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Eliza Carthy

The Duchess, York
Tuesday 21 April 2009

Eliza Carthy is now in her 34th year, which is making me feel rather old. I was getting on for 'old' when I first encountered the little impish tomboy at the Cambridge Festival sometime in the Nineties, when her natural ebullience and youthful zest was encapsulated, setting a precedence for the hoards who followed in her footsteps; all endowed with a new vision of how this folk music should progress, all with buckets full of talent and rather less importantly, all blessed with extraordinary biblical names such as Seth, Ruth and Saul.

Tonight, as we patiently queued up outside The Duchess, on a relatively gorgeous Spring evening, as the sun set over the silhouetted York Minster up the road, a familiar couple to folk audiences throughout the land strolled past, presumably making themselves scarce for a while as their daughter sound checked in the darkened basement below.

It's nice that Martin and Norma come along to support Eliza, you get the feeling of real family cohesion in a time when speaking openly about family values seems to border on a criminal offence. Eliza has developed into a force to be reckoned with. She once was bewildered at the reaction of the old guard, who marveled at her youthful vigor on stage. 'But that's what 17-year olds do!' she responded with astonishment. Well she's still doing it, even months after becoming a mum, and still doing it extremely well. 

I particularly like this current phase of Eliza's development as a songwriter and musician. The use of an electric tenor guitar, the melodeon and the customary fiddle, all offer fitting accompaniment to her songs. The band tonight featured drums, double bass, cello and accordion, and even at one point, during Oranges and Seasalts, a trombone popped up from out of nowhere, played from the sound desk at the back of the room. I was just at the bar right next to the desk and initially thought it was an over-enthusiastic fan, but alas not. The band had spilt over from the stage and enveloped the entire room with sound.

Tonight was by and large given over to the new album DREAMS OF BREATHING UNDERWATER, but the performance also included older and more established material such as Train Song and Poor Little Me from the ANGELS AND CIGARETTES period as well as the beautiful Mohair from herROUCH MUSIC album, showcasing some of the best and most heartfelt singing of the night.

Whilst mum and dad watched from the back, Eliza sang with an unequalled assurance. Her humour, often verging on Spike Milligan, has a playful irreverence that helps the anecdotal family tales weave in and out between songs and leaves you with an infectious sense of fun.

One of the highlights of the night was a version of Rory McLeod's Hug You Like A Mountain, which Eliza unexpectedly manages to breath new life into after we were first introduced to the song back in 1986 on Rory's KICKING THE SAWDUST release. What Eliza manages to capture is the sheer passion found in the original. I imagine Rory is brimming.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky