Martin & Eliza Carthy – Live

Five starsMartin & Eliza Carthy, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 6 June 2014.

Father and daughter are onstage to launch their new album – and their first together – The Moral Of The Elephant. It’s the perfect partner to the mother/daughter pairing on Eliza and Norma Waterson’s The Gift a couple of years ago.

Of course, Martin and Eliza Carthy have previously worked together, but they’ve never recorded simply as a duo. They’ve both performed as members of multicultural ensemble, The Imagined Village so it’s a treat when they are joined by sitar player Sheema Mukherjee (Transglobal Underground) who brings her magnificent, lush playing to accompany three songs from The Imagined Village repertoire. The updated lyrics to My Son John and Hard Times Of Old England Retold still remain poignant and pertinent.

Still, the night’s essentially about the new cd and each song from it is beautifully performed, with the duo playing off each other brilliantly.

The first half closes with an accomplished and moving take on Molly Drake’s song Happiness. Part way through, actress Gabrielle Drake joins the duo onstage to recite one of her mother’s poems. Martin and Eliza fit with consummate fluidity around Gabrielle’s recitation, gently blending subtle guitar, vocals and whistling into a seamless performance.

Martin – a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of thousands of words and tunes – is also a perfectionist, incapable of allowing himself to deliver a dud rendition of a song. His guitar tuning must be just so, and character names correct before he carries on (and how lovely that he really cares whether a character is called Mary Ann, when he could have made up another name on the spot just for the sake of continuing. It shows a lot about how much keeping the truth of the songs alive, matters to him). So what if there are a couple of false starts while Martin adjusts the world to his standards – it’s ok, because his standards are well worth waiting for and, in his 70s, he’s still not prepared to settle for less.

Eliza, elemental force that she is, seemingly incapable of ever standing still for a second, beats time with her foot, weaves deftly around the stage whilst playing the fiddle with great skill, or does what my dad calls “seaweed arms”, wide, open gestures that accompany her singing – that mesmerising, husky voice that captures every nuance of emotion.

Oddly, for two people so comfortable performing on stage, the between-song chat can sometimes seem a bit forced (and in places seemed to be directly quoting from the cd’s sleeve notes). But, in more relaxed moments, Eliza brings on her phone to take selfies with elephant figurines brought in by audience members, snaps her dad tuning up for a song and, most touchingly of all, perhaps, introduces Martin simply, proudly, with “This is my daddy”.

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