Eliza Carthy Biography

 

If there is one musician who embodies the dynamism and vitality of the current English folk revival, it’s Eliza Carthy. Beloved of staunch traditionalists and iconoclasts alike, Eliza’s music effortlessly crosses boundaries of genre and style. Whether performing a centuries-old ballad or a self-written song, her powerful, nuanced voice, fiercely beautiful fiddle playing and mesmerizing live performances have influenced a whole generation of young musicians.

Describing herself simply as a “modern English musician”, Eliza Carthy is one of the most recognisable faces in British folk. Born into a formidable musical dynasty, her mother Norma was one of The Watersons (whose tight harmony arrangements of traditional songs became one of the defining sounds of the 1960s folk revival) and her father Martin Carthy is a hugely influential singer and guitarist. Making music with her family has been a constant throughout her life, beginning when she joined The Waterdaughters at the age of 13 and continuing to this day. In recent years, she has released the award-winning album The Moral of the Elephant (2014) with her father, as well as Gift (2010) and Anchor (2018) with The Gift Band, a loose collective featuring many members of her extended family. She has also curated NormaFest, an annual celebration of her mother’s continuing contribution to the folk tradition.

Steeped in the folk traditions of England from an early age, the incredible range of traditional and contemporary musicians who were part of the extended Waterson/Carthy world helped her develop her own unique approach to this music.

Launching head-on into the scene in the early 90s, she quickly became one of its great innovators. Championed from an early age by the likes of John Peel, Andy Kershaw, Billy Bragg and Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis, Eliza has rarely stood still artistically. From the purest unaccompanied traditional songs to original music incorporating myriad influences, she has moved through English folk music like a force of nature, both stirring it up and putting it back on the map through television, radio and live performance.

She has spearheaded the re-emergence of English traditional music as a vibrant, exciting genre that could stand proudly next to other world musics. Eschewing musical categorisation, this eclecticism was brought to an apex when she was asked to join The Imagined Village in 2007, which re-examined English traditional music through the musical prism of the multicultural society which has always been a hallmark of England. The musical force-of-nature that was The Wayward Band formed in 2013 and graced the main stages at many folk festivals around Europe, while 2019 saw her premiere the East project, in which songs and dances from the East coast of England were given a similarly eclectic re-interpretation by sitarist Sheema Mukherjee , dancer Ewan Wardrop and her father, among others.

She can also turn her hand to more intimate projects – recent years have seen her collaborate with poet and rapper Kate Tempest for a BBC 6 Music Festival performance, American traditional musician and singer Tim Eriksen (Cordelia’s Dad) on the album Bottle (2015) as well as producer / multi-instrumentalist Ben Seal on her latest album Through That Sound (My Secret Was Made Known) (2020).

Eliza’s musical knowledge and ability is also well respected outside of the folk world: she has been a judge at both the Q Awards and the Ivor Novello Awards, and in 2005 co-presented the BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards with Benjamin Zephaniah. Her achievements have been acknowledged with numerous BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, two Mercury Prize nominations, and in 2003 she was the first English traditional musician to be nominated for a BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music. Her own vastly eclectic tastes, along with her knowledge of (and interest in) musical traditions from all over the world continues to fuel her creativity to this day.

Eliza is based in North Yorkshire where she is a busy mum to two young children. As well as recording numerous albums at home, in recent years she has worked on several high-profile commissions for theatre and film. A fruitful working relationship with the respected Shakespearean director Barrie Rutter led to her composing music for The Two Noble Kinsmen at London’s Globe Theatre and – closer to home – for Jack Lear at Hull Truck Theatre. She has also acted as a musical consultant and made important contributions to the soundtracks of Far From The Madding Crowd (2015) and Tulip Fever (2017).

With a wealth of musical and life experience under her belt, Eliza’s talent has matured and is flourishing. She continues to bring new audiences to English folk through well-judged collaborations, recordings and performances.

A SELECTION OF CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

TELEVISION AND FILM

  • ITV: Heaven and Earth (hour long documentary)
  • Channel 5: My Music (hour-long documentary)
  • BBC 2: Later…With Jools Holland (multiple appearances)
  • BBC Television: In Search of English Folk Song (directed by Ken Russell)
  • NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien (music guest)
  • BBC 4’s Folk Britannia Season (featured artist)
  • Are You Dave Gorman / Important Astrology Experiment (theme tune composer / performer)
  • The Squirrel, The Hare and The Little Grey Rabbit (theme tune composer / performer)
  • Far From The Madding Crowd (feature film, director Thomas Vinterberg)
  • Tulip Fever (feature film, director Justin Chadwick)

THEATRE

  • The Globe Theatre – Shakespeare’s ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’  – dir. Barrie Rutter, 2018
  • Hull Truck Theatre – Jack Lear by Ben Benison (after Shakespeare), dir. Barrie Rutter, 2019

