Never mind Bob Dylan's eightieth next week. It's Martin Carthy's 80th today. Happy Birthday Martin!
He is the grand old man of English folk song. I've seen him perform three times - at an Oxford college in probably November 1974, at Ann Arbor in late 2003, and at a folk club in Islington perhaps ten years ago. And I was also at the Topic Records anniversary concert at the Barbican a couple of years back at which he made a brief guest appearance.
The three earlier gigs were all small, intimate almost, with an audience of under fifty. That's the sort of venue best suited to Carthy's fine guitar work and soulful vocal style. I hope I'll get to see Martin play again.
I mentioned Dylan - Martin Carthy came across Bob on the latter's first visit to England in December 1962 and pointed him towards some key English folk songs which Dylan adapted and transformed in his own inimitable way.
Martin Carthy's TV appearance below, with fiddler Dave Swarbrick, dates from 1967:
Carthy is probably best known for his adaptation of 'Scarborough Fair' - yes, it was his adaptation not Paul Simon's! - and here it is:
One from the archives! A chance finding and topical because a particular person celebrates his 80th birthday this month.
That person is not, alas, Charlie Gillett - the broadcaster and authority on rock music who died in 2010. The photos above date from his Radio London days in the 1970s. I knew him much later when he had a weekly programme on the BBC World Service. A good guy!
No, it's Bob Dylan's 80th. And going through Colin Ward's monthly Anarchy - as you do - in the issue for May 1968 (what a month!), I came across this article Charlie wrote about Bob:
Oh, and Charlie's 80th would have been next February.
This marvellous photo was taken by Brian Shuel during Bob Dylan's first visit to London in December 1962. The venue was the Pindar of Wakefield on Grays Inn Road (it's now the Water Rats!), where the Singers' Club - then run by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - gathered every week. Was this Dylan's first ever public performance in the UK? Well, that's discussed in my Curious King's Cross - here's the link. But because of Brian's photographs, Dylan's performance at the Singer's Club is the best known episode of the 21 year old's initial musical encounter with London.
I have often wondered about the young women in the photograph who are so clearly enraptured by Dylan and his music. Who are they? How did they come to be there? A week or two back, I gave a talk about Curious King's Cross at Holborn Library and showed Brian Shuel's photo - one of those who had come along came up at the end to say that she thought she recognised one of the women in the photo.
That's how I came to have a cup of tea the other day with Natasha Morgan - she's the woman in the bottom left of the photo.
Natasha was then sixteen, living with her left-wing parents in Surrey and she had a few months earlier travelled with a coach-load of folkies - 'lovely people' - to a CND peace march. She knew Bob Davenport, already a key figure on the folk scene, and in spite of her parents' concerns about a young woman wandering alone around King's Cross - Davenport would make sure she got a taxi home - she was a regular at the Pindar's folk evenings.
'I didn't know Bob Dylan was going to be there - the name didn't mean anything to me', Morgan recalls. 'But he was so different from the other singers - for a start he was young, and he didn't simply sing the traditional, unaccompanied songs.'
'At the Singers' Club there was an emphasis on being authentic - many of the singers and performers were older men, a bit beery, slobbery. You had to watch your bottom with some of them - they were always saying "come sit with me". Dylan was very different from that.'
Next to Natasha Morgan in the photo is Anthea Joseph, now dead, who was already an important figure on the folk scene. Natasha was friends with her brother, Tom - a 'natural troublemaker' in the words of the obituary of him in the Camden New Journal.
The legion of Dylanologists has tried to resurrect every one of the singer's set lists - but there is no unanimity about what Dylan played on his handful of informal appearances during that desperately cold London winter.
Morgan is fairly sure he sang 'Masters of War' at the Singers' Club and thinks that he may also have performed 'Blowin' in the Wind'. A few months afterwards a friend taught her to play guitar, and her initial repertoire included 'Blowin' in the Wind' and 'Don't Think Twice'.
She saw Dylan several times on later concert tours - but never again looked on with such rapt attention.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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