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Eliza Carthy, folk singer, stands beneath a tree with the green leaves spilling over her shoulder. Her turquoise hair is piled up on top of her head and she is staring straight into the camera with a serious look on her face.
Photo credit: Elodie Kowalski

Eliza Carthy interview – 30 years, still whirling

Eliza Carthy discusses her new album, 'Queen of the Whirl', and talks about the relationships that have made her 30 years in the biz so memorable.

Eliza Carthy has been a pro for 30 years. While I’m sitting here mulling that over, it occurs to me that this is also the 20th year I’ve been a professional writer. Crumbs. How did that happen? While I’m fumbling with that particular mind-mess, a less intimidating pondering presents itself: I wonder which artist I’ve interviewed most often. As I thumb through my archive, it quickly becomes clear that the answer is none other than Eliza Carthy. If she didn’t have a biographer already, I’d be in a pretty good position to apply for the job.

Eliza Carthy and Jon Wilks discussing Queen of the Whirl

As we sit down to this interview, I joke that we’ve got nothing left to talk about. Surely we’ve been over all of this before? Here’s the thing, though. Not only has Eliza been at the forefront of the traditional folk scene for 30 years, she was brought up taking an active part in it all long before she turned professional, and you can bet she was observing everything; taking it all in. She met and played with most of the revival’s key figures, and she’s been thinking about what tradition means and how best to preserve it since before she can properly remember. Of course there’s more to talk about. As long as she’s up for chin-wagging, there are new stories to be told, and I’m all ears.

On this occasion, we meet at a Hampshire coffee shop on the day after A Concert for Paul, where she performed three pieces in the company of Sam Sweeney, Tim Van Eyken and the ever-present Saul Rose, and paid her respects to a dear friend. Subsequently, she’s in a fairly reflective mood. Our conversation this time ranges across friendships past and present, the importance of family, her musicial relationship with the aforementioned Rose, sage advice from her learned father, her thoughts on the current folk scene, the importance of finding unheard traditional folk songs, the current mood in the Watersons camp, and her role as president of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

We start, of course, with the latest album. Queen of the Whirl is due out on November 11th, and features her band, The Restitution, reworking songs from her 30-year career, all chosen by her fans on a Twitter poll. The title, it seems, may be a little misleading, but it certainly begs the obvious question…

Who is the Queen of the Whirl? Are you the Queen of the Whirl?

It’s a line from ‘Blood on My Boots’. The full line is, “I fell like the Queen of the Whirl”. Pride comes before a fall. It’s that idea. I was on a big fancy night out in London and ended up getting my drink spiked. The boots were brand new, the outfit was brand new. I had an invitation from the director to attend the premiere of Jerry Springer, the Opera, and Jerry Springer was there. The line, “I was drinking champagne with Jerry Springer” is kind of a lie. I was in the same room with him at the time; never actually spoke to him; gave him a lot of hairy eyeball [laughs]. But yeah, “I fell like the Queen of the Whirl”. It sounds like, “I felt like the Queen of the World,” which is also true, but it’s been misquoted a lot. I was describing the whirlwind.

Do you still feel like the Queen of the Whirl?

Do I still fall like the Queen of the Whirl would be the better question [laughs]. Occasionally. I’m trying very hard not to these days, but you know, things happen. I try to stay optimistic. There’s no doubt that I’ve had some really traumatic experiences. In amongst the highs there have been some crushing lows, very much so. The biggest of those recently was not the death of my mam, funnily enough, because we spent 12 years looking after her – we were ready for that. The biggest was the Wayward Band crisis, which was very sad. So it does still happen. But I try to remain loving. I try to remain optimistic that this relaunch is really going to stick. And actually, I try not to think about them as relaunches because I’ve always attempted to try something different every time, but with the solid core of coming from the background that I do; coming from the education that I do. When I say education, I don’t mean formal education. I mean my parents, obviously, and the traditional singers that I’ve listened to and also the contemporary singers that I’ve listened to.

