Martin Carthy’s 1971 solo album tunnels further than its predecessors into contemporary song, coming up with memorable performances of Dave Goulder’s January Man John Kirkpatrick’s Dust To Dust and David Ackles’ His Name is Andrew.
Carthy's debut album rates a place alongside the album by Bob Dylan, as the debut work of a man who ultimately revolutionized folk music performance in England (Carthy is mentioned as an influence on the notes to Dylan's Freewheelin' album). This is Carthy's purest and simplest folk effort, an all-acoustic recording done in barely an afternoon that includes his version of "Scarborough Fair," awhich Paul Simon learned from Carthy (including the chords and changes from Carthy's arrangement) and transformed into a hit of his own. Also here is "Two Magicians," a song that later entered the repertory Steeleye Span, and "Lovely Joan," a folk song that is most familiar to classical listeners as the source of the counter-melody to Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Greensleeves." The playing and the interpretations are somewhat less ambitious and rather rougher than subsequent efforts, with Dave Swarbrick guesting on fiddle on about half the tracks, and Carthy's guitar covering all but the acapella tracks.
This record stands in British music history and Carthy's career roughly where Another Side of Bob Dylan does in American music–the more florrid tracks here, recorded with violinist Dave Swarbrick, show the path to the bridge between Carthy's traditional singer/scholar background and the folk-rock played by bands such as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. "Lord Franklin" is a narrative tour-de-force (from which Bob Dylan got the melody for "Bob Dylan's Dream" on Freewheelin' ), "Ramblin' Sailor" is boisterous cautionary tale about the company the title character keeps ashore, and there's also an acoustic recording of "Sailor's Life," a song that Fairport Convention would transmute into an epic electric version, and "Lowlands of Holland," which Steeleye Span later recorded.
Byker Hill was the first album on which Carthy and Swarbrick had more than two or three hours' studio time, and, as a result, which was actually rehearsed and programmed weeks in advance. The results are less spontaneous than their earlier work, but also show a level of professionalism that few folk albums of the era ever demonstrated. The differences lie in the careful nuances, and the sophistication of the paired voice and instruments, which are much more studied than anything previously heard.