Folk's finest fiddle girls take alliance on the road
Folk queen Eliza Carthy has stepped out in a fair few musical ensembles in her 20-year career, but never the rare breed of an all-girl line-up.
That missing link has now been remedied by her latest recording and performing project – an inspired collaboration with fellow female fiddlers and singers Bella Hardy, Lucy Farrell and Katy Young.
Known collectively as Carthy, Hardy, Farrell and Young – which trips rhythmically off the tongue in what Eliza describes as a "doo-da" – they are about to release their album, Laylam, and perform its contents in a run of UK shows, including two in the West Country.
The heartwarming and spirited record is a terrific showcase both for the women's individual violin and vocal talents, as well as the beautiful harmonies, melodies and rhythms that they have created together.
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"The word laylam means 'chorus': a good reason to sing together in any setting. It often relating to birds... which we are," says mother-of-two Eliza.
The whole thing has happened by happy accident rather than design. It began when Kathryn Tickell, the musical director at The Sage at Gateshead, was putting on a fiddle concert last year and thought the four would sound good together.
"It turns out she was right," says Eliza, who hadn't met Kate or Lucy before working with them, and only knew Bella as a fellow face on the folk festival scene.
Initially they got together for one concert at the Sage, and were later asked to reprise their performance at King's Place in London. Each of the women suggested four or five songs to play; and these were whittled down to form a strong set list in which they alternated on lead vocals.
"We had such a good time together, and they are such nice tunes, that we thought we would make this album as an excuse to hang out some more," says Eliza, the daughter of esteemed folk couple Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, and a regular member of supergroup The Imagined Village, as well as a highly respected solo artist, twice nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
"I don't know if it was a girl thing, but you can't beat hanging out with list-makers. Bella was a demon at writing things down and crossing them off when they were done.
"We played everything live in a room, with only a few fancy bits added later by Oliver Knight."
Eliza set up her own label, Hem Hem, last year to release her most recent solo album, Neptune.
"I thought, well I've got my own label, why don't I put this record out as well. It seemed a shame just to let it go off into memory when it had been so successful and so much fun," she says. "It's a lovely album; if I wasn't in the band I would totally buy it."
With all four juggling busy lives, the album and the forthcoming tour may be a one-off.
"I don't know if we will do this again; maybe in ten years' time, although there is talk that we might play at this year's Sidmouth..."
Carthy, Hardy, Farrell and Young play at The David Hall, South Petherton (01460 240340, www.thedavidhall.org.uk) on January 24 and at the Plough Arts Centre, Great Torrington (01805 624624, www.theploughartscentre.org.uk) on February 9.