When your parents are English folk legends Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, you’d expect to inherit enough talent to get by on. But for Eliza Carthy, who started performing with her mother, aunt and cousin at the tender age of thirteen, it seems there is much more going on than just impressive parents. Part of what has made her so successful is her ability to reinvent herself, from dying her hair wild colours to experimenting with a range of musical ensembles and styles. Rewarded with 2 Mercury Prize nominations, 3 BBC2 Folk Awards and even a BBC3 World Music Award of her own she has secured the title of folk legend in her own right.
For anyone in the audience who doesn’t already know the strength of her talents however, Eliza kicks off the evening with three diverse solo performances before the band are brought on stage. A lively reworking of Irving Berlin’s I Used To Be Colour Blind with melodeon accompaniment is followed by a new song, recorded with former Beautiful South guitarist Dave Rotheray for his new album The Life Of Birds titled Cover Your Garden Over. A showcase of her instrumental talents, the first part of her set confirms a transition from fiddle player to a one woman folk band. However an a cappella retelling of Leon Rosselsong’s The Man Who Puffs The Big Cigar, which makes the best of her rich, powerful voice on the premise of which she is famed, assures us she hasn’t left her roots behind altogether.
With the band in tow, Eliza makes her way through a reworking of the traditional Lavender’s Blue, renamed Lavender and her ode to the miserable folk of Whitby. At this point it becomes clear that the humble, humorous basis on which Eliza secured her roots has not been lost and this is cemented after the interval when she moves on to two new songs with a quip about the notorious production time of Dreams Of Breathing Underwater.
She follows the jokes with the haunting and heartrending Thursday, which hints at themes of domestic violence and it quickly becomes a clear indicator that the album will be worthy of the wait. Due for release in February 2011, it features standout track of the night Hansel. An original reworking of the classic fable with an imaginative twist, it is met by rapturous applause and matched only by a humorous encore performance. Eliza it seems then is still successfully reinventing at every turn. Twisting up old stories into new songs and singing old songs whilst armouring them with new stories, she continues to recreate the rule of folk music, giving it limitless scope.