Queen’s Hall, Newtownards
10th April 2016

Inspired by a couple of world renowned guitar makers based nearby the Ards International Guitar Festival has run for over a decade, with support from the local council. This year’s event has the creative hand of Anthony Toner, fresh from organising birthday bashes for Van, at the helm and all the better for his presence.

Gig started bang on time, first up Stevie and Matt. These two are in the middle of a tour along with Ben Glover who is absent tonight. They perform a nice half hour set, three songs each. Good relaxed stuff, nice guitar work. They add harmonies, guitar and harmonica to each other’s songs. The trio have some other dates coming up including a headlining show in the CQAF. Well worth checking out.

After a short break Martin Carthy is on stage, a quick hello and he is off singing and playing. He looks lean and fit for, as he later describes himself “an old geezer”. He gives short but well-informed introductions to each song, starting with ‘Her Servant Man’, ‘Six Jovial Welshmen’, and ‘Sir Patrick Spence’. He is always careful to acknowledge his sources or references; Nic Jones, Mike Watterson. Simple Simon could learn from this?

The songs cover a huge variety of themes, many of them dark and dangerous, ‘Bill Norrie’ a tale of murder by beheading, ‘A Stitch In Time’, revenge for marital abuse. Three songs collected from gypsies, including ‘Georgie’ – a version of ‘Gordie’.

Other stand out songs included, ‘My Son John’, a version of ‘Mrs McGrath’ (recently covered by Bruce Springsteen), updated to include references to Iraq and Iran. Good points made about following “Cool Britannia”. Also the Adam McNaughton three minute version of ‘Hamlet’ delivered unaccompanied and word perfectly, no mean feat.

Since it’s a guitar festival I suppose comment on guitar playing is required. I am no expert but… expert finger picking style, no use of those new fangled digital tuners in sight (I suspect his ear is more accurate). Martin finished on a lovely picked version of The Anton Karas ‘Third Man’ film theme. Note perfect. Lovely stuff and worth noting the sound was great throughout the concert.

Martin was called back on stage to be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Oscar winners could learn a lot from his simple thank you in accepting this. He encored with the wonderfully funny ‘Feathery Woman’ about defying the devil.

His singing and playing was great and much appreciated by the good sized audience. Long may he continue on the road.

Photos by Nurse Ratched.