Top positive review
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An essential read for any music fan
on 7 June 2012
An impulse buy for holiday reading; I'm a music obsessive and love reading any music biographies and autobiographies. I'm certainly not a big fan of folk or the Waterson/Carthys, though I've always been aware of their importance and quite liked the idea that the first family of English folk had this punk looking daughter. From the off, though, this is gripping as a good novel; within the first few pages I'd felt tears prick in my eyes at a moment of understanding between Martin Carthy and his as yet unborn daughter (you'll just have to read it; I believe him), laughed along with some of the author's friendly manner and could even picture the landscape in which the family grew up.
For a biographer, knowledge of your subject is one thing; gaining the trust of her and all her friends and family quite another. The intimacy of the interviews which form the backbone of this book is wonderful; you can tell they resulted from hours of amiable chat over tea or beer, as opposed to the "knock on door with a Dictaphone and sit uncomfortably for two hours then leave" style you sometimes get with more formal biographies. Even these things, however, do not automatically make for a great book: I've read plenty of third party biogs or ghostwritten memoirs where nothing is hidden, and some of them are still pretty dull as they plod along.
This is where Sophie Parkes excels: her writing never plods along, it dances down the streets of Eliza's wonderful-sounding childhood, it dips into the lives of her closest friends and laughs along with the now fully grown-up mother-of-two who still swears like a docker. She avoids this-happened-then-this-happened-then-etc linearity - let's face it, in real life where do you ever hear anyone tell a sequentially linear story outside of a police interview room? - in favour of letting the tales spill out naturally. There are chapters which are fascinating, almost self-contained pieces on subjects such as the attempts by the racist extreme right to "adopt" Eliza and her fellow English folk types leading to a folk against fascism movement inspired by punk/rock music's similar efforts decades earlier; or the complete lack of understanding shown by a major record label towards the folk way of doing things.
And as the story unfolds you can feel the growing bond between the two women, to the point where little slivers of Sophie's life as she researches the book fit in perfectly: she goes and hangs out with Morris dancers, despite the finest efforts of the British public transport system. Much like Dave Simpson's "The Fallen" - in which the author's quest to track down the many former members of his favourite band starts to impinge heavily on his personal life - you get the feeling she didn't just write this book, she lived it.