It's been awhile since I've experienced that very singular feeling of being in the presence of greatness. Maybe when I was in the same room as Norman Mailer, that voice, Ed Ruscha, in awe, saw him across a room teeming with people. These people whom we know nothing of, whose lives are so immense, who impact so many so greatly, for so long when the rest of us struggle to make a positive impression on the three or four people in our lives who really know very little about us. It's a magic.
Martin Carthy is the influencer of legends. Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson and Paul Simon are accredited acolytes from the early 60s. Heaven knows how many more over the years. He comes to the stage of the Garden Cafe with a self-effacing nonchalance, he could look like your last painter and decorator, except Carthy is insouciantly cool, with a wrinkled, careworn charisma and an explanation of the planned proceedings. He has a space in the world. A renowned curator of song, he finds himself somewhat preoccupied with water songs, he says, as he tunes his guitar into one of the many alternative tunings he uses throughout the evening. Bending it to his will. 15 minutes into his set and we've reached a point where my eyes could not believe my ears. Springsteen has a guitar and he learned how to make it talk, Carthy simply made his guitar perform miracles in sound, mere beautiful sound. His guitar playing was just so incredible all harmonics and rhythm and notes from nowhere and melody, everywhere all the time. Just gorgeous.
At the needed intermission, necessary to relieve the pressure his music had built up and to free me from my fear of DVT so hushed, still, confined and silent had we the audience been during his performance.
Carthy opened his second set with Nothing Rhymed, the astonishingly unforgiving ballad that got Gilbert O'Sullivan's hit parade career underway, and afterwards mentioned that while Nothing Rhymed was possibly one of the greatest songs ever written, attention too should be paid to the maximum miserabilist piano jaunt Alone Again, Naturally. Was Gilbert ever ever even happy? Carthy never namechecks O'Sullivan, just presuming I suppose that we would already be aware of the greats and the gifts they give us. I was a big fan as a child. Well, we loved everyone from Ireland.
A brief 30 or 40 minutes of traditional folk music ensues, songs possibly saved by Carthy, polished and place on the mantle where they truly belong. Then it was over and collectively we breathed out.
It was raining outside and we'd been lucky enough to get rockstar parking, incredibly. 15m from the door, 50m from greatness. Slipping Away.
(image from Martin Carthy's wikipedia page by Mike Garvey)