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The 'wayward daughter' who made her folks proud ; A bit of a plugFolk musician Eliza Carthy on her new album and solo tour

May 25, 2013


There's no calling this Eliza a do-little; as young traditional English musicians go, Ms Carthy has created furore in the folk world. She started playing gigs when she was a teenager and, 21 years in the business later, has more albums and accolades than you can shake a tambourine at.

But then she is a descendant of folk music royalty - her father was the great Martin Carthy and her mother was singer Norma Waterson.

I think my parents hoped I'd get a proper job and be paid decent money, laughs Eliza. But you know, there's a very heavy generational aspect to traditional music. The idea is that it's passed on, so it was a completely natural process.

Eliza grew up immersed in the world of traditional music, the house was full of musician friends from all over the world.

She took piano lessons from an early age and sang the days away at home with her mother.

I started playing the violin when I was 11, but found it really hard, she explains. It was very formal and I couldn't see where I could go with it.

I was watching inspirational fiddle players at folk festivals and coming back and playing the happy bee.

Disgruntled and dejected, Eliza put the fiddle down for a few years, until she met Nancy Kerr.

She was the same age as me, about 16, but she'd been playing since she was four.

She knew this incredible library of tunes and could play for hours. She also had purple hair, which I thought was cool.

Within 18 months, Eliza and Nancy had recorded an album on violin together. They played together for five years after that, forming a band and just hanging out.

It was an incredible learning curve, having a peer, says Eliza. That's one of the great things about folk music, it's possible for a virtuoso to sit next to a beginner and show them what to do.

Eliza can play numerous instruments, the violin her lead, alongside the tenor guitar, accordion, piano and bagpipes. When she says bagpipes, Eliza actually means the Leicestershire small pipes. Yes, pipes originating from our fair county. Julian Goodacre's pipes are legendary.

We invited him to be on mum's first solo album and I went to his workshop in Scotland. I love the sound of pipes.

There's a strong repertoire of tunes from the Midlands and these pipes are perfect. I mostly play them for pleasure now.

Eliza is an incredibly-talented musician, there's no denying that. She has won numerous BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize three times, among other accolades, and recorded 22 albums.

She has collaborated with a startling array of musical heroes, such as Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Finnish Lord of the Rings composers Vartinna, Cerys Matthews and 1990s dance pioneers Red Snapper.

The Mercury Music Prize was a wonderful experience. I've been three times, twice with my albums Red Rice and Anglicana and again as part of mum's album in 2006, says Eliza.

Pulp beat mum by one vote. We were gutted - especially as Jarvis Cocker gave the Pounds 20,000 prize away to War Child. We'll take it, I wanted to say. We could have gone on holiday with that!

I think winning the best album for Anglicana in 2003 had the most impact, she reflects. Kazuo Ishiguro presented me with the award. I'd never read Remains of the Day, but I'd seen the film and thought it was amazing.

To hear him give a speech about the treasure trove we have in our back garden and how we all have access to it - it was an affirmation for me.

I was 28 and I felt I'd spent so much of my life professing about that heritage and culture.

The thing about traditional music is that young people can know how their great-great-great-great-grandfather felt about things by listening to the music of that time. It exists. That's what matters. And I want to be a part of that.

Some critics say Eliza has revitalised folk music and made it relevant. She thinks that's silly. It's always relevant, she says. I just pointed it out. It couldn't possibly be that it existed for 150 years and then I came along, aged 18 and all of a sudden... it was always there, she laughs.

I think it's impossible to artificially modernise music, it has to be a true expression. I made records with drum and bass because, in 1998 I was listening to that sort of music. The same with salsa when I was touring with Salsa Celtica. When I wrote Neptune, I was listening to Mexican hip-hop, so it didn't occur to me not to rap in Spanish.

It's nothing to do with being relevant or modernising. It's being who you are.

So to Eliza's latest album, spanning 21 years of greatest hits, she has called Wayward Daughter, and a solo tour, alongside fellow folkster, Jim Morray.

Musically it's stonking, she says, getting noticeably excited.

It's outrageously good, really. I'm so happy we're doing it. I have no idea if it will make a penny, but I'm going to remember this tour for the rest of my life. It's a one-off. If you miss it - you'll miss out. ? .M: Eliza Carthy and Jim Moray play De Montfort Hall, Leicester, on Wednesday. For tickets, call 0116 233 3111 or visit:

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