I always try to cover new ground if possible, which is where the idea for doing completely new versions of these songs comes from. I was always going to have to do a retrospective, and just as I did with the Wayward project, I swore I wasn’t going to just retread old ground.

You’ve recorded Queen of the Whirl with your band, the Restitution. Tell me a bit about them.

The thing about the Restitution is that they are a smaller conglomeration of musicians that I’ve worked with (in some cases) for a very long time, people that I’ve known for many years. Ben Seal, for instance, even though we only started working together four or five years ago, they are one of my oldest friends. I met them in the Bongo Club days in Edinburgh, back in 1997. And people like Phil Alexander, who I guested with in Salsa Celtica before he became part of the Neptune band and then moved on to become part of mam’s band. She absolutely adored him.

I have a knack for putting together shit-hot bands. I’ve never put together a bad band. My dad always says that about me and I’m proud to own it.

Eliza Carthy

Willie Molleson, I’ve been working with since about 1999. Saul Rose is obviously 27 years under the cosh now [laughs], and then Dave Delarre represents my more recent collaborations in that he’s only been around for a decade or so [laughs]. But the important thing to me was not to rehash and not to get a bunch of celebrity guests in to show everybody how amazing I am, but to showcase the wonderful people that I’ve been lucky enough to form bands with. With me, it has always been about family, it has always been about forming bands, it has always been about being with my people. And since the very beginning, I wanted to be someone that facilitated great music because I’ve always been the village idiot in any of the bands that I’ve been in. I’ve never been as skilled or technically able as the rest of my people but I have a knack for putting together shit-hot bands. I’ve never put together a bad band. My dad always says that about me and I’m proud to own it.

The Restitution are some of my most beloved people who have also, in the interim years, really grown up. And to hear their grown-up brains and my grown-up brain working on that stuff that we were silly about as kids – stuff like ‘Accordion Song’, that we once jumped around the room to – hearing what they can do with it now and to know that none of us are creatively static is immensely exciting. The only sticking point in all of that of course is ‘Good Morning Mr. Walker’, because we’ve done that so many times. It has been with us since The Kings of Calicutt [former band from the mid-90s], so I’ve been singing that song since about 1995. The Kings of Calicutt recorded it, and then we did it with the Wayward Band, and me and Saul have always performed it in our duo. So when it appeared in the Twitter poll, I was like, I was like… [groans].

That’s how this new collection came about, right? You put it together by asking people on Twitter what they wanted to hear on it.


Was it fairly predictable, or were there some on there that surprised you?

I had to knock out some top-tier. I knocked out things like ‘Willow Tree’ [Roud 18831], and ‘Worcester City’ [Roud 218]. There’s no point. We’ve just done those. I mean, OK, it was eight years ago, but, yeah, we did those with the Wayward Band. So there were a few to knock out. But actually, there were also some great choices, and the list does genuinely represent what Twitter picked. So it was heartening and lovely to see ‘Mohair’ on there and also songs of mine, like ‘Two Tears’ and ‘Mr. Magnifico’, because I never know whether people enjoy my writing. It’s always been a bit of a poor cousin to the traditional music and, in my opinion, rightly so as well, because obviously I still have the big passion, I still have the big cause of the tradition. So it was heartening for me to see those things in there. But there were also some wonderful surprises. ‘My Father’s Mansions’, for example. I was not expecting that because, first of all, I didn’t sing on it originally. My original version was with Billy Bragg.

You’ve always been one for collaborations, haven’t you?

Well, I like the way that the album represents a lot of the significant relationships in my life. So, ‘My Father’s Mansions’ represents both my early relationship with Billy and also my relationship with the Seeger/MacColl family, which is absolutely one of my most treasured bits of life, as is the fact that they’re our family now. Neill MacColl and Kate St. John are my children’s godless parents. And I see Peggy [Seeger] as another mother, really. She adored my mam, she adored my dad, and for some reason she thinks I’m all right as well [laughs]. But the gift of their children in my life – Neill, Callum and Kitty and everybody – is just wonderful. It’s been a revelation. And of course, Neill and Kate are the link to Hal Willner and working with the Rogue’s Gallery project. Everyone is connected in this story, if you like, and I love that. ‘Space Girl‘ is obviously Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger as well. And then with ‘Good Morning Mr. Walker’, it’s being able to represent Jeanie Mclerie and Ken Keppeler from Bayou Seco, who were also represented with ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ on Anchor. So it’s just it goes round, around like that. I absolutely love that. I love the strands.

Given that this is a Tradfolk interview, I’m interested in your re-recording of ‘The Snow it Melts the Soonest‘ [Roud 3154].

Isn’t it beautiful?

It’s really something. How do you keep finding new ways to interpret these songs after 30 years? Take me through how ‘The Snow it Melts the Soonest’ came together this time.

OK. So, the original was on what I considered to be the contemporary half of Red Rice, which is the acoustic album, the Rice album. And it was originally Martin Ellison and Tristan Glover from the Chipolata 5. Dual melodeons with kind of whooshy noises and backing vocals, that kind of thing. And of course, I do have two box players in the Restitution. Saul plays Melodian, while Phil plays the accordion. We thought we could do it like that again, but then Saul was like, “Come on, we’ve got a huge band here. This could be really beautiful.”

Dave had decided that he wasn’t going to play any acoustic guitar at all on the album; it was all going to be electric. It’s all one guitar, one pedal and a Fender Blues Junior on every track. It was sounding epic and amazing and everything, but it’s a big song and it was starting to drag and it was like, “Well, we’ve already got a few of these. ‘My Father’s Mansions’ is massive and filmic and epic, too. Do we need to do this again?” And Dave just turned around and said, “Hang on a minute. I’ve got this drum pattern in my head that I think would work really well.” He literally went into the drum booth and sang it to Willie. That drum and bass pattern just transformed everything. Willy just went, “Oh!” You could see the light go on. And from that moment it became something completely different.

Again, it was about representing an earlier period in my life, but with new people that can do it differently. Red Rice had its drum and bass half. But, actually, the drum and bass aspect of Red Rice wasn’t represented by my people. It was represented by a couple of DJs. It was a partner of a friend of mine. I’ve met so many drum and bass pioneers over the years, people like Roni Size and Ali Friend from Red Snapper – people who actually do it live – and that has been a wonderful thing for me. This recording represents the kind of club side of what I was doing in the late 90s, early 2000s. But back then, our toolbox was so limited, we were literally making it up as we went along. And I didn’t know any drum and bass producers and I didn’t know how to make club music. I’d just seen Shooglenifty a few times and wanted to be like them [laughs]. So it was very much homemade by a bunch of street theatre performers and guys that we pulled in from sessions in Cambridge and stuff like that. I mean, Martin Green was 18 or 19 when he joined my band. I’m not saying he couldn’t play, I’m just saying that we were working with things that we’d never worked with before. And I think one of the reasons that album was up for a Mercury Award is because that spirit of adventure was really there. But the new version feels to me like Judy Garland opening the door and everything being in full colour.

With these new recordings ready for release, do you find that you have preferred versions?

They are what they are. My dad’s always said that recordings are snapshots. And that’s also kind of the way that he feels about traditional music in some ways as well. You can only ever represent the tradition as the person that you are in the community you are in at the time that you’re alive. So, I’m not going to be down on my 22-year-old self for not knowing that I could sing something differently, or not knowing that I could present it differently, because I was what I was. And I’m fine with that. I’m proud of everything I’ve done. I’m proud of what I try to do. I don’t get embarrassed by much. I don’t get embarrassed by any of it, actually. I was there and it was good and now I’m here and it’s great.

Every time you get written about it, the writer uses the phrase, ‘Folk Royalty’. Does that weigh heavily or do you just wear it?

