Martin Carthy
Performing with The Imagined Village at Camp Bestival, July 2008
Performing with The Imagined Village
at Camp Bestival, July 2008
Background information
Birth nameMartin Dominic Forbes Carthy
Born (1941-05-21) 21 May 1941 (age 81)
Hatfield, Hertfordshire
OriginLondon, England
GenresEnglish Folk, folk baroque
record producer
Instrumentsacoustic guitar
electric guitar
Years active1960–present
LabelsTopic, Fontana, Philips, Deram, B&C
(m. 1972; died 2022)
ChildrenEliza Carthy

Martin Carthy MBE (born 21 May 1941) is an English folk singer and guitarist who has remained one of the most influential figures in British traditional music, inspiring contemporaries such as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon,[1] and later artists such as Richard Thompson, since he emerged as a young musician in the early days of the folk revival.

Early life

He was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England,[2] and grew up in Hampstead, North West London. His mother was an active socialist and his father, from a family of Thames lightermen, went to grammar school and became a trade unionist and a councillor for Stepney at the age of 21. Martin's father had played fiddle and guitar as a young man but Martin was unaware of this connection to his folk music heritage until much later in life. His vocal and musical training began when he became a chorister[3] at the Queen's Chapel of The Savoy. He picked up his father's old guitar for the first time after hearing "Rock Island Line" by Lonnie Donegan. He has cited his first major folk music influences as Big Bill Broonzy and the syncopated guitar style of Elizabeth Cotten. Carthy performed his first professional engagement at the age of 16 at The Loft, a coffee bar in Primrose Gardens.[4] Although his father wanted him to go to university to study classics, Carthy left school at 17 and worked behind the scenes as a prompter at the open-air theatre in Regent's Park, then as an assistant stage manager (ASM) on a tour of The Merry Widow, and then at Theatre in the Round in Scarborough.[5] He became a resident at The Troubadour folk club in Earls Court in the early 1960s after his friend, Robin Hall, persuaded him to visit and listen to the piper, Seamus Ennis.[6] He joined Redd Sullivan's Thameside Four in 1961 as a skiffle guitarist and singer.[7][8]

In the early 1960s, Carthy visited Ewan MacColl's Ballads & Blues club to watch his friend, the singer Roy Guest. The main performer that night was Sam Larner. Carthy has since described how Larner's performance of Lofty Tall Ship altered his perception of how a traditional folk song could be sung, and how it was a key moment in his own development as an artist.[9]

When American singer, Bob Dylan, arrived in London for the first time in 1962 to perform in Madhouse on Castle Street, he visited Martin Carthy at The Troubadour, The King & Queen, and The Singers Club.[10] He learned the traditional song Scarborough Fair from Carthy, which he later developed into his own song, Girl from the North Country.

Musical career

He is a mostly solo performer of traditional songs in a very distinctive style, accompanying himself on his Martin 000-18 acoustic guitar; his style is marked by the use of alternative tunings (notably CGCDGA), and a strongly percussive picking style that emphasises the melody.

In 1964, Carthy joined Marian Mackenzie, Ralph Trainer and Leon Rosselson in the group The Three City Four. The group concentrated on contemporary songs, including some of Rosselson's own, and made two albums – the first for Decca and a second, "Smoke and Dust (Where the Heart Should Have Been)", for CBS. The 1965 eponymous debut The Three City Four featured Carthy singing lead vocals on two tracks – Sydney Carter's "Telephone Song" and Rosselson's own "History Lesson".[11] Roy Bailey would replace Carthy when he later left the group.

Carthy's debut solo album, Martin Carthy, was released in 1965, and also featured Dave Swarbrick playing fiddle on some tracks, although he was not mentioned in the album's sleeve notes. Carthy's arrangement of the traditional ballad "Scarborough Fair" was adapted, without acknowledgement, by Paul Simon on the Simon and Garfunkel album recording Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme in 1966. This caused a rift between the pair which was not resolved until Simon invited Carthy to sing the song with him on-stage at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2000.[4][12]

Martin Carthy with Maddy Prior and Norma Waterson
Martin Carthy with Maddy Prior and Norma Waterson

Musical collaborations

He has also been involved with many musical collaborations. He has sung with The Watersons since 1972; was twice a member of British folk rock group Steeleye Span; was a member of the Albion Country Band 1973 line-up, with members from the Fairport Convention family and John Kirkpatrick, that recorded the Battle of the Field album; and was part of the innovative Brass Monkey ensemble, which mixed a range of brass instruments with Carthy's guitar and mandolin and John Kirkpatrick's accordion, melodeon and concertina. Carthy was also a member of The Imagined Village for all three of their albums 2007–2012.

For many years Carthy enjoyed a creative partnership with fiddle player Dave Swarbrick; more recently, Waterson:Carthy has provided the forum for his successful musical partnership with wife Norma Waterson and their daughter Eliza Carthy.

Awards and honours

In June 1998 he was appointed an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours. He was named Folk Singer of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2002, and again in 2005 when he also won the award for Best Traditional Track for Famous Flower of Serving-Men. In the 2007 Folk Awards Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick won Best duo. In 2008 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the University of Central Lancashire. In 2014 he was awarded the Lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.


Original / studio albums (solo or with Dave Swarbrick)

Compilations and live albums

Releases on other formats

As a member of Steeleye Span

with Ashley Hutchings, the Albion Country Band and the Albion Band

As a member of The Watersons and Waterson:Carthy and with Eliza Carthy

Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson at a Waterson–Carthy performance in Cranleigh, April 2006.
Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson at a Waterson–Carthy performance in Cranleigh, April 2006.

As a member of Brass Monkey

As a member of Blue Murder

Other notable releases

Topic Records 70 year anniversary boxed set Three Score and Ten issued in 2009

Carthy features throughout this boxed set as follows:

As Martin Carthy (solo or with Dave Swarbrick)

As Part of the Watersons

As Part of Brass Monkey

As Part of Waterson:Carthy


  1. ^ Varga, George (10 February 2000). " | The San Diego Union-Tribune | San Diego Green Guide". The San Diego Union. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
  2. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 236. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. ^ Wilks, Jon (28 February 2018). "The Martin Carthy Interview". Tradfolk. Retrieved 9 February 2022.
  4. ^ a b Interview on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs broadcast 13 January 2013
  5. ^ Martin Carthy. "Martin Carthy: A Guitar in Folk Music." ©1987 New Punchbowl Music, Petersham, Surrey, UK. p 5
  6. ^ Wilks, Jon (28 February 2018). "The Martin Carthy Interview". Tradfolk. Retrieved 9 February 2022.
  7. ^ "Martin Carthy: Biography".
  8. ^ "Redd Sullivan | Biography & History". AllMusic.
  9. ^ Wilks, Jon (28 February 2018). "The Martin Carthy Interview". Tradfolk. Retrieved 9 February 2022.
  10. ^ Wilks, Jon (28 February 2018). "The Martin Carthy Interview". Tradfolk. Retrieved 9 February 2022.
  11. ^ "The Three City Four". 8 November 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  12. ^ "Martin Carthy - Paul Simon - Hammersmith Apollo - 25 Oct 2000". Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  13. ^ a b "Topic Records » THREE SCORE & TEN". Retrieved 15 October 2019.