Biography All Music GuideWikipedia
All Music Guide:
If the English folk revival of the 1960s had a single "father" and guiding spirit, then Martin Carthy was it. Carthy's influence transcends his abilities, formidable though those are -- apart from being one of the most talented acoustic guitarists, mandolinists, and general multi-instrumentalists working the folk clubs in the 1960s, he was also a powerful singer with no pretensions or affectations, and was an even more prodigious arranger and editor, with an excellent ear for traditional compositions. In particular, he was as much a scholar as a performer, and frequently went back to the notes and notebooks of folk song collectors such as Percy Grainger, scouring them for fragments that could be made whole in performance -- no "second hander," he used the earliest known transcriptions and recordings of many of the oldest folk songs known in England as his source, and worked from there. By 1966, at the time he was cutting his first two albums, Carthy was already an influence on Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, and by the end of the 1960s was de facto mentor to virtually every serious aspiring folk musician in England. At least three major English folk-rock bands, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and the Albion Band, were formed either directly or indirectly with his help and influence.
Surprisingly given his musical prowess, Carthy didn't initially set out to be a musician. Upon leaving school, he served as an assistant stage manager for different theatrical companies, and only gradually drifted into performing in the coffeehouses springing up around London during the late '50s and early '60s, as skiffle, with its heavy American influence, was supplanted by more specifically British material. He joined Redd Sullivan, Marion Gray, and Pete Maynard in a group called the Thameside Four, and sang with them for three years, until his reputation had grown sufficiently, and the demand from the clubs in London was such that he began making solo appearances. He became the resident singer at a folk club called the Troubadour in London, and during that time he recorded a four-song extended-play single for Topic Records that got lost somewhere between the studio and the pressing plant.
Still, he had an audience, and among those listening was a pair of Americans who happened to be in England at the time. One who heard Carthy perform his arrangement of the traditional song "Scarborough Fair" was Paul Simon, who was trying for a folksinging career in London following the failure of the very first Simon & Garfunkel album (Wednesday Morning, 3 AM) back in America. Carthy gave Simon his arrangement, chords, and words for the song, and it became the basis for Simon's own version when he returned to the United States. Another American working around London in 1965 was Bob Dylan, in London appearing in a television play called Madhouse on Castle Street (wherein a teenager named Duncan Brown heard his guitar playing and decided to become a musician, recording one classic '60s album). Dylan heard Carthy's version of "Lord Franklin" and transformed the melody into "Bob Dylan's Dream" for the album Freewheelin', which also mentions Carthy in the liner notes.
Carthy made his recording debut on the English Decca anthology album Hootenanny, but neither song was really representative of Carthy's work. "My Baby Has Gorn Dahn the Plug 'Ole" and "The End of My Old Cigar" provided what he later referred to as comic relief amid the earnestness of the rest of the compilation. His big influences, in addition to the expected folk song collectors and arrangers such as A.L. Lloyd, included Ravi Shankar (Carthy had attended the latter's first London performance in 1957) and Davy Graham, whose version of "She Moved Through the Fair" encouraged his interest in Indian music. By the mid-'60s, Carthy was a musical polymath, drawing inspiration from music all over the map, although his repertoire came entirely from the British Isles.
In 1965, Carthy was signed to Fontana Records and recorded his debut album, Martin Carthy, that same year, which contained his arrangement of "Scarborough Fair" and featured contributions from fiddler Dave Swarbrick as a performer and co-arranger. From the very first, Carthy's records became songbooks for thousands of lesser performers and less ambitious would-be folk musicians -- he literally was the Bob Dylan of the English folk revival, without the feigned anger or the affectations, but with all of the skill and depth. That first album was also the first manifestation of what eventually became a more formal partnership with Swarbrick. That didn't begin, however, until March of 1966, when the violinist found himself turned back by Dutch customs officials while traveling to Denmark -- Carthy offered to team up with Swarbrick on an upcoming tour with a 50/50 split of the proceeds. Their recording situation was more complicated, due to the fact that Carthy was signed to Fontana as a solo artist, and the record company wouldn't modify the contract -- they were never able to split the revenues of their recordings during the 1960s, a situation that never hurt their working relationship. The two ended up recording six long-players and an extended-play single between 1966 and 1969 (at around that time, Swarbrick went off to join Fairport Convention). Their records, all carefully programmed and recorded (each new song was a surprise: a solo number by Carthy might be followed by a work featuring the two of them, followed by an a cappella number by Carthy), sold well among folk enthusiasts, and put both Carthy and Swarbrick on the map nationally.
Carthy became not only one of the most popular folksingers in England but, more than that, a musical resource. Unlike most of his rivals, Carthy respected original -- or at least the earliest known -- versions of the songs he performed, and where possible he would go back to field recordings done early in the 20th century. One of Carthy's specialties was finding and completing fragments of songs that didn't exist in complete versions -- not only did this add dozens of songs to the repertoire (usually played and heard by people who had no inkling of the editorial and musical skills that had gone into making the songs "whole"), but it gave Carthy a starting point very far from the superficial commercial folk-rock that was typical of the 1960s. His use of primary sources allowed him to pick up nuances from the songs that most of his rivals never guessed were there. Additionally, he was open to recording original material, if it were the right material under the right circumstances, and several of his 1960s albums feature songs by his friend, songwriter Leon Rosselson. Coupled with his vocal and guitar skills, all of this made Carthy perhaps the most important folksinger in England, as a source of inspiration, a conduit for songs, and a model for how to approach the music.
By 1970, however, a modern group beckoned Carthy in the form of Steeleye Span, which had been formed by Ashley Hutchings, Tim Hart, and Maddy Prior in the wake of Hutchings' exit from Fairport Convention. Unlike Fairport Convention, which freely mixed original and traditional material, Steeleye Span played traditional folk music, albeit on a mix of electric and acoustic instruments (they didn't have a drummer at this time), and Carthy became something of their resident sage and musicologist -- the group inherited and adopted many songs that he had recorded during the 1960s. By 1972, he was out of Steeleye Span and recording on his own again. That same year, he married Norma Waterson and became a member of her family's folksinging group, the Watersons, of which he has remained an active member. He also became a member of the Albion Band, the group formed by Hutchings in the early '70s, working with them on the album Battle of the Field. During the 1970s, Carthy also began doing theater work, which led to the formation of the group Brass Monkey in the early '80s.
Carthy revived his partnership with Dave Swarbrick again in the 1980s, and the two have continued to perform and record together in the ensuing decades, issuing Skin & Bone in 1992 and Straws in the Wind in 2006, both on the Topic label. The Carthy solo efforts Right of Passage (1988), Signs of Life (1999), and Waiting for Angels (2004) were released on Topic as well. All of Martin Carthy's classic albums on Topic and Fontana are available on compact disc.
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 and later artists such as Richard Thompson since he emerged as a young musician in the early days of the folk revival.
Early life 
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 Donnegan. 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. 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.. 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 
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 emphasizes the melody. His debut 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.
Musical collaborations 
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".