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Martin & Eliza Carthy, Southbank Centre, review


Martin and Eliza Carthy’s tour for their debut album of duets, The Moral Of The Elephant, reached the Queen Elizabeth Hall with special guests – sitar player Sheema Mukherjee, actor Gabrielle Drake and some toy elephants – around which they fashioned a night of folkloric intimacy, play, history and social commentary.

The evening began with Eliza’s love-struck lead vocal for The Fisher Boy (clearly a catch), and a stunning unaccompanied take of Girl On The Shore (a young siren’s wit frees her from the consequences – usually terminal in folk song – of seduction).

Martin’s angular, almost Cubist guitar picking – there’s no strumming when Carthy’s in the room – is always thrilling, and permanently fresh, whether on Happiness (a Molly Drake song, for which Nick Drake’s sister Gabrielle appeared), the epic Grand Conversation On Napoleon – Boney was hero to the English poor who saw him as a potential saviour from poverty – or a sinuous account of John Barleycorn.

Mukherjee’s sitar combines with the Carthy’s guitar and fiddle to sway and coalesce around the tunes as if they were one body. They may come over as informal, almost casual about their music – a few false starts are endearingly shrugged off – but make no mistake, this father and daughter are masters at work who haven’t forgotten the spirit of play.