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Feva: Martin Carthy at the Frazer Theatre

By his own reckoning, it’s 25 years since Martin Carthy last played Knaresborough, at what was then the Borough Bailiff. Accompanied only by his own guitar, Carthy, one of the guiding spirits of the 60s’ English folk revival (who influenced a young Bob Dylan, taught Paul Simon his arrangement of Scarborough Fair, played in the folk rock band Steeleye Span, married into the Watersons and is the father of the incomparable Eliza Carthy) delighted a full house at the Frazer Theatre with 17 songs and two encores from his compendious repertoire.

Starting with High Germany from his first eponymous album of 1965, he included other old favourites such as The Royal Oak. His inventive tuning and skilled finger-picking drove the songs along and were also heard to advantage on instrumentals such as The Downfall of Paris and The Heroes of St Valery.

At 74, his voice is still excellent at delivering a gripping narrative. Whilst his repertoire is traditional, he reinterprets it to make it speak directly to a modern audience and my enjoyment was really enhanced by his informal but informative introductions. Among the best received songs was Mrs McGrath/My Son John, a traditional Irish anti-war song updated to include references to Iraq and Afghanistan. Stitch in Time, written by his brother-in-law Mike Waterson, was a seering revenge song by an abused wife.

Martin Carthy left no-one in the audience in any doubt why he won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Radio 2 Folk Awards. It’s to be hoped we can hear him here again before another 25 years have elapsed.

Martin Harrison

See the full feva programme here

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