Fairly early into the set at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Eliza explained that although she and her father had worked together a lot, The Moral Of The Elephant was their first record together as a duo. She added that she’d always felt a little intimidated by Martin’s successful duo partnership with another highly regarded folk fiddler, a musical partnership that had produced some of his best and most successful records. There was no need to even name Dave Swarbrick, as we all knew instantly who she meant, it was just that type of crowd.
But on the evidence of the evening’s performance Eliza needn’t have worried and in many ways she was the star of the show, her fiddle playing is something few can match, coaxing an extra level of expressiveness twixt bow and string and her voice is the match, bringing a real intensity to the complex ballad narratives. That said Martin is the perfect foil for such expressive style. His guitar playing has been refined to the point that it simply takes the melody of a song as a dancing partner. If his voice displays evidence of the neigh on 50 years that have passed since his solo debut LP, he’s still capable of getting into the meat of a song and the harmony he struck with his daughter was compelling.
The performance was not without some spontaneous humour, a couple of song restarts prompted Eliza to play the role of the hypnotist, wafting her hand before her eyes, commanding the audience to “Forget…” They were at very least quickly forgiven as it was what they did right that made the evening, although they started the show off-piste with a selection of material not on the new CD. It’s both the depth of their repertoire and the choices made which created the real interest. Mind you, I suspect that the majority present were immediately up to speed with Fisher Boy and Maid On The Shore that opened proceedings.
The first of two guests stepped out and Sheema Mukherjee, who the duo play with in Imagined Village, sat and added sitar to a selection that included All The Hard Times Of Old England, My Son John and John Barleycorn from the band’s repertoire. They are songs that make their point, especially with the thoughtful updating that keeps the folk process going.
The first set finally arrived at the new record as Sheema departed and Martin and Eliza launched into Her Servant Man, also known as The Maid In The Dungeon. Eliza then informed us that the new record was, “Made without bells and whistles, except for the bells, which didn’t quite work out and the whistling.” It served to introduce Molly Drake’s song, Happiness, on which Eliza does indeed whistle. It’s also a cue for Gabrielle Drake, Molly’s daughter and Nick’s sister to take the stage to read one of her Mother’s poems mid-song. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house.
The second set started with the appearance of a couple of tiny elephants on the stage donated by audience members, which gives Eliza the chance to pose for a selfie, lying on the stage and she continued the gag, filming Martin as he introduced the next song, Blackwell Merry Night, a jolly account of what sounds like one hell of a party. Martin then informed us that Eliza has discovered that the young woman at the heart of Queen Caraboo, who apparently befuddled the Bristol gentry enough to merit a song about her was a young house maid from Devon rather than the Gypsy they had imagined her to be.
The final set was all about The Moral Of The Elephant, with all of the songs played featured thereon, both father and daughter brought a relish to the material. There was the agenda set by The Grand Conversation Of Napoleon with Martin speaking the last verse to provide an extra frisson, matching the political charge to the story of struggling lead miners in Bonny Moorhen. That edge was also apparent in the moving, anti-war song, Monkey Hair, written by Michael Mara. But affairs of the heart and tragedy bubbled through Waking Dreams, Queen Of Hearts and Died For Love, with the latter movingly dedicated by Eliza to her uncle and concluding the set.
Finally there’s a standing ovation and Martin took his guitar for a sure footed, delightful dance around Eliza’s fiddle melody for the encore tune. Everyone was on their feet once more the applause rang out, but then it was that kind of crowd and that kind of night.
Review by: Simon Holland
Martin & Eliza Carthy Upcoming Tour Dates
13 – The Met – Market Street, Bury, Lancs
14 – Brewery Arts Theatre – 122A Highgate, KENDAL, Cumbria
15 – Ludlow Assembly Rooms, – 1 Mill St,Ludlow,Shrops
21 – Beverley Folk Festival – Beverley Leisure Complex,East Yorkshire
27 – St Andrews church – Grinton, Richmond,North grinton, yorkshire
28 – The Atkinson – Lord Street, SOUTHPORT,Merseyside
29 – Brudenell Social Club – The Club House, 33 Queens Road, Hyde Park, Leeds
01 – Cambridge Folk Festival – Cherry Hinton Hall Grounds, Cambridge
02 – Cambridge Folk Festival – Cherry Hinton Hall Grounds, Cambridge
05 – Sidmouth FolkWeek – SIDMOUTH
The Moral Of The Elephant is released on 2 Jun 2014 via Topic Records
Pre-Order via Topic Records