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Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick

Westgate School, Lincoln
Sunday 21 September 2008

Westgate Junior School is but a short walk away from the imposing Lincoln Cathedral within whose shadow two other towering figures from our English heritage could be heard sound checking in the main assembly hall tonight. Soon afterwards, the hall was packed to standing room only, with music fans of most ages, a couple of other musicians who came along to lend their support and last but certainly not least, a handful of people who continue to work hard in order to bring this sort of music to Lincoln, the organisers.

The Lincoln Folk Festival has been running for quite a few years and this is certainly not the first time Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick have appeared here. Sadly these days, funding and financial assistance is not as much in abundance as, let's say spirit and enthusiasm, shown by those who continue to put events of this nature on in the name of the now defunct festival. Not only does this particular bunch of friends recognise the well established musicians on the folk scene, but they pride themselves on providing a platform for up and coming young artists, and tonight was no exception.

Opening the night was a young 18-year-old from Lincolnshire whose guitar wizardry belongs in the same pigeonhole, if we must have pigeon holes that is, as Eric Roche, Jon Gomm and John Butler, to name but three. Elliott Morris is a stunning young player whose energetic style of highly percussive playing captivated the audience tonight and begged two questions; how do you do that and more importantly, how do you do that being so young?

Performing songs from his new EP, ALONE IN THE DARK, Elliott dazzled the audience with his playing on songs such as his own composition Half a Guy, the traditional British sea shanty Leaving Her Johnny and the instrumental "Spin", written by the aforementioned Roche, who Elliott credits as being his main influence and responsible for the way he plays today. Elliott was recently seen at Cambridge Folk Festival as part of the Hub Project, a youth orchestra organised by the festival specifically to help and encourage young musicians from all over the country. Tonight's performance did nothing to hinder his growing reputation as a guitar player and song writer and it certainly won't be the last we hear of him. 

The second set tonight was provided by someone equally as young and equally as talented as Elliott. David Gray, not to be confused with the chart topping head wobbling folk pop troubadour of 'White Ladder' fame, appeared on the eve of his imminent departure to Newcastle, whereupon he will be working even harder to refine his understanding of music as he embarks upon his traditional music degree. With a style reminiscent of award winning melodeon player Andy Cutting, David appears to be ahead of his game already and handles traditional tunes and contemporary arrangements with equal flair and assurance. Performing tunes written by some of the world's most renowned players such as Markku Lepisto on Bridge and Julian Sutton on The Old House as well as Suspended Slip Jig, which incorporated Andy Cutting's To the Edges, the former winner of the Lincolnshire Young Folk Performers competition demonstrated both understanding of and sensitivity towards his chosen instrument.

As MC Andy Watkins pointed out in his introduction, Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick are indeed legends in their own lifetime, no doubting that, and despite bouts of ill health, Royal appointments and at one point even death, as testified by the infamously ill-timed obituary in the Telegraph, nothing seems to stop this enduring duo. 

Tonight, they appeared in fine fettle as they took to the stage in Lincoln, with a couple of sets of songs and tunes from a repertoire that spans over four decades. Opening with Sovay, Carthy and Swarb demonstrated their almost natural ability to play off each other with seemingly faultless intuition. Democratically weaving through a set list that included both songs and tunes from their most recent album STRAWS IN THE WIND, as well as revisiting material from their earlier repertoire, the duo gave the distinct impression that they had never been away, and their return to Lincoln was welcomed by an enthusiastic reception. 

Whilst Carthy took up his usual stance commanding centre stage, delivering song after song from a now very familiar and prolific repertoire, a seated Swarbrick proved to be just as versatile on the fiddle as ever he was and with that old sense of humour still intact. Towards the end of the first set, he was momentarily surprised when Carthy informed him that the first set was coming to a close, presumably thinking they were just doing the one set. "It's okay" Swarb quipped, "I'll take a pill." 

Despite Carthy's reputation as one of the leading guitar stylists of the folk revival, I was once again taken at just how generous a musician he is when in the company of his fellow musicians. His guitar accompaniment during Swarbrick's fiddle tunes The Bride's March From Unst/True Lover's Lament/Lord Inchiquin and his O'Carolan set, No 178/Blind Mary, was beautifully underplayed, allowing Swarb the freedom to deliver his distinctive and unmistakable playing without too much fuss. 

Finishing with the timeless Byker Hill with its intricate time signature and a final encore of My Heart's In New South Wales, the duo brought to a close what turned out to be an excellent night of outstanding musicianship.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky