Carthy, Oates, Farrell and Young

Venue: The Atkinson
Town: Southport
Date: 6/12/15

Carthy, Oates, Farrell and Young - sounds like the name of a hippie "supergroup" from the late 1960's, doesn't it? However, this band of four feisty female fiddler players is no rock and roll dinosaur from the 20th century. No, this "supergroup" is made up of four women at the cutting edge of contemporary folk music.

This band [COFY for short] is made up of Eliza Carthy, Jackie Oates, Lucy Farrell and Kate Young, all of whom have a wealth of experience as solo performers and as members of several highly influential bands, including Waterson:Carthy ; Rachel Unthank and The Winterset; The Furrow Collective ;The Imagined Village and Moulettes.

The Mark 1 version of the band included Bella Hardy but her shoes are now filled by the enceinte Jackie Oates [eight and a half months and counting !]. Mark 1 [ CHFY] released an album called "Laylam" in 2013. Just in case you are wondering what "Laylam" means, it refers to a "chorus of birds", which is how Eliza describes the band [her words not mine].

In fact, the word "laylam" appears in the traditional song "Country Life", which features on The Watersons' 1975 album "For Pence And Spicy Ale". This album, which was the first recording by The Watersons to feature Eliza's dad, Martin, is widely regarded as The Watersons' finest record. Tonight COFY gave us a stirring rendition of "Country Life" which is reckoned to be The Watersons' "greatest hit".

Naturally, songs from the "Laylam" album featured prominently in tonight's set, beginning with the opening track "Greasy Coat", which was led by Kate, who learned it from the great old-time fiddle player Bruce Molsky .

This was followed [as on the album] by "Little Birds", an Appalachian song which was collected in the USA in around 1916 by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles. I feel sure that Cecil and Maud would have appreciated Lucy's delightful rendition of the song with superb harmonies from the other members of the band.

Staying with "Laylam", Eliza's turn came with "Chickens In The Garden", another great chorus song from The Watersons' "For Pence And Spicy Ale" record.

As will have become apparent, COFY is a most democratic band, so next it was Jackie's turn to take the lead. Sitting behind a large Indian harmonium, Jackie gave us a jolly song about a wildfowler who mistakes his love for a swan and shoots her . The song is variously known as "Polly Vaughan" or "Molly Bawn"[footnote-Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick recorded a version of this song called "The Fowler" on their 1967 album "Byker Hill"]. Tonight's version was beautifully sung by Jackie, with superb harmony support and a lovely violin trio coda.

One of the highlights of the evening was Lucy's haunting, hypnotic rendition of the mysterious song "Vandy, Vandy". I say "mysterious" because the origins of this song are not at all clear. It is either a American Civil War-era courting song or it was written in the 1950's by "Weird Tales"and "Astounding Stories" science fiction writer Manly Wade Wellman, who was also, apparently, an expert on the Civil War and Folklore. Whatever the truth is, this was another superb performance by Lucy, who accompanied herself on plucked viola.

Lucy is also a member of The Furrow Collective and from their 2015 EP "Blow Out The Moon" she sang "Oh, To Be In My Bed And Happit", which came from the singing of Anne Neilson.

Jackie and Eliza also revisited their work with The Imagined Village with their version of "The Lark In The Morning".

Going further back into her recording history, Eliza gave a truly moving rendition of Robert Burns' "The Slave's Lament", which she learned from her father Martin and which she sang on Waterson:Carthy's debut album back in 1994. Martin called this "an astonishing song" and Eliza did it full justice. Equally moving was Eliza's version of Stephen Foster's tragic tale "Nelly Was A Lady", which featured a lovely duet with Lucy.

On a rather lighter note was COFY's Andrews Sisters-alike version of Kansas Joe McCoy's "Why Don't You Do Right", with Kate's jazzy vocals and sweet "Do Right" harmonies from the other three. Kate also introduced a couple of impressive original songs, "Borthwick" and "Milk And Dew" as well as leading the band on her remarkable and innovative arrangement of the sea shanty "100 Years" which was interspersed with her astonishing vocal performance on an excerpt from a Finnish song which she learned from Suvi Oskala while studying at Newcastle University.

As with the "Laylam" album, tonight's performance ended with a stirring a cappella performance of the traditional spiritual song "Better Home", which Eliza learned from the veteran American folk singer Helen Schneyer, who passed away in 2005. This was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful evening of music and song from four exceptionally talented performers.

Peter Cowley

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