Photography by Philip Ryalls
Jo Frost looks back at one of the highlights of the 50th Cambridge Folk Festival on August 2, where Martin & Eliza Carthy took to the stage
There were, unsurprisingly, elements of nostalgia about this year’s special anniversary edition, with some classic old-timers such as Van Morrison, Loudon Wainwright III and Richard Thompson gracing the bill. In a Q&A slot on Stage 2, journalist Colin Irwin led an onstage chat with Martin Carthy, his daughter Eliza, and Richard Thompson, reflecting on the festival and all things folk. When the audience were invited to put forward questions to the trio, someone asked where they thought folk would be in 50 years time, to which Eliza quickly answered, “Well, I’ll be dead – or here!”
It seems fitting then that the Waterson/Carthy dynasty play such an important role in Cambridge’s progression over the last half century – and illustrates just how cyclical the nature of folk is. Mike Waterson appeared at the very first edition, Martin Carthy at the second and 50 years on, father and daughter are playing together – with Eliza’s young daughters in the crowd.
Looking resplendent with long, royal blue hair – specially dyed for her forthcoming tea with the queen to receive her MBE – Eliza and her dad Martin perform songs from their latest album, The Moral of the Elephant (a Top of the World review in #101). Although the pair have, of course, spent their lives playing together, it is actually the first album they’ve recorded – just the two of them.
There’s an evident appreciation between the pair, as Eliza looks on, smiling warmly when Martin takes the singing lead, his voice slightly reedier with age. In contrast, despite having had problems with her voice over the last few years, Eliza sounds better than ever; her voice soars as she raises her arms as if conducting an imaginary orchestra, or perhaps the audience. On guitar and violin, they perform their versions of traditional songs, such as ‘The Grand Conversation on Napoleon’ and ‘The Bonny Moorhen’, plus newer songs like ‘Happiness’ written by Nick Drake’s mum, which Eliza describes as “the saddest song about happiness I know,” and ‘Monkey Hair’ by the late Michael Marra – a terribly poignant and tender song about bereavement. Eliza quips “there are no happy songs after this!” and in true folk style, there’s not a lot of jollity to be had in the subject matter. But despite the sadness and tragedy in many of the songs, the sight of this father and daughter duo performing together with such ease and enjoyment was a very special moment and a festival highlight.
An interview with Martin & Eliza at the festival: