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Review: Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick @ St David's Hall

Posted by wooquay from Cardiff - Published on 08/09/2015 at 10:36
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Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick

St David's Hall, Cardiff

Tuesday 1st September 2015

British folk music has always been a wild card in the world of popular music. 

Whilst many contemporary artists cite traditional folk as one of their main sources of inspiration, it is often overlooked by casual listeners as nothing more than fiddles and strange lyrics of hilltop meanderings and fishing.

But there is where the casual listener is wrong, for it is a cornucopia of fascinating lyricism and sublime musicianship, and for one to pass it off as anything else is to deny oneself from finding something truly beautiful. Contemporary folk has surges of interest from artists such as Seth Lakeman, Bellowhead and Mumford & Sons, and all of these acts can easily take inspiration from the two musicians performing tonight: Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick.

A brief history of the duo includes a stint with folk rock pioneers Fairport Convention during the folk boom of the 1960s, and Carthy formed Steeleye Span after his work with FC. Often credited with the emergence and crafting of fiddle playing in current British folk music, Swarbrick has toured and played with Carthy and many other folk acts throughout his 50+ year career, and having made a few albums as a duo they are once again on tour, showcasing their traditional inspiration and beautifully crafted pieces. Hard to believe that so much can be conveyed with just two instruments - guitar and fiddle.

They perform a mixture of old to very old folk ballads, remodelled in their own ways, and a few from their duet albums and FC classics. The music is sweet, open, often fascinating and occasionally fierce. There is mild humour in the lyrics, intertwined with a slightly dark edge, as is the British way. They clearly know how to play their respective instruments, with Carthy dropping in and out of various guitar tunings and showing a superb mastery of the fretboard, and Swarbrick demonstrating why he is so often cited as one of the best fiddle players in music.

Their music is real and potent, you can smell the meadows and feel the light rain, it's that absorbing. They fill the gaps with an academic recall of their music's history, adding their own humorous stories full of wit and wonder, a crow-footed reminiscence of their long-standing musical journey.

As the set continues, the intermission allows for the crowd to mingle and talk to the artists. The second half throws some compound pieces into the set which warrant a toe-tap, a new version of the FC song The Deserter, and Swarbrick performs a rather serene piece entitled Little Millie about a dog of his. This is music for summer evenings, just as stirring and exciting as anything contemporary, and their humbled approach to their craft is refreshing. 

This music can always be appreciated by the generations, as well it should be, and to call these guys "legends" is a bit of a cliche. Suffice to say that this music can and should be enjoyed by all as it is, and always will be, accessible.

If you're interested in folk, check out St. David's Hall's Roots Unearthed Season

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