eliza's words and singing were occasionally played over. Now, always one to be a decade or two (or three) late for the party, I have two new heroes: Eliza, who plays and sings so wonderfully - like John Peel my lexicon is limited when it comes to musical appreciation - I had completely forgotten about the other things I was doing before she'd even finished her second song; and her aunt (I think that's what she was) Lal Waterson, whom I've somehow contrived to miss entirely in thirty years spent mining the musical culture of the Sixties. That either tells you something about the androcentric nature of the music business and its new co-conspirator the nostalgia business, or it shows you what a sexist idiot I am. I can live with either, since it's not, I hope, too late for me. Lal seems to have written a body of marvellous songs in her too-short life, many of them strange and elliptical. The one in the show beguiled me utterly, whatever it was called! I will spend some time today and tomorrow looking up her songs on the internet, if they are available. Maybe there'll even be an album in HMV that an unrewarded, potless blogger can afford. Ask for details about my Paypal account in a private email, if you wish.

I was elated after the programme was over, as elated, actually, as only music makes me. So I didn't want to go to bed. I gave the kitchen a cursory clean and then I thought I'd sit down and see what the next programme would be. I had discovered the Eliza Carthy one by accident. Perhaps (he said, using a transparent rhetorical device) there would be jewels waiting for me in the next thing on the schedule. No. It was a multi-artist Celtic Connection 70th birthday tribute to Bob Dylan. Right up the alley, you might assume, of someone who confesses that 'The Times They Are A-Changin'' deprived him of his cultural virginity. But after hearing Carthy and Waterson play those traditional instruments and sing in those old English styles, Roddy Somebody & The Somebodies, the opening band, who did an extremely pedestrian electrified 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', were so flattening to my spirit I hated them. And then, of course, we saw the usual parade of talented artists gushing about Bob's genius and his unassailable body of work and how he has changed songwriting forever. That might be true, although I suspect it's cod history, but I didn't care anyway. I wanted to hear a fiddle. I wanted an accordion. I wanted something I didn't recognise straight away sung in a rich, accented voice that could squeeze and stroke the real human emotion out of the lyric. I wanted, in other words, folk music. I turned the Dylan tribute off half way through a lifeless and unconvincing 'Absolutely Sweet Marie', fed the cats, had a wee, and went to bed, where I wrote down the names of all the songs by Eliza and Lal that I could remember from the preceding programme before I turned out the light.

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