If Eliza Carthy is in town, you go and see her, right? This has been true for me since I got into folk music. I distinctly remember the trad penny dropping when I first saw her, alongside the Ratcatchers, back in 2007. Between then and the advent of Covid, ‘going to see Eliza’ became, for me, part of the rhythm of my gig-going life. Likely a couple of times a year, at least, I’d get a fix.
On Sunday I found myself seeing Carthy play after (for me) a three-year interval (here’s a review of the last one). And though I wasn’t surprised it was so good (duh, it’s why I went to all those shows), I was taken aback by a strange combination: the unusual exhilaration the performance delivered, balanced against the feeling that this was somehow ‘normal’.
Because of course it’s not normal. The trio – formed with long-time collaborators Saul Rose (melodeon) and David Delarre (guitar) are simply exceptional. Each instrument seems an extension of its casually virtuosic player, recognisable in style, yet also able, seemingly instinctively, to share the spotlight, listening and learning as they go. Any mistakes the trio make (and there are one or two) simply highlight their adaptability: they play around it, laugh it off. So do we.
We begin with Turpin Hero, Carthy’s voice untamed by a brush with hay fever, and roar through pieces traditional and modern, with some adapted from/written for performances of Shakespeare and Hardy. There are “rude” songs and moving, beautiful songs – a version of Golden Slumbers makes a lovely, warmly received tribute to Norma Waterson – and some energetic tune sets, in particular the classically inflected Downfall of Gin/Linco Found Damon Lying/The West Indien. Writing as an extremely amateur guitarist, it looks like a complete bastard to play, but it sounds brilliant. The stage is alive with glances, quick checks, nods, laughter… and Carthy, in the middle, almost lost in the music – dancing, frayed bow and fingers a blur, crop of blue hair across her face, just going for it.
This is quite something to have become used to – and though I hope this experience once more becomes ‘normal’, I also hope it’s something I never come anywhere near taking for granted.
This review is perhaps a little unhelpful in going up shortly before the last night of the tour (short of moving to rural Herefordshire, there’s not much I can do about this, sorry), but I hope it’s clear that while every show is unique, this magic does tend to happen when Carthy plays. Upcoming album Conversations We’ve Had Before will be worth checking out – but seeing her play will be essential. Keep an eye on that upcoming gigs page.
Main pic credit: Thom Ashworth