Review: Martin Carthy and Peter Robinson: Crimes and Ballads
Venue: National Centre for Early Music, St Margarets, Walmgate, York, Tuesday, March 19
It is with a sense of anticipation that the audience awaits quietly for the appearance of legendary English folk guitarist Martin Carthy and best-selling author Peter Robinson.
The venue is a beautifully-converted church with a tall, vaulted ceiling and fabulous acoustics. The small but adequate stage was rigged with two chairs, two microphones and a music stand. The scene was set for a charming evening of storytelling and music.
The two artists walked briskly to the stage, seated themselves and with no introduction Carthy began to sing the classic English folk song Little Musgrave. He is the owner of a mature voice that is clearly well travelled and consistent in its English phrasing. There is a vibrato that adds interest and if the truth be known – he sounds like an English version of a Delta Bluesman but this ain’t the blues – his music is English to the marrow of his bones.
The first song is completed and Peter Robinson begins to tell the tale of a man haunted by the past. He seeks to resolve the mystery of his first love and what happened to her – in the same way as a friend of his seeks the roots of English folk songs such as Little Musgrave. He wants to understand. He wants to know why.
The story is set in the 1960s and he reflects on when he was a young man and the soul of a woman he could never have had. Carthy accompanies the tale with accurately and sensitively picked notes – enveloping emotion around the delivery of Robinson’s words.
At appropriate intervals Robinson takes a back seat and the space that presents itself allows Carthy to sing songs that complement the text. Tales of loss and longing and of heartbreak and stolen dreams. Classic Carthy.
Robinson continues his story to the end. His first love was merely an illusion. A beautiful yet wicked woman who twisted and decieved. She got her come-uppance. When her husband returned home from World War I he chanced upon his wife with her lover and he finished them off! There endeth the tale and a lovely evening in the company of two genuinely creative talents.
A lively Q & A session followed where both men volunteered good-natured answers to informed questions. The final story was reserved for Carthy who spoke of a freezing winter’s night in the early Sixties when upon returning home with Bob Dylan to Belsize Park in London they proceeded to smash up an old piano to serve as fire wood – to keep them both warm! It was the stuff of legend.
To witness them individually would have been enough. To pair them together was inspired. I couldn’t help but think that in a world where we as a population are increasingly expected to embrace pace and change, tonight’s performance demanded that we stop and think and revel in the talents of two gifted men and the warmth of the community of people in the building. Sometimes the old ways are the best.
- ‘I’m a song person at heart’ – Martin Carthy on music
- Read all our York Literature Festival stories here