Martin & Eliza Carthy
The Waiting Room, Eaglescliffe. 26 May 2019
A bit of a change of vibe from the previous evening’s Orb visit. Here we are aback in the ever wonderful Waiting Room. The audience was certainly a bit more venerable, but no less appreciable or excited. I will also admit to having a less than encyclopaedic knowledge of their canon, but it doesn’t really matter: what I’ve heard, I’ve liked, and I’m not really here because I know all the songs, but just because I want to watch two people at the summit of their craft.
The first thing to note is that there has had to be a bit of a shuffling around of material. Martin’s voice is not in good shape, and so he doesn’t sing. He does do some speaking on one song (The Great Conversation on Napoloeon, of which more later), but that’s about it. But that means we get more of Eliza singing. Oh, what a privation! Better yet in such an intimate space, where I’m pretty much at he back of the room. It also means they discuss and move things around during the set as they feel comfortable.
Early on is a song about a New Year’s Eve shindig in 1801, written by “the cumbrian Burns”, Robert Anderson. with Eliza’s commentary beforehand adding the colour and detail that makes it so much more fun. So we learn that he was a master of self-promotion, crowbarring mentions of several of his own works into this one. And she apologies for changing a year at the end, because orherwise she’d constantly have to explain about the then Cumbrian dialect rendering of “two” (twee).
And Eliza is truly a force of nature, a massively charismatic presence, while tonight her father is a more restrained figure. She’s funny, erudite and that’s before she starts to even sing or play. And then, then…she is simply incredible. What a voice, and sometimes, the performance even gives a little sniff of the Piaf. It’s mesmerising.
But let’s not forget Martin. While he’s a bit under the weather, and is content to take more of a back seat, he does have one solo moment of wonder, where he plays a version of Ça Ira, the Napoloeonic march; it is a thing of beauty.
There is also a discussion, just before they play two songs that are sort of thematically linked, and even a continuation of that earlier march: the first is The Grand Conversation on Napoleon, the second is The Elephant. Given that European Parliament election results were due this evening, it’s appropriate to talk about the fact that, at the time, Napoleon (and Europe) was not necessarily looked upon with mistrust in this country by the poor, who looked upon the fairly recent French Revolution with some hope, and their own ruling classes with contempt.
Our picture of the time, and the man, is formed partly by the writings of a class who won. Popular song of the time is far more divided. Indeed, in Europe, until he came Emperor, he was looked upon favourably by the likes of Beethoven, who composed his third symphony, Eroica, in his honour. Together with a song about drawing conclusions from incomplete information, the resonances are not lost on the auidence. It works well with the later Monkey Hair, a proto-feminist song about a woman who refuses to bear more children to a man who will only send them off to war to die.
They finish with a beautiful version of Died For Love, and Quebecois (jig). What a fabulous evening, and what a special thing I got to see at such close quarters. Two musicians at the summit of their craft, and the closeness that they enjoy. It was joyful to watch, and I’m glad I did.