Friday, July 15, 2005

Further Folk Adventures: Martin Carthy & Davy Graham

Something’s going on. Following previous posts documenting my meetings with Rambling Jack Elliott and Shirley Collins, last week I came face to face with Martin Carthy. Carthy, a legendary figure in the British folk scene (married to Norma Waterson and father of Eliza Carthy, both folk stars in their own right. See: Waterson/Carthy website), came to the Lewes Folk Club at the Royal Oak, run for the last 30 years by Vic and Tina.

Carthy has deep political roots, an encyclopaedic knowledge of folk music, plays in a unique style (open tuned, with little runs and licks that are difficult to decipher), and it was a great experience to hear him for the first time. [Complete discography & biography here]

As chance would have it, Carthy was being filmed by the BBC the following morning, also at the Royal Oak, for a documentary on Bob Dylan. (Major story on this and other Dylan developments to come). I was invited to sit in as Carthy talked for more than a hour about the time he first met Dylan in 1962 (they were both 21 at the time – Dylan is three days older than Carthy) and sketched out the folk scene of London at that period. Fascinating. It was Carthy who taught Dylan the song (‘Lord Franklin’) that provided the tune for ‘Masters of War’ and Paul Simon the traditional folk tune ‘Scarborough Fair’ which later famously featured on a Simon & Garfunkel album.

Carthy had not played this latter song for some 20 years. He spent about half an hour working on it, remembering the words and chords, trying out different rhythms and licks, before delivering a version that sent chills up your back. He also most movingly read an extract from Dylan’s ‘Chronicles.’ A real privilege.

Now here’s a further extraordinary development. The legendary Davy Graham is playing tonight in London with Steve Benbow, who first taught him Moroccan music, at Bush Hall. And I can't be there. Damn.

Graham influenced Carthy, Bert Jansch, Ralph Mctell, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and tens of thousands of others. His unique guitaring styles blended trad folk with eastern music in a totally new style. He also invented the opening tuning DADGAD which is now used worldwide by guitarists of all persuasions. He also wrote 'Anji' - a guitar instrumental which millions of us tried to learn and play - with mixed results.

I tried desperately to book Davy Graham for a concert in Brighton a couple of years back but with no success. I’ve subsequently discovered Graham’s live appearances have always been rare and uncertain.

So much to say about this remarkable man. A good introduction can be found in Will Hodgkinson’s article ‘The Original Guitar God’, which features a rare colour pic of him looking a bit like Elvis Presley with a cool cap to boot. [Not featured on the web unfortunately]

Fledgling Records are about to re-release ‘Folk Routes New Routes’ (a title that sums up Graham’s importance), featuring him playing with Shirley Collins.

My personal favourite is his first solo album, ‘Folk, Blues and Beyond’ which I can play time and again and never get tired of – a bit like Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’. Timeless.

I also own a 10-inch vinyl of ‘After Hours’ recorded in a student bedroom at Hull University on 4th Feb 1967 in front of audience of about eight, which is considered one of the best records of his live playing.

Much more on, including a wonderful essay by John Pilgrim called ‘The Man Who Invented World Music.’ Also publishers of the fanzine 'Midnight Man'.

Brilliant piece by folk guitar maestro John Renbourn: 'Who Is Davy (Davey) Graham ?' Reveals, amongst many other fascinating things, that Stephen Stills solo in 'Bluebird' by Buffalo Springfield is a virtual note by note transcription of Davy's 'She Moved Through The Fair.'


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