Martin Carthy’s biography, net worth, fact, career, awards and life story

Intro English musician
Is Musician 
From United Kingdom 
Type Music 
Gender male
Birth 21 May 1941, Hatfield, Welwyn Hatfield, Hertfordshire, East of England
Age: 79 years

Martin Carthy MBE (born 21 May 1941) is an English folk singer and guitarist who has remained one of the most influential figures in British traditional music, inspiring contemporaries such as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon and later artists such as Richard Thompson since he emerged as a young musician in the early days of the folk revival.

Early life

He was born in Hatfield and grew up in Hampstead, North London. His mother was an active socialist and his father, from a family of Thames lightermen, went to grammar school and became a trade unionist and a councillor for Stepney at the age of 21. Martin’s father had played fiddle and guitar as a young man but Martin was unaware of this connection to his folk music heritage until much later in life. His vocal and musical training began when he became a chorister at the Queen’s Chapel of The Savoy. He picked up his father’s old guitar for the first time after hearing “Rock Island Line” by Lonnie Donegan. He has cited his first major folk music influences as Big Bill Broonzy and the syncopated guitar style of Elizabeth Cotten. Carthy performed his first professional engagement at the age of 16 at The Loft, a coffee bar in Primrose Gardens. Although his father wanted him to go to university to study classics, Carthy left school at 17 and worked behind the scenes as a prompter at the open-air theatre in Regent’s Park, then as an assistant stage manager (ASM) on a tour of The Merry Widow, and then at Theatre in the Round in Scarborough. He became a resident at The Troubadour folk club in Earls Court in the early 1960s. He joined Redd Sullivan’s Thameside Four in 1961.

Musical career

He is a solo performer of traditional songs in a very distinctive style, accompanying himself on his Martin 000-18 acoustic guitar; his style is marked by the use of alternative tunings (notably CGCDGA), and a strongly percussive picking style that emphasises the melody.

In 1964 Carthy joined Marian Mackenzie, Ralph Trainer and Leon Rosselson in the group The Three City Four. The group concentrated on contemporary songs, including some of Rosselson’s own, and made two albums – the first for Decca and a second, “Smoke and Dust (Where the Heart Should Have Been)”, for CBS. The 1965 eponymous debut The Three City Four featured Carthy singing lead vocals on two tracks – Sydney Carter’s “Telephone Song” and Rosselson’s own “History Lesson”. Roy Bailey would replace Carthy when he later left the group.

Carthy’s debut solo album, Martin Carthy, was released in 1965, and also featured Dave Swarbrick playing fiddle on some tracks, although he was not mentioned in the album’s sleeve notes. Carthy’s arrangement of the traditional ballad “Scarborough Fair” was adapted, without acknowledgement, by Paul Simon on the Simon and Garfunkel album recording Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme in 1966. This caused a rift between the pair which was not resolved until Simon invited Carthy to sing the song with him on-stage at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2000.

Musical collaborations

He has also been involved with many musical collaborations. He has sung with The Watersons since 1972, was twice a member of the UK electric folk group Steeleye Span, was a member of the Albion Country Band 1973 line-up, with members from the Fairport Convention family and John Kirkpatrick, that recorded the Battle of the Field album, and was part of the innovative Brass Monkey ensemble, which mixed a range of brass instruments with Carthy’s guitar and mandolin and John Kirkpatrick’s accordion, melodeon and concertina.

For many years Carthy enjoyed a creative partnership with fiddle player Dave Swarbrick; more recently, Waterson–Carthy has provided the forum for his successful musical partnership with wife Norma Waterson together with their daughter Eliza Carthy.


In June 1998 he was appointed an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. He was named Folk Singer of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2002, and again in 2005 when he also won the award for Best Traditional Track for Famous Flower of Serving Men. In the 2007 Folk Awards Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick won Best duo. In 2014 he was awarded the Lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.


Original / studio albums (solo or with Dave Swarbrick)

  • Martin Carthy (1965) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Second Album (1966) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Byker Hill (1967) with Dave Swarbrick
  • But Two Came By (1968) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Prince Heathen (1969) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Landfall (1971)
  • Shearwater (1972. Reissued in 2005 with three extra tracks)
  • Sweet Wivelsfield (1974)
  • Crown of Horn (1976)
  • Because It’s There (1979)
  • Out of the Cut (1982)
  • Right of Passage (1988)
  • Life and Limb (1990) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Skin and Bone (1992) with Dave Swarbrick
  • Signs of Life (1998)
  • Waiting for Angels (2004)
  • Straws in the Wind (2006) with Dave Swarbrick

