We are in the presence of folk royalty tonight watching Eliza Carthy, the daughter of two legendary pillars of the English folk scene, Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson.
As befits a royal occasion her subjects are many and vociferous, loyal and ready to dance like drunken dervishes.
I counted around 11 in her big band. They were difficult to add up as they were all over the place. How they all managed to get onto the Glee Club stage without major pedestrian congestion I don’t know.
On stage there were cello players, fiddlers, two drummers, a bassist, a lead guitarist and a horn section. It was a remarkable sight and a no less remarkable sound.
Amidst the throng were members of The Availables, Mawkin, The Emily Portman Trio, Blowzabella and the fantastic Sam Sweeney from Bellowhead.
Eliza Carthy got these guys together in 2013 to promote the Wayward Daughter album but such was their chemistry they undertook, collaborated and created the forthcoming album Big Machine. A more appropriate title you’d be hard pressed to find, everything about this tremendous band is big.
It’s a tremendously exciting reinvention of traditional folk, subverted with an energy and brash aesthetic not usually associated with a musical genre more known for its pipe and slippers and a finger in your ear. The word brash comes to mind.
They open with Devil in the Woman, a glorious riot of fiddles and ensemble joy.
Seat belts are on and the set just whizzes by. Gallant Hussar from 2005’s Rough Music was an unexpected joy. There’s time for Ewan MacColl’s Fitters Song and Hug You Like a Mountain by the criminally under rated Rory McLeod.
The new single Fade and Fall was magnificent. At one point Eliza Carthy invites a young chap onstage to do some of that there rapping that the kids do nowadays. He was called D J Dizraeli and helps out on You Know About Me, which offers a rare positive slant on the refugee crisis.
The encore is wild. A rousing version of the Cobblers Hornpipe (I kid you not) and the band are bouncing around and obviously having so much fun it’s ridiculously infectious. At the end an exhausted Eliza remarks on her ample bosom ‘best not do any more, if these things go off I’ve got three weeks washing in here’.
The big machine, well oiled, steaming and so hot you’ll need gloves.
Support tonight came from Eliza’s cousin Marry Waterson, the daughter of the late Lal Waterson. Marry is joined by David A Jaycock, a wonderfully sublime musician and vocalist with the deftest of acoustic guitar touches.
Marry’s voice is a more traditional one, deep, resonant and beguiling. They perform tracks from their new highly regarded album Two Wolves. Very nice it was too and so nice to hear The Watersons’ classic song Some Old Salty as the encore.
Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes.
For more information about Eliza Carthy click here.