Being an anti-monachist, it’s a bit weird [laughs]. I’d like to think someone, somewhere would vote for us. Being an anti-monarchist and a lifelong socialist, it’s just weird. And the ‘First Family of Folk’ thing is weird as well because, to us, that’s the Copper Family. But they’re going to write what they’re going to write. You know that better than most.

I’ve had a few really great saucy aunties over the years.

Eliza Carthy

Whatever you want to call it, though, you’ve been in a fascinating position from which to view the changes in the traditional folk scene over the years. Whenever I talk to you, I find the stories you recall about significant people so interesting. We were talking before we turned the recorder on about Louisa Killen. To you, we’re talking about a family friend, whereas to me, we’re talking about the legendary Lou Killen. When you look back, who are the people that have really struck you?

Hal Wilner would be a big one. And actually, I have to give him his dues, Andrew Wickham, too. Although our relationship at the end of my contract with Warners was good, he wasn’t able to deliver what he wanted to deliver, and he didn’t have the support of Warners behind him. I think he did the best with what he could. Crucially, he introduced me to Van Dyke Parks. I guess Joan Baez’s manager would be one of them, too, for similar reasons. If I hadn’t been in certain places at certain times, I wouldn’t have had the experiences that I’ve had. Billy Bragg, obviously. Peggy, too. In terms of traditional singers, Sheila Stewart – I still miss her – and Ray Fisher. They were really great saucy aunties – I’ve had a few of those over the years – but also the strength in delivery and just the absolute naturalness of the existence of the tradition within them. There are formidable people like that.

My godmother, Jenny Barton. Without her, my dad would never have had that residency at the Troubadour. We still go to visit her and our Irish family every year, and I take my children out there. Meeting people like Ron Kavana, Christy Moore and Paul Brady. Richard Hawley turning up in our lives was a wonderful, wonderful moment. The love between him, my mam and our Marry… that Sheffield crew was very important. Jarvis as well, obviously.

Then there’s Simon Emerson. I grew up when world music was huge and the idea of playing at WOMAD or being on Real World Records was the gold standard if you wanted to be a worldwide musician, which I did. I wanted to be on Topic Records for the rest of my life, of course, but I also looked on people like that as where I wanted to be. I wanted to be at Real World Studios. I wanted to be on stage with Peter Gabriel, and through Simon I’ve been able to do that. I’ve been able to sing with Peter Gabriel. I’ve been able to see a project like The Imagined Village come together. I still remember the meeting that we had sitting around a table at Dranouter Festival and me going, “You’re not just going to put synths on everything, are you?!” I was trying to be brave and challenge him, you know? But getting back together this year with The Imagined Village, our 10-year reunion at FolkEast and Beautiful Days, it reminded me just how formative those years were. There have been so many wonderful moments. If I hadn’t met Hal, I wouldn’t have the relationship with Neill and Kate that I do. They wouldn’t be my children’s godless parents and the Gift Band wouldn’t exist. The comfort and love that those people have provided me and my mother… they’re just family. They’re all family.

I suppose that one constant has been Saul Rose, wouldn’t you say?

Well, he was gone for a while. My sister married him and took him off the road, which was… inconvenient [laughs]. But he got better. He took the suit off and came back to us. I did like the fact that, for a while, we were going to gigs in his Mercedes company car. That was quite nice. Leather seats. Now we’re back in the van with yogurt and empty Ginsters packets everywhere. Welcome back, Saul [cackles]. Welcome back to poverty and grime!

I’ve seen you a number of times live, and there are two partnerships that have really stood out. That undeniable relationship with your dad that you’d imagine comes from being family, until you see that you have a similarly symbiotic thing going on with Saul. Last night, for example. You just locked in together and were amazing.

Yeah, we’ve had our ups and downs. Plonking him in between me and my parents at such a young age when he joined Waterson:Carthy. I don’t think any of us realised the kind of impact that was going to have on us at that age. And we certainly had a very fiery relationship. Back then, he must have been out-of-his-mind levels of brave to get into that situation. Here’s a teenage girl and her famous parents. Let’s go to Australia for six weeks and follow that with a six-week tour of the States. And no, you’re not going to see your family. You’re going to live with my family. Lucky old you! That’s insane. I remember some of the fights we used to have, but also some of the fights that I used to have with my parents in front of him as well. I mean, we’ve seen the best and the worst of each other, that’s for sure, but fortunately, we’ve also been able to grow as musicians.

I am filled with admiration for the musician that Saul has become and is always becoming, because he could have rested on his laurels just being a great Morris musician, or he could have rested on his laurels just being a great melodeon player in the vein of Andy Cutting. But he’s found his own way, which is what I hoped for him when we first met, because he wore his influences very large on his sleeve. And he has become a great musician with a big G. He’s a fantastic musician. And again, he never rests. He’s always learning. I remember when we started playing with the Wayward Band, he basically sat down with Dave and Barn Stradling, and he was like, “Right, how does this jazz thing work?” I’ve seen him make chord shapes on that thing that God did not intend for a melodeon player. I’ve watched him find delight in new places for melodeons, you know, and I’ve watched him design and build his own box as well. I mean, that thing that he plays is crazy. It’s an entirely new instrument. It’s barely a melodeon anymore. God knows what it is. I just know that he does wonderful things with it.

I do love playing with him. And we trust each other musically. We really trust each other. Over the years we’ve tried to get away from each other [laughs], but actually, there is no relationship like that relationship. And it always shows on stage. Always. I’m very grateful for him.

Being able to bring out something that no one has done before is important. We’re not just going to do another version of ‘She Moves through the Fair’.

Eliza Carthy

You’ve been observing the folk scene for decades, going up and down, coming back, receding again. The other day I was at Cecil Sharp House and I was chatting with the artist Ben Edge, and he was enthusing about you and ‘folk punk’, almost seeing it through new eyes. Of course, you’ve been doing that for decades now. When you look around at the scene as it currently is – at the people engaging with tradition – what are you seeing? What are you feeling?

At the moment, I’m worried for them more than anything else. We are a cottage industry. We’re barely an industry at all, and even during the times when we are an industry, I’m not sure if I trust us. But it’s great to see newer musicians like Stick in the Wheel coming at things from a completely different angle. That’s been great. I want to see more people like Emily Portman. They’re sitting and listening to the traditional singers and bringing their own thing out of that. That’s been one of the great things about you, for instance. You do your research. Being able to bring out something that no one has done before is important. We’re not just going to do another version of ‘She Moves through the Fair’, or whatever. We’re going to actually find something different. Take Dave Delarre, for instance. In between learning Charlie Parker solos, he has been doing the most incredible research into traditional Essex music, and he’s bringing out things that no one’s heard in 100 years.

I think it’s important to continually refresh the pot, to refresh the repertoire, to widen the pool. And that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I mean, it was a pain in the ass for me that I couldn’t just sit in a session and play the tunes that everyone else could play because I was too busy going through some granny’s attic that had old manuscripts in them, which had been in a box for 50 years. So I’d go and sit in a session, they’d ask me to lead something, and I’d strike up and be sat there on my own for two minutes because nobody knew it. But since then, those tunes have entered the repertoire. And it’s great to walk into an English session now and hear somebody play something off Heat, Light & Sound that no one was playing at the time. It’s great to hear that. I mean, they’re playing it wrong, but… [cackles]. I think it’s important that people don’t just present the same songs in different ways, if you know what I mean. There are more steps to it. There are always more steps.

For instance, Olivia Chaney handed me my arse a couple of years ago when we were doing the recordings for Topic Records’ 80th-anniversary collection, and I suggested that we do ‘Nancy of Yarmouth’ [Roud 407]. We’d listened to the recordings and I had unconsciously kind of quantized the whole thing. She was sitting in front of me and I was singing and she was like, “but that’s not how it goes, is it?” And she led me through every variation that the traditional singers had done on the recording and she made me learn them all. And I was like, “thank you for reminding me that it’s not just about old blokes getting it wrong.” It’s about the musicality. And if you don’t sing that, you’re missing out. It’s not about being purist, it’s about why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you miss out that bar? Why wouldn’t you change the melody in that way there, in a way that you wouldn’t have thought to do otherwise? Why wouldn’t you do that? Get your head in there. Do it properly.