Compilations and live albums

  • This Is… Martin Carthy: The Bonny Black Hare and other songs (1971) with Dave Swarbrick [six tracks from Byker Hill and six tracks from But Two Came By]
  • Selections (1971) with Dave Swarbrick [six tracks from Byker Hill; three tracks from No Songs EP, 1967; three tracks from But Two Came By]
  • Selections (1972) New Zealand and Australia only
  • Round Up (circa early 1970s) with Dave Swarbrick [second side of Martin Carthy and first side of Second Album]
  • Brigg Fair (circa early 1970s) with Dave Swarbrick [reissue of Byker Hill]
  • Tales of Long Ago (circa early 1970s) with Dave Swarbrick [reissue of But Two Came By]
  • The Collection (1993)
  • Rigs of the Time: The Best Of Martin Carthy (1993)
  • The Kershaw Sessions (1994) [recorded for BBC Radio, 1987 and 1988]
  • A Collection (1999)
  • Both Ears and the Tail (2000, live recording from 1966) with Dave Swarbrick
  • The Carthy Chronicles (2001) 4x CD 83 track box set
  • The Definitive Collection (2003)
  • Martin Carthy at Ruskin Mill (2005) [very limited release – only 200 copies]
  • The January Man: Live In Belfast 1978 (2011)
  • Walnut Creek: Live Recordings, 1989 – 1996 (2011)
  • Essential Martin Carthy (2011)

Releases on other formats

  • No Songs (7″ vinyl EP 1967) with Dave Swarbrick
  • “The Bonny Lass of Angelsey” b/w “Palaces of Gold” (7″ vinyl single 1976)
  • 100 Not Out (Longform video 1992) with Dave Swarbrick
  • British Fingerstyle Guitar (Instructional video [VHS] released 1993, reissued on DVD 2006)
  • Guitar Maestros (DVD 2006)

As a member of Steeleye Span

  • Please to See the King (1971)
  • Ten Man Mop, or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again (1971)
  • Storm Force Ten (1977)
  • Live at Last (1978)
  • The Journey (Live at The Forum, London, 1995) (1999)

with Ashley Hutchings, the Albion Country Band and the Albion Band

  • Battle of the Field (1976, recorded 1973)
  • Son of Morris On (1976)
  • Rise Up Like the Sun (1978), as guest
  • Lark Rise To Candleford (1980)

As a member of either The Watersons, Waterson–Carthy or with Eliza Carthy

  • Lal & Mike Waterson: Bright Phoebus (1972)
  • The Watersons: For Pence and Spicy Ale (1975)
  • The Watersons: Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy (1977)
  • The Watersons: Green Fields (1981)
  • Waterson–Carthy: Waterson:Carthy (1994)
  • Waterson–Carthy: Common Tongue (1996)
  • Waterson–Carthy: Broken Ground (1999)
  • Waterson–Carthy: A Dark Light (2002)
  • The Watersons: The Definitive Collection (2003)
  • Waterson–Carthy: Fishes & Fine Yellow Sand (2004)
  • The Watersons: Mighty River of Song (2004) 4x CD & 1x DVD box set of Watersons and related recordings
  • The Watersons: A Yorkshire Christmas (2005)
  • Waterson–Carthy: The Definitive Collection (2005)
  • Waterson–Carthy: Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man (2006)
  • Martin & Eliza Carthy: The Moral of the Elephant (19 May 2014)

As a member of Brass Monkey

  • Brass Monkey (1984)
  • See How It Runs (1986)
  • The Complete Brass Monkey (1993) compilation of the previous two albums
  • Sound and Rumour (1999)
  • Going and Staying (2001)
  • Flame of Fire (2004)
  • The Definitive Collection (2005)
  • Head of Steam (2009)

As a member of Blue Murder

  • No One Stands Alone (2002)

Other notable releases

  • Thamesiders & Davy Graham (1963) 7″ EP
  • Three City Four: Three City Four (1965)
  • Dave Swarbrick, Martin Carthy & Diz Disley: Rags, Reels & Airs (1967)
  • Various Artists: Bright Phoebus: Songs by Lal & Mike Waterson (1972)
  • John Kirkpatrick: Plain Capers (1976)
  • Yuletracks (1986)
  • Band of Hope: Rhythm And Reds (1994)
  • Wood, Wilson, Carthy: Wood, Wilson, Carthy (1998)
  • Dave Swarbrick: Swarb! (2003) 4-CD box set career retrospective with numerous Carthy tracks
  • Martins4: Guitar Nights presents the Four Martins (2003) released on CD and DVD (DVD has additional tracks)
  • Various Artists: The Imagined Village (2007)
  • The Imagined Village: Empire & Love (2010)
  • Three City Four: Smoke & Dust (2010) Compilation of tracks from two 1960s albums.

Topic Records 70 year anniversary boxed set Three Score and Ten issued in 2009

Carthy features throughout this boxed set as follows

As Martin Carthy (solo or with Dave Swarbrick)

  • “Prince Heathen” from the album of the same name is track twelve of the second CD.
  • “The Dominion of the Sword” from Rights of Passage is track two on the fifth CD.
  • “Perfumes of Arabia” from Skin and Bone is track twenty two on the sixth CD.

As Part of the Watersons

  • For Pence and Spiced Ale is one of the classic albums

As Part of Brass Monkey

  • “The Maid And The Palmer” from Brass Monkey is track eighteen on the second CD.
  • “George’s Son” from See How It Runs is track nine on the fifth CD.

As Part of Waterson–Carthy

  • Waterson:Carthy is one of the classic albums.
  • “We Poor Labouring Men” from Broken Ground is track twenty one on the sixth CD.

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