Martin Carthy on traditional folk music

This interview is three years old, but it really expresses what I feel about traditional folk music:

“I regard tradition as progressive,” (Carthy) says, “and a traditional song as a progressive force, because it is concerned with the continuity of things.” The word “radical” is derived from “radix”, a root, and this is Carthy’s radicalism: “You come from somewhere, for Christ’s sake – it’s like holding a grandchild in your arms – and let meMartin-Carthy-007 tell you, there is nothing in parenthood to prepare you for the feeling of grandparenthood. Good folk music is like me holding my grandchildren and wanting to know more about my great, great, great uncle – I’ve got a picture of him – Tom Carthy from Ballybunion, County Kerry. I see his fingers on the uilleann pipes, and I see my father’s hands and my grandfather’s hands. The continuity of folk music is similar, because it is also our continuity.”

Carthy illustrates his point with the exactitude of the cultural genealogist he is: “There’s a great storyteller called Hugh Lupton, who cited the words of a man called Duncan Williamson, who said that when he told a story, he felt behind him a long line of all the people who had told that story before. What we are doing singing folk songs is full of ghosts, and that is what is exciting”.The term “nostalgia” is pointless in a conversation with Martin Carthy; the past is a propulsion, a well of riches, and folk songs are the history of its common people, the expressions of their struggles, tribulations and superstitions, their guile, humour, love, lust and violence – and their “subversion”, often in its subtlest form.

Carthy reflects: “The older I have got, the more the songs have become three-dimensional. They’re not words set to pretty tunes. You are being told something about people. Things that are wicked, naughty, true, funny. About what human beings do to each other, and it never changes. Folk music, says Carthy, “is not an archive. If you see it as that, it becomes like a butterfly in a glass case. Folk music has to live and breathe. I’m not interested in heritage – this stuff is alive, we must claim it, use it.”

Read the rest here. Do.


One thought on “Martin Carthy on traditional folk music

  1. Pingback: Martin and Eliza Carthy: ‘Died for Love’ | Faith, Folk and Charity

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