BROADCASTING

  • BBC Radio 2: Eliza Carthy’s Anglicana (four-part series on the history of English folk music)
  • Regular co-presenter (along with Simon Armitage and Noddy Holder) of Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 2 show
  • Multiple appearances on Radio 2, 3 and 4 including interviews / sessions for Loose Ends, Front Row, In Tune, Great Lives and Free Thinking.
  • Wrote and presented ‘The Manchester Ballads’ for R4 and co-presented the Radio 2 Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe in May 2020
  • Commissioned by R4 to write ‘The Announcer’s Daughter’, a short story read by Hattie Morahan and broadcast in May 2014
  • Appeared alongside her family on the award-winning ‘Folk on Foot’ podcast in August 2018

PATRONAGE

  • English Folk Dance and Song Society – Vice President
  • Whitby Folk Week – Patron
  • Cheltenham Folk Festival – Patron
  • The Vagina Monologues – Ambassador
  • Resonance FM – Ambassador
  • Normafest – Patron, Producer, Curator

AWARDS / NOMINATIONS

  • BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (8, including Best Album, Best Traditional Track and Folk Singer of the Year)
  • Mercury Prize nominations (2, for Red Rice and Anglicana)
  • Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists
  • June 2015 – Eliza was awarded an MBE in the Queens Honours List, for services to Folk Music.
  • 2018 – Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band won Songlines World Music Awards, European Category
  • 2020 – Folking Awards, ‘Soloist of the Year’

PRODUCING CREDITS

11 acclaimed solo albums, plus Gift, her collaboration with Norma Waterson, for which she also provided arrangements and most of the instrumentation, The Moral of The Elephant, a critically acclaimed duo album with her dad, Martin Carthy and Anchor, a 2018 release by The Gift Band.

NOTABLE COLLABORATIONS / GUEST APPEARANCES

  • BBC Music ‘God Only Knows’ single / video (2014) alongside Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, Elton John 
  • Billy Bragg & Wilco, Mermaid Avenue vols I and II (winners of 2 Grammy Awards)
  • Welcome Songs, a collaboration with Robert Hollingworth and community choirs for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad
  • Hal Willner’s Rogues Gallery project, alongside Bryan Ferry, Sting, Johnny Depp, the McGarrigle family, Richard & Teddy Thompson and Tim Robbins
  • Patrick Wolf’s critically-acclaimed album The Bachelor
  • The Imagined Village (a World music and English trad adventure, featuring members of The Bays, Transglobal Underground and AfroCelt Sound System)
  • 4 Meltdown Festivals at the Southbank (curated by Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Hal Willner and Richard Thompson)
  • Work with Paul Weller, Jools Holland, jazz legend Bill Frisell, seminal Scots Latin/trad fusion band Salsa Celtica, Finnish Lord of the Rings composers Vartinna, Joan Baez, Cerys Matthews, 90s dance pioneers Red Snapper and many more.
  • BBC Radio 6 Music Festival 2015 – Commissioned to write new music and play live with performance poet Kate Tempest at the BBC6 Music festival at the SAGE Gateshead.
  • Part of the album (and tour) project ‘Songs of Separation’ alongside Hannah James, Karine Polwart, Kate Young and Rowan Rheingans, among others
  • Guested at Barbican gala concert celebrating 80th anniversary of Topic Records in 2018, also contributed two songs to the accompanying compilation ‘Vision and Revision – The First 80 Years’
  • Performed several songs at Richard Thompson’s 70th birthday concert at Royal Albert Hall in October 2019, alongside Dave Gilmour, Maddy Prior and Loudon Wainwright III.
  • Appeared in two critically-acclaimed special commissions at Hartlepool Folk Festival; Peter Bellamy and Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Barrack-Room Ballads’ in 2017 and Robb Johnson’s ‘Your Affectionate Son’ in 2019.
  • Premiered new project ‘East’, which also featured Martin Carthy, Sheema Mukherjee, Barney Morse-Brown and Ewan Wardrop


OTHER PROJECTS

  • ‘The Announcer’s Daughter’ – audiobook, read (and featuring a specially-composed soundtrack) by the author
  • Released ‘The Eliza Carthy Songbook, Volume 1’, a book of original songs


REVIEWS FOR THROUGH THAT SOUND (MY SECRET WAS MADE KNOWN) (2020)

“…a flamboyant, impassioned, fitfully exhilarating work.”
Colin Irwin – MOJO

“…one of her strongest sets of original songs”
Tim Cumming – Songlines

“If you want some sound advice, this is a secret well worth sharing”
Mike Davies – Folking.com

“It’s a real pleasure to welcome Eliza into our living-rooms again, and her latest batch of thought-provoking and unusually contoured songs is presented in the context of a fruitful new musical collaboration – so come to the cabaret!”
David Kidman – Folkradio.co.uk

“visionary masterpiece… a career milestone”
Ken Hunt – RnR Magazine