Martin Carthy

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Martin Carthy
Martin Carthy.JPG
Performing with The Imagined Village at Camp Bestival; 20 July 2008
Background information
Birth name Martin Dominic Forbes Carthy
Born (1941-05-21) 21 May 1941 (age 73)
Hatfield, Hertfordshire
Origin London, England
Genres English Folk, folk baroque
Occupation(s) Singer
record producer
Instruments acoustic guitar
electric guitar
Years active 1960–present
Labels Topic, Fontana, Philips, Deram, B&C
Associated acts Waterson:Carthy
Blue Murder
The Watersons
Steeleye Span
Albion Country Band
Brass Monkey
The Imagined Village
Dave Swarbrick
Notable instruments
000-18MC Martin Carthy signature edition guitar by The Martin Guitar Company
Fender Telecaster

Martin Carthy MBE (born 21 May 1941) is an English folk singer and guitarist who has remained one of the most influential figures in British traditional music, inspiring contemporaries such as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon[1] and later artists such as Richard Thompson since he emerged as a young musician in the early days of the folk revival.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Hatfield to an English mother and an Irish father, and grew up in Hampstead, North London. His mother was an active socialist and his father, from a family of Thames lightermen, went to grammar school and became a trade unionist and a councillor for Stepney at the age of 21. Martin's father had played fiddle and guitar as a young man but Martin was unaware of this connection to his folk music heritage until much later in life. His vocal and musical training began when he became a chorister at the Queen's Chapel of The Savoy. He picked up his father's old guitar for the first time after hearing "Rock Island Line" by Lonnie Donegan. He has cited his first major folk music influences as Big Bill Broonzy and the syncopated guitar style of Elizabeth Cotten. Carthy performed his first professional engagement at the age of 16 at The Loft, a coffee bar in Primrose Gardens.[2] Although his father wanted him to go to university to study classics, Carthy left school at 17 and worked behind the scenes as a prompter at the open air theatre in Regent's Park, then as an assistant stage manager (ASM) on a tour of The Merry Widow, and then at Theatre in the Round in Scarborough.[citation needed]. He became a resident at The Troubadour folk club in Earls Court in the early 1960s. He joined Redd Sullivan's Thameside Four in 1961.

Musical career[edit]

He is a renowned solo performer of traditional songs in a very distinctive style, accompanying himself on his Martin 000-18 acoustic guitar; his style is marked by the use of alternative tunings (notably CGCDGA), and a strongly percussive picking style that emphasises the melody.

In 1964 Carthy joined Marian Mackenzie, Ralph Trainer and Leon Rosselson in the group The Three City Four. The group concentrated on contemporary songs, including some of Rosselson's own, and made two albums – the first for Decca and a second, "Smoke and Dust (Where the Heart Should Have Been)", for CBS. The 1965 eponymous debut The Three City Four featured Carthy singing lead vocals on two tracks – Sydney Carter's "Telephone Song" and Rosselson's own "History Lesson".[3] Roy Bailey would replace Carthy when he later left the group.

Carthy's debut solo album, Martin Carthy, was released in 1965, and also featured Dave Swarbrick playing fiddle on some tracks, although he was not mentioned in the album's sleeve notes. Carthy's arrangement of the traditional ballad "Scarborough Fair" was adapted, without acknowledgement, by Paul Simon on the Simon and Garfunkel album recording Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme in 1966. This caused a rift between the pair which was not resolved until Simon invited Carthy to sing the song with him on-stage at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2000.[2]

Musical collaborations[edit]

He has also been involved with many musical collaborations. He has sung with The Watersons since 1972, was twice a member of the UK electric folk group Steeleye Span, was a member of the Albion Country Band 1973 line-up, with members from the Fairport Convention family and John Kirkpatrick, that recorded the Battle of the Field album, and was part of the innovative Brass Monkey ensemble, which mixed a range of brass instruments with Carthy's guitar and mandolin and John Kirkpatrick's accordion, melodeon and concertina.

For many years Carthy has enjoyed a creative partnership with fiddle player Dave Swarbrick and, more recently, Waterson:Carthy has provided the forum for a successful musical partnership with wife Norma Waterson together with their daughter Eliza Carthy.


In June 1998 he was appointed an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours. He was named Folk Singer of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2002, and again in 2005 when he also won the award for Best Traditional Track for 'Famous Flower of Serving Men'. In the 2007 Folk Awards Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick won "Best duo". In 2014 he was awarded the 'Lifetime achievement award' at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.