Your dad taught me that a few years ago, actually. He came to my house and we were playing some songs to each other and I played a version of ‘Ye Mariners All’ [Roud 1191] that I’d been arranging. Obviously, I’d learned it from his unaccompanied recording of it, but this was on guitar. And he stopped me after the first verse said, “You’re doing it in 3/4. Why?” I replied, “Oh, I didn’t realise that it matters all that much”, to which he said, “Of course it matters. Making the assumption that those old boys didn’t know what they were doing just because they may not have been able to notate it in that way is wrong. They knew exactly what they were doing.”

They knew what to do. They mightn’t have known how to write it down, or some of them might have written it down in bell-ringing notation, but they knew. You should hold onto those variations. Why wouldn’t you? By all means, add your own variations, but learn those ones too. Bring them out. Let’s keep them going. Because otherwise you just end up with the same homogenized things.

Dad was talking about John Dougherty the other day when we were in Shrewsbury and he was telling this hilarious story. He went to the pub where Johnny lived, where he was lodging. Some random guy picked him up and took him there. My dad was sat there at Johnny’s feet, that kind of thing. This guy said, “what’s your favourite tune, Johnny?” Johnny sat there, he played him a reel, and this guy was like, “Yeah, but what’s your favourite tune?” And Johnny played him a jig. “But what’s your favourite tune?” And Johnny just went quiet. And then someone asked him if he knew any waltzes, and his face just lit up. If you just go with the flow, you’re going to end up with jigs and reels. But with the old boys, they loved the waltzes. And in Ireland, a lilt on an Irish waltz is one of the most beautiful things.

The homogenization is real and possible and needs to be fought at all costs.

Eliza Carthy

It’s like everyone forgets to play polkas, everyone forgets to play two steps, everyone forgets to play the jagged little hornpipes. It’s not all jigs and reels and ballads and lovely girls. It’s not about that, not if you want it to be interesting. The homogenization is real and possible and needs to be fought at all costs. It’s not about style, it’s about substance. You got to keep the substance. The tradition is a movement.

I spent the afternoon with your dad the other day, and I asked him whether he’s still seeking out new songs at the grand old age of 82. He was saying that he’s been searching for Napoleonic songs. At the gig that night he was really getting into telling everyone about these songs about Napoleon, and how there are zero songs about Wellington.

He loves talking about that.

So he’s still clearly digging about, still excited by what’s there and what isn’t. Do you still go looking? You’re all about Queen of the Whirl at the moment, but in the future, there’s bound to be another Eliza Carthy album of traditional songs.

Well, there’s a trio album. That’s what’s coming next. Yeah. We’re recording new material for that at the moment.

So, where do you go seeking out the songs?

All the usual places. We have a library full of books at my house, so I’m very lucky for that. People also hand me things. The lovely vicar at St George’s Headstone is massively into Heywood Sumner, for instance, and he gave me a bunch of books which I’d never encountered before. So I read through those, got a couple of wassail songs out of that for the Christmas show with Jon Boden. So, yeah, I’m always looking for new stuff. I’m still working my way through John of The Green, but then I discovered William Vickers recently and started working through that tune book. I actually got a tune out of that for Angeline Morrison called ‘The West Indian’, because she’s always looking for music about people of colour. I wanted to cheer her up recently and I was just flicking through the book and BOOM, it just fell open at ‘The West Indian’. And I was like, “Oh, that’s lovely.” So I played with that and sent it to her as a little present.

Are there any plans for the Watersons Family, given that the original siblings are no longer with us?

Well, we’ve had several conversations. I’m definitely not saying no. We all got up on stage at the end of mam’s wake. Anyone who could even remotely make a noise with their face got up, including Oliver Knight, which is a rare sight, but also my niece Erin, my brother’s daughter. Erin has a beautiful singing voice and plays the guitar as well. She’s very much kind of New Country at the moment, but she’s also very, very interesting and she loves the family material. There’s also Bigby, Marry’s eldest. They’ve got the most incredible, sonorous, deep voice, and that’s what we’ve been missing the last few years – a low end, if you like. My brother as well, he sings a bit and plays a bit. We were just saying that we should do a thing where every three months we get together and have a family sing.

We’ve all felt the separation of not just the pandemic, but with mam being ill, people would only ever come round to check on us. We stopped having the big family get-togethers. We used to live together on the farm, so we were always together. And certainly the last 10 years it’s really not been like that. I think we all really felt at mam’s funeral and at the wake that it was time we reconnected with each other and that the music was a possible way to do that. So it’s all very early doors. But the answer to that is this: it’s not no. It’s definitely maybe at this point.

I’ve always been quite impressed by the way that you represent the family’s past as well as your own present. You represent your dad on social media, and you’re always involved in the Waterson family legacy. Is that a joy to do?

Yeah, very much so.

Do you work with Marry?

We don’t work together in that way but we always pass stuff between us and she’ll say, “Oh, you know, this so and so needs a boost”. And then I point her at things because she’s very active on social media as well. But yeah, we’re trying to represent Frost and Fire as the new remaster has just come out, and I am about to take over the Official Martin Carthy Instagram as well, as it has been run by Topic Records until recently. There’s obviously the Waterson Family Archive as well. We still have an open invitation at the Hull History Museum to mount an exhibition at some point, so I’m still collating all of that. Our old agent in the States has been pulling together all the live stuff that she has, as well as all the radio shows that they did over in States – University Radio, NPR, all that kind of stuff. There’s reams and reams of it.

The Frost and Fire album just keeps igniting new generations of folkies. I interview a lot of these young people who are coming through and they’re really fascinated by it. It’s like ground zero for anyone coming to traditional English song for the first time. It seems to roll around again and again.

Yeah, it seems that way. That’s one of the lovely things about the Lynch boys and Lankum as well. It’s that love for the Watersons and that love for the rituals and the darker side of things that they really wear very proudly on their sleeves, as well. It’s the same with the young folk scene in America, too – the East Coast kind of New England traditional music heads. The Watersons still loom very large over there as well. I like that. I like the weird folk and the doom folk and all those subgenres because they seem to go deeper than the shiny ones. You know what I mean?

I’m right here, dude! Literally right here! And I want to help, I really do.

Eliza Carthy

The last thing I wanted to ask you about is being the EFDSS president. What do you do in that role? Is it day-to-day?

I don’t. I’m essentially a figurehead, but I am more involved than the last two presidents. I’ve been involved in the discussions around the name change, where the society sees itself going, and the very real conflicts we have with the membership ageing. Diversity, too. We’re an organisation that essentially protects and promotes much older British traditions, so how do we be diverse and inclusive? That’s a very real dichotomy. It’s a very real struggle, something that we need to pay attention to for all of the reasons, and that’s a conversation that I very much want to be a part of. I know people on both sides of the argument. So if I think that there’s something that the board is missing, I’ve probably spotted it on social media and I can talk to them about it. Also, in that way, I’ve been able to be out there on the Internet, if you like, refuting some of the more conspiratorial theories you come across. The idea that things are foisted upon us, for example. The discussions are very far from over. Just engage with it.

I mean, there are very real problems. The membership is dying out. It’s not that they’re leaving, they’re dying. So what happens when somebody says, “Oh, you just want to get rid of the membership”? It’s like, no, we don’t. We want the membership to keep going, but the question is how we do that. If you have an opinion on that, then please give us it. I always hear, “Aww, we won’t be listened to”, and it’s like, I’m right here, dude! Literally right here! And I want to help, I really do.

Queen of the Whirl comes out on Hem Hem Records on November 11th. It can be ordered from Proper Music.