‘Wayward Daughter: An Official biography of Eliza Carthy’ – book review

‘Wayward Daughter: An Official Biography Of Eliza Carthy’ (Soundcheck Books)
Sophie Parkes
ISBN: 9780956642073
Available now

Biographies tend to fall into two distinct categories; they can either instantly attract any potential reader as the subject matter is both familiar and hopefully the book will be well written, is accurate and engaging, or the subject matter is unknown and the reader is seeking to further their knowledge whilst still hoping the book is well written and equally engaging.

On this occasion I fall into the latter category; I can discuss for days the history of punk rock and all its sub genres right down to the anally retentive minutia; however traditional folk music has until recently largely passed me by; so why read the biography of Eliza Carthy, a celebrated English fiddle player?

Wayward Daughter is the first published book from Sophie Parkes; Sophie plays violin for the rather wonderful Air Cav who have been celebrated in LTW on a number of occasions, and her violin features strongly within their sound, so reading her book may provide some insight and understanding into her own playing.

Eliza Carthy is the twice Mercury nominated ‘Wayward Daughter’ of Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, both of whom could rightly be considered giants of the British folk scene, Martin was a member of Steeleye Span, The Albion Dance Band and The Watersons as well as forging a successful solo career, his wife Norma was a member of The Watersons folk group.

Through her own knowledge and an engaging interview style, that is clearly more conversation than structured Q&A, and for this the text benefits greatly – Parkes has discovered how Eliza came to inherit the family business so to speak, but also brought to it her own individual style, which has helped shake some of the commonly held folk misconceptions, bearded stroking etc

Through an extensive series of interviews with Eliza, her parents, and a host of family friends and musical peers including Billy Bragg and Nancy Kerr, Parkes takes us upon a journey from Eliza’s formative years in Robin Hood’s Bay to her earliest musical collaborations, her first recordings and right up to the present day. Along this eventful journey she unearths both personal revelations and Eliza’s musical life, Parkes has taken the time to delve into the stories, anecdotes, to gain a better understanding of quite what makes Carthy tick. I would suggest that Parkes initially gained the trust of Eliza but also her family, from this trust a true friendship has developed; you get hints of Parkes own feelings for Eliza and the respect she has for her and as such this book is a success in that it both educates the uninitiated and adds context to those already familiar with Eliza Carthy.

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