Both Ears and The Tail
Martin Carthy & Dave SwarbrickGadfly 510
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Culled from a long lost recording made by the sound engineer during a stop at the Folkus Folk Club in 1966, Both Ears and The Tail is a perfect document of the magnificent synergy created in the early days of Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick's collaboration. Though Carthy wasn't nearly as polished as he'd become, he and Swarbrick's enthusiasm for the traditional folk material is barely contained throughout the disc's 13 tracks. Warm and relaxed, the set is an irreplaceable resource that makes you feel as if you're sitting in the fourth row, watching the future and past of English folk music unfold before you.
Given the intimacy of the recording, barely a stray word, inside joke, or botched note is missed. Wonderfully rambunctious renditions of Fair Maid on the Shore" where a captain abducts a maiden only to have her rob the ship of its treasure, and The Bonny Black Hare, a barely veiled tale with bawdy metaphors, show just how well these two men complement each other. As the duo was largely performing the material featured on Carthy's solo debut, on which Swarbrick was the only session musician, the chemistry of the two is incredible. Case in point, amazingly tight renditions on a pair of Scott Joplin tunes, Porcupine Rag and Dill Pickles Rag are indicative of just how virtuosic both musicians were even in their formative days. Still, as Carthy points out in the liner notes, only Man of Newlyn Town featured him playing in an alternate guitar tuning, which he points to as further proof of the influence Swarbrick had on sophisticating his musical approach.
On tracks like The Broomfield Hill and The Hens March/ The Four Poster Bed Swarbrick plays the fiddle with all the abandon of an Appalachian string band, as there is an honesty and unpretentious enjoyment in the performances found rarely in the more academic folk circles. With only Carthy's guitar and Swarbrick's fiddle and mandolin, the diversity of the sounds produced is truly incredible.
As we know, Carthy was destined to gain recognition through merging British folk with rock in Steeleye Span, as did Swarbrick in Fairport Convention; the type of lively and rousing energy presented here, dripping with nuance and flair, ultimately catches both of them at their best. For anyone who has witnessed a Carthy concert but was unable to capture it on tape, Both Ears and The Tail is an obligatory purchase.