Eliza Carthy Band

Probably the most questionable matter of my Eliza Carthy experience was that by some it’s been labelled folk. Folk barely crosses your mind when listening to her perform, unless that is folk is a more generic term meaning ‘to be quirky’. If it wasn’t folk, then it was a curious combination of musical theatre, stand up comedy, Moulin Rouge, funk, Grease style blues and…Beethoven’s Romanticism. Perhaps defining the music by musical terms would be less informative for what it was…

For the first half of the gig, I was convinced that this crude, uncomfortably aggressive in places, often grotesque, but musically magical performance, would make the perfect soundtrack to an Angela Carter book. Eliza, needless to say a busty figure, is forthright in her stage manner. Her voice erupts like the cry of an angry stepmother, and her four accomplishes appear to close in on you with their weighty harmonies. The comparison to distorted fairy tales in un-passable. The second song they play was entitled ‘Hansel’ and a later piece ‘Tea at 5’ quotes the breaking of skin with a man’s wolf man claws. The gesticulating Eliza rises and falls across the stage, and across melodies with the drama of a drunkard; while the double bassist, looks shiftily out of the side of her eye. This is only reinforced by the tales that are told as pretexts to the songs, which affirm stories of painful pasts and/or the author’s powerful imagination. I find the whole thing unnerving.

However, a lot changes in the second half, and as suddenly as the bellowing choruses struck in the first half. Consistent is Willy Morrison – the drummer who like an excitably gorilla marches on through song after song with naive excitement on his face. Not least because of Willy’s growing presence, the atmosphere becomes gradually funkier, less sinister and jolty, more Hair Spray. The Monkey Song, as Eliza introduces it, sounds like an N64 video game, and strives forward by the lead from a honky konk piano. Honky konk, and the association I then made with Donkey Kong is about as near as it gets to sounding like a scene from King Kong – which apparently, the writer herself tells us, it was loosely based upon.

Suddenly the pains of life (that are narrated in such blunt humour in the earlier songs) are sanitized by jiving violins, genuinely great dancing from Eliza, soaring melodious interludes, and subtleties of her voice, and the intervals made between the five singers, all become much more apparent. The vital role she plays amongst the band can be attributed to her talented lead on a multitude of on characteristically folk instruments. The grotesque has become the laughable, the abrupt and forceful has become the acceptable and appreciable, but unfortunately still, the experience however unforgettable, was all-in-all regrettable.


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