I suppose I must begin a ‘review’ of Friday’s Eliza Carthy and The Restitution gig at Leeds’ Howard Assembly Rooms, by categorically stating that: a). I’m no reviewer b). both my wife and I have been the biggest fans of Eliza forever – and c). the people on stage could have spent a couple of hours dropping old pans on a Yorkstone slab and we would have still left the venue with full hearts, a tiny bit teary and holding hands like we did while we listened to our very first ‘joint purchase’ back in 1994: our treasured ‘Waterson Carthy’ CD. (Scene: dingy flat in Sheffield. Subject: New teachers falling in love with folk – and each other.)
Fast-forward a few years and here we are celebrating a 30-year career with this month’s release of Queen of The Whirl, an album containing freshly recorded versions of an elite collection of songs from the last 3 decades. Of course there has to be a tour, but on Friday night it felt less like a concert and more like we were at home with old friends.
Opening with an a capella Napoleon, you just know that ‘though a retrospective, the album and tour are confirmation the dynasty that produced this musical genius, continues to be the very beating heart of folk and roots for the 21st century, in spite of a difficult few years.
The Snow It Melts The Soonest carried into the auditorium like a skimming swallow, despite Ms Carthy telling us she’s currently enduring a head cold. Her performance was the best live rendition of the 1821 English folk standard I’ve ever heard.
The album tracks, compiled as a result of a ‘Twitter’ conference with fans, span the Carthy back catalogue, but hearing them again together live, they have a freshness that didn’t feel like we were looking back.
Two Tears which famously describes the changing seasons of a relationship came next, followed by the sublime Pretty Plough Boy, preceded by advice that supplying a daughter with a credit card might not be a smart move!
Carthy has previously been quoted as saying: “This collection is honestly the best and most comprehensively reimagined, replayed representation of my work in English traditional/contemporary music over the last thirty years yet.” How true her words.
My Father’s Mansion was a joy – and a masterclass in musical telepathy from a bunch of friends who have known each other and played together for many years.
Sung with heartfelt meaning, The Black Queen reminded the Leeds audience (if it was needed) that nothing lasts forever, but we must go on.
Whirly Whorl brought the first-half to a magnificent close, with Carthy leaving the stage following her vocals, to let the boys’ finish up. You’d be forgiven for thinking she was going for a Lemsip and a lie down – but she was heading to the foyer to sell merch!
Carthy and her Restitution colleagues are some of our most gifted contemporary folk musicians. David Delarre, Ben Seal, Saul Rose, Phil Alexander and Willy Molleson – each with a mighty pedigree, returned after the interval to delight with Jacky Tar, In London So Fair, Mr Magnifico, Space Girl, Blood On My Boots, Stumbling On and the wonderful Accordion Song.
This hardworking and joyous collective brought memories, melancholy, merriment and much love to the perfect surroundings of Howard Assembly Rooms on Friday. Their tour continues and I can’t recommend going along too much. And please buy the album - you don't need to teach art to marvel at the cover artwork!
Thanks to Andy Ellis for the image of Eliza