For our anniversary treat tonight, Andrew and I went to see Martin Carthy at the Band on the Wall -- a venue Andrew had been to before but I hadn't, and I really liked it. Seemed to have nice veggie/vegan food (I had just eaten today but I want to try it another time) and the beer was good, as well as having a lot of the kind of music I normally like better than Andrew does, despite not having been there myself!
We got settled into seats right in the front row, folding chairs in tightly-packed rows. The woman next to me started chatting; she was friendly and enthusiastic about her boyfriend's tastes in music, totally new to folk. Hadn't heard of Martin Carthy before. I almost envied her the revelation ahead of her, but had to hope she'd see it that way: as Andrew and I told each other on the walk to the bus stop, there must be people who don't like Martin Carthy, but we can't understand how.
I was just playing The Imagined Village songs to Stuart yesterday; he'd done me the favor of giving me a good excuse to get out of the house and away from social media on such a dark day for my country and the world and I repaid the favor, inadvertantly, by introducing him to this music. Looking through my Recently Played, I thought this would be most to his liking and it turned out he hadn't heard of them and was delighted.
So the version of "John Barleycorn" we got as the second or third song tonight was familiar to me from one of the Imagined Village records...but so much more captivating in person of course. I'm someone who's lacked the attention span to read a paragraph lately, whose biggest problem with running 5k is I get bored and want to see if I've got any new things to look at on the internet about one hundred times while I'm running. But here I was tonight, listening to all umpty-million verses of "Sir Patrick Spens" and all that time I am not doing anything else
. I'm not thinking of anything else, I don't want to be anywhere else.
There's something compelling to me about folk songs, old songs: you can almost feel the weight of the years on them, the different people who've sung them in different circumstances. Carthy introduced "Sir Patrick Spens" by saying that if this were a real event it would've happened in 1282, and my mind got a bit dizzy trying to imagine such a year, much less that anything could tie such a time to us sitting now in our folding chairs. Of course the song itself is nothing like that old (Wikipedia tells me a version was published first in 1765), and of course many older artifacts of our culture persist, not least the language we speak! But still I am a little in awe of how casually this man carries around in his head versions of things that have been in so many other people's heads, and ears, and voices.
My attention span didn't last the whole evening (and this was an old-person's gig for old people; it had a curfew of 9:45, so it wasn't a long evening!), but it did spike up again when I heard another Imagined Village favorite, "My Son John."
If you listen carefully you might recognize elements of the song's plot: Carthy mentioned it having been recorded by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior in the sixties, and apparently the sleeve notes of that album explain it a little.
Fred Hamer collected this song in Bedfordshire from the singing of David Parrott. A father and his disabled son are before a naval surgeon who is trying to cheat him of his disablement pension by claiming that he was careless to stand in the way of the cannon ball which shot his legs off.
It fits right in with Atos and the DWP today, doesn't it, to blame a man for getting his legs shot off so that they don't have to give him any money.
I always come away from folk gigs wishing I listened to more folk music. Andrew likes it fine (of course he's the one who's introduced me to Martin Carthy and all the British folk, just as the nice lady next to me (Debbie, she was called) is being introduced to it by her boyfriend tonight) but it's not as well represented in his music collection as other things, and it's usually his music that's playing. He's always careful to tell me I can play whatever I want, and of course I know I can, but if I'm not bothered about whether there's music playing and he is, we mostly hear his music.
But, the Unthanks are playing in March. I really like them. I think I'd like to go see them.