carthy’s gypsies

Friday, 2007-03-16, 16:00: Martin Carthy, “Gypsy Songs of England and Scotland”
125 Morrison Hall, UC Berkeley

I walked into the room after an older man who banged his guitar into the doorframe, and then I realized who he was. Someone gave a pleasantly informal introduction, punctuated by audience laughter: “It’s amazing how little time this man spends at home.”

“Gypsy Songs of England and Scotland” consisted of clips of Scots Travelers’ singing, with Carthy as our reminiscing tourguide. Most of the singing was unaccompanied. One was a man doing a variant of “The Blacksmith”: cheeks like posies, not roses, and similar play whose details I’ve forgotten. One was Belle Stewart singing a version of the song that frames Chumbawamba’s “Song for Len Shackleton” (not the Chumba song itself, whose verses are sung by a man on Readymades, but the mouth music entwined with it—got that? it’d be clearer if I knew that folksong in any other context). Towards the end he gave us “Sheep Crook and Black Dog,” which his voice couldn’t take, whereupon he switched to guitar and picked it out, unpracticed beforehand, to show how gypsy music lacks standard, consistent modalities. Carthy’s sense is that some gypsy singers are basically taking a known song, tossing the pieces in the air, and reintegrating. Spontaneous remix, of a sort, though “remix” isn’t the term he used.

I left during the early part of the q&a. Someone mentioned that a twenty-CD set called The Voice of the People includes some of the clips we heard. Some were private recordings, of course….

Random datum: Carthy grew up near the Belsize Park Tube station.

Random pix from crappy phone-camera:

setting up the sound introduction listening to a clip