For Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson, and Eliza Carthy, traditional music is all about keeping it in the family. What a family! Norma's strong, husky voice has always been a distinctive part of the Waterson Family. Martin Carthy, MBE is honored as being one of the most innovative and influential forces of the English folk revival. After more than forty years on the forefront of the English folk scene, they've been joined by their daughter, Eliza, a dynamo on her own.
On Friday, March 9th, Ithacans will have the chance to experience the magic of this family force when the Cornell Folk Song Society and Rootabaga Boogie Productions present the Waterson:Carthy band in concert.
In 2002, Martin Carthy wrote, "A lot of nonsense is talked in some quarters, when referring to us, about `The First Family of Folk' or even (God help us) `The Royal Family of Folk.' People who do that, in my view, want their backsides kicking--hard."
The "Royal Family of Folk" most likely refers to Martin's being named a Member of the British Empire (only a first step toward knighthood, so please don't call him "Sir.") by the crown in 1998. Carthy may have, "the severest of collywobbles at the idea of anyone being saddled with such a miserable title," as "First Family of Folk," but it's understandable why the tag sticks. Between them, Martin, Norma, and Eliza have been highly renowned in their passion to further English traditional music.
Performing together, Waterson:Carthy creates magic; a "mighty river of song." For the past decade, the dynamic of intergenerational music has continued to be one of power and joy. Their concerts rollick with family and topical banter, and the breathtaking weave of voices and timeless subjects are profoundly moving. There is a special magic when the clan pools its resources. The effect is sensational.
Even during Waterson:Carthy's first performances in the early 1990s, it was no surprise that Eliza seemed a perfect blend of her parents. She embodies her mother's lyric confidence with song, both a cappella and with accompaniment. She also has her father's rhythmic intuition and creative adaptability, along with a distinctive fiddle style, influenced (no doubt) by exposure to Martin's great musical collaborator, Dave Swarbrick.
Eliza Carthy began an independent career 1n 1993, at age seventeen, working with her friend Nancy Kerr. Both young women were the children of folk revival icons, and had spent their lives in performing circles. They burst onto the scene with enthusiasm and an inherent sense of performance.
"When Nancy Kerr and myself first started playing we made a pact between ourselves that we were never going to get our parents on our records because we didn't want people to think we were trying to coast off their reputations," Eliza wrote in her 2002 Anglicana recording. "We have since broken this pact, and why not? We were seventeen at the time, and, I think, much less paranoid now than then. My parents have helped me no end with repertoire and guidance that I would probably have suffered greatly without."
Eliza has a passion for finding and reviving the English style of fiddle music, a contrast to the Irish, Scottish, and Scandinavian styles that have overshadowed it at times. This passion is shared with others in the current generation of English folk musicians, who have aggressively sought out English tune sources. Her 1996 recording Heat Light & Sound contains fiddle tunes from a compilation by Jamie Knowles, and tunes from Thomas Hardy (who would guess that the author of Jude the Obscure was also a village fiddler?).
On Anglicana Eliza explained, "This album is an expression of Englishness as I feel it; with people who were around me at the time, no border checks, nobody pushed out, just what it is." A few years earlier, on Red, she wrote, "The traditional material on this album...is all English and out there. Not to exclude anyone or anything, but just because we can."
Tim van Eyken (melodeon) is an example of some of the brilliant young musicians (and family) that Eliza and her parents work with. Tim was the 1998 winner of the BBC Young Folk Award and, for the past five years, has toured with Waterson:Carthy. He appears on its two most recent recordings. His sensitive performance style and adept delivery have won him admirers around the world.
The dynamic of father and daughter playing together is particularly engaging. Martin and Eliza challenge and support each other vocally and instrumentally. This family communicates well together and has a knack for making the audience feel like part of the family. Don't miss this rare opportunity to hear one of the most influential, prolific, active families in English traditional music.