Original / Studio albums (solo or with Dave Swarbrick)
  • Martin Carthy (1965) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Second Album (1966) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Byker Hill (1967) with Dave Swarbrick
  • But Two Came By (1968) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Prince Heathen (1969) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Landfall (1971)
  • Shearwater (1972. Reissued in 2005 with three extra tracks)
  • Sweet Wivelsfield (1974)
  • Crown of Horn (1976)
  • Because It's There (1979)
  • Out of the Cut (1982)
  • Right of Passage (1988)
  • Life and Limb (1990) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Skin and Bone (1992) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Signs of Life (1998)
  • Waiting for Angels (2004)
  • Straws in the Wind (2006) with Dave Swarbrick
Compilations and live albums
  • This Is... Martin Carthy: The Bonny Black Hare and other songs (1971) with Dave Swarbrick [six tracks from Byker Hill and six tracks from But Two Came By]
  • Selections (1971) with Dave Swarbrick [six tracks from Byker Hill; three tracks from No Songs EP, 1967; three tracks from But Two Came By]
  • Selections (1972) New Zealand and Australia only
  • Round Up (circa early 1970s) with Dave Swarbrick [second side of Martin Carthy and first side of Second Album]
  • Brigg Fair (circa early 1970s) with Dave Swarbrick [reissue of Byker Hill]
  • Tales of Long Ago (circa early 1970s) with Dave Swarbrick [reissue of But Two Came By]
  • The Collection (1993)
  • Rigs of the Time: The Best Of Martin Carthy (1993)
  • The Kershaw Sessions (1994) [recorded for BBC Radio, 1987 and 1988]
  • A Collection (1999)
  • Both Ears and the Tail (2000, live recording from 1966) with Dave Swarbrick
  • The Carthy Chronicles (2001) 4x CD 83 track box set
  • The Definitive Collection (2003)
  • Martin Carthy at Ruskin Mill (2005) [very limited release – only 200 copies]
  • The January Man: Live In Belfast 1978 (2011)
  • Walnut Creek: Live Recordings, 1989 – 1996 (2011)
  • Essential Martin Carthy (2011)
Releases on other formats
  • No Songs (7" vinyl EP 1967) with Dave Swarbrick
  • "The Bonny Lass of Angelsey" b/w "Palaces of Gold" (7" vinyl single 1976)
  • 100 Not Out (Longform video 1992) with Dave Swarbrick
  • British Fingerstyle Guitar (Longform video 1993 reissued on DVD 2006)
  • Guitar Maestros (DVD 2006)
As a member of Steeleye Span
As a member of The Watersons and/or Waterson:Carthy
Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson at a Waterson:Carthy performance in Cranleigh, April 2006.
  • The Watersons: For Pence and Spicy Ale (1975)
  • The Watersons: Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy (1977)
  • The Watersons: Green Fields (1981)
  • Waterson:Carthy: Waterson:Carthy (1994)
  • Waterson:Carthy: Common Tongue (1996)
  • Waterson:Carthy: Broken Ground (1999)
  • Waterson:Carthy: A Dark Light (2002)
  • The Watersons: The Definitive Collection (2003)
  • Waterson:Carthy: Fishes & Fine Yellow Sand (2004)
  • The Watersons: Mighty River of Song (2004) 4x CD & 1x DVD box set of Watersons and related recordings
  • The Watersons: A Yorkshire Christmas (2005)
  • Waterson:Carthy: The Definitive Collection (2005)
  • Waterson:Carthy: Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man (2006)
As a member of Brass Monkey
  • Brass Monkey (1984)
  • See How It Runs (1986)
  • The Complete Brass Monkey (1993) compilation of the previous two albums
  • Sound and Rumour (1999)
  • Going and Staying (2001)
  • Flame of Fire (2004)
  • The Definitive Collection (2005)
  • Head of Steam (2009)
As a member of Blue Murder
Other notable releases
  • Thamesiders & Davy Graham (1963) 7" EP
  • Three City Four: Three City Four (1965)
  • Dave Swarbrick, Martin Carthy & Diz Disley: Rags Reel & Airs (1966)
  • Various Artists: Bright Phoebus: Songs by Lal & Mike Waterson (1972)
  • Albion Country Band: Battle Of The Field (1976)
  • John Kirkpatrick: Plain Capers (1976)
  • Albion Country Band: Larkrise To Candleford (1980)
  • Band of Hope: Rhythm And Reds (1994)
  • Wood, Wilson, Carthy: Wood, Wilson, Carthy (1998)
  • Dave Swarbrick: Swarb! (2003) 4-CD box set career retrospective with numerous Carthy tracks
  • Martins4: Guitar Nights presents the Four Martins (2003) released on CD and DVD (DVD has additional tracks)
  • Various Artists: The Imagined Village (2007)
  • The Imagined Village: Empire & Love (2010)
  • Three City Four: Smoke & Dust (2010) Compilation of tracks from two 1960s albums.


  1. ^ Varga, George (10 February 2000). " | The San Diego Union-Tribune | San Diego Green Guide". The San Diego Union. Retrieved 1 November 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Interview on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs broadcast 13 January 2013
  3. ^ "The Three City Four". 8 November 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 

External links[edit]