Last night I went to see one of my favourite musicians – Eliza Carthy, daughter of Martin Carthy and Norma Waterstone, the British equivalent of the Cash family. she is a brilliant singer, strong and pure and fiddle player and was joined by her good friend, American Tim Erikson. I’d never thought of how the songs of Northern England might connect with those of the Northern United States, but in the hands of such fantastic and well researched musicians, it was a wonderful combination. I didn’t take any notes, so this is going to be a bit rough, but hey, this is the music of the people, so here’s an improvised and possibly inaccurate review of it.
They began with a couple of acapella songs, building up to their Dylan style sellout with amplification before the interval. The songs were mostly about death, and we were warned they would not get any cheerier. The music was in part from Eliza’s family back catalogue – she quipped that by touring without her parents she could steal their back catalogue – but call it keeping it in the family, with a good range of songs from across the pond courtesy of Erikson who played acoustic and electric guitar, banjo and fiddle . He also talked about real and imaginary places where the songs originated, including Pumpkin Town. I just googled this and it exists in Pickins country North Carolina, which sounds appropriate.
He did a few songs from the sacred harp tradition, which he claimed was based on a collection of non sacred songs like ‘Piss on the Grass’ that were given sacred lyrics so they could be used in churches, and are performed with the singers in an open square. He also said that when the Puritans were in charge in the States, they banned singing, so seasonal songs became just part of their repertoire, disconnected from specific times of the year, so Christmas and Easter songs can be sung any time. Which annoys present day Christians.
Carthy found an old book of folk songs her father owned, called saucy folk songs. Some of the tunes were great but the lyrics a bit dated, so she claimed to have ‘removed the Benny Hill’ from the one they sang. There was also a song from Erik about the massacre of a tribe of Amerindians in Florida, supposedly written by one of their survivors who was a Moravians. Tim doubted if he could have written such fine poetry, but the Moravians – see one of my earlier posts – were the greatest evangelists and very strong on education, so I think this might have been possible.
Following on from this, they finished with a song about a sailor on his wedding night, singing that his wife was drunk and that later on he would sleep with her and ‘behave just like a sailor.’ I have no idea what this last means, perhaps swinging from the rigging, or getting paralytically drunk. It was a fun song, but it felt like it has been severely censored. There was also a song from Dorset about wanting to lie by the banks of the Ohio and chase bufalo in the woods, even though Tim thought buffalo had never been in Ohio. That’s Dorset for you.
The encore was from I think Maine – an acapella song about Gabriel blowing his horn. Time did it solo, and his voice was like the old gospel singers of the deep south, but at times it seemed to drift into throat singing. A great way to end a great evening.
They have only just started touring together and hope in the future to record some stuff together. Here is Eliza with her parents:
And here is Tim with The Wayfaring Stranger: