Hailed as an innovator and a leading light of England's folk scene, Eliza Carthy rose to prominence in the mid-'90s both as a solo artist and a member of Waterson-Carthy, the group she formed with her parents, folk icons Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy.
A singer, songwriter, and fiddler, Carthy built her reputation early on, infusing the traditional folk of her parents' generation with a youthful vibrancy and punk-like spirit on two Mercury Prize-nominated albums, 1998's Red Rice and 2003's Anglicana. Through numerous collaborations with her family and artists like Billy Bragg, Richard Thompson, the Oysterband, Nancy Kerr, Martin Green, and a host of others, her presence has been woven into the fabric of U.K. folk music in the 21st century.
Born August 23, 1975 in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, Carthy's first formal entry into the family business came at the age of 13 when she formed the Waterdaughters with her aunt, Lal Waterson, and cousin Marry Waterson. Meanwhile, her prowess as a young fiddler led to a variety of gigs both with her family and as one-half of a fiddle duo with musical partner Nancy Kerr, yielding the 1993 album Eliza Carthy & Nancy Kerr. The following year saw the formation of Waterson-Carthy, a group that joined Eliza with her parents, bridging the gap between two generations of folk music. Between Waterson-Carthy's 1994 debut, a second outing with Kerr in 1995's Shape of Scrape, and her own 1996 solo debut, Heat Light & Sound, Carthy's arrival as a major player in the British folk scene was undeniable. Throughout the remainder of the '90s, she was highly active, recording and performing as part of Waterson-Carthy, leading another band, the Kings of Calicut, appearing on Billy Bragg and Wilco's Mermaid Avenue project, and releasing her acclaimed 1998 solo follow-up, Red Rice, which was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
Following 2000's eclectic Angels & Cigarettes album, she appeared on yet another family project, the supergroup Blue Murder, which also features members of Swan Arcade and Coope, Boyes & Simpson. Her fourth LP, 2003's Anglicana, earned another Mercury Prize nomination as well as three Radio 2 Folk Awards. 2004's Rough Music saw a marked return to traditional music, as did the Waterson-Carthy releases Fine Fishes & Yellow Sand (2004) and Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man (2006), the latter of which was highly focused on instrumental pieces. Taking part in producer Hal Willner's 2006 nautical collection, Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys, she contributed to three songs, including one with Richard Thompson. 2008's Dreams of Breathing Underwater featured all original material and was conceived as a sequel to her 2000 album, Angels & Cigarettes. In 2010, Carthy teamed up with her mother, Norma Waterson, for Gift, their first album as a duo. She would later repeat this duo format with her father, Martin Carthy, on 2014's spare and elegant The Moral of the Elephant. In between those two releases was 2011's solo outing, Neptune, which also served to launch her label, Hem Hem, as well as 2013 solo anthology from Topic Records called Wayward Daughter.
Working with the Wayward Band, a large 12-piece band she formed following the Wayward Daughter release, Carthy issued 2017's Big Machine, a lively fusion of traditional music, rock, and jazz styles. The following year saw a second collaboration with her mother called Anchor, which was credited to Norma Waterson & Eliza Carthy with the Gift Band. Due to problems regarding the initial financing of the Big Machine project, the members of the Wayward Band did not receive their full wages for their work. Describing the situation a "monumental con," Carthy recorded her first solo album in 14 years, Restitute, to raise the money to fully compensate her collaborators. An initial limited-edition pressing of Restitute was released in February 2019 and quickly sold out. The following May, the venerable British folk label Topic Records reissued the album in a more widely available edition. ~ Timothy Monger, Rovi