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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.
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on 4 November 2012
This is a truly dreadful, disjointed and disappointing book. The account of Eliza's life (thus far) jumps about and several observations are repeated to the point of tedium. I am relatively familiar with her career and family history (as much as any fan of British folk music is) and still found some of the book an absolute chore to plough through. It is also as peculiar for what it omits as much as it repeats.
The fact that Eliza chose mid-career to undertake study toward a degree is granted just one sentence mid ramble. So, did university and mixing with those outside the folk scene influence Eliza at all? We are not told. How did the passing of one of Eliza's close relatives, early influences and highly regarded performers of English folk (her auntie Lal) impact her? Again we are not told. This sad and untimely passing barely gets a mention. More space is given by the author to how she struggled with public transport to get to see Eliza playing in a pub session and supporting some folk dancers, and the fact that the author also plays in a band. Do you know what, I'm sure that Ms Parkes is a very nice human being, and that her travel woes and musical prowess are of interest in another forum, but not in a biography of someone else. I for one am not interested.
We learn from the author bio at the end of the book (complete with a photo of Ms Parkes holding a fiddle!) that she is more used to writing short reviews in various publications. This fact certainly shows in this biography as she is totally unable to sustain a narrative past 2000 words. I also could have done without the 20 plus pages of `fan interviews' at the end. Again I bought this book to learn about its subject, not an author who couldn't resist talking about herself or what some random collection of fans think of her. Best avoided.
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on 22 June 2012
At last! A biography of a musician that's well written, interesting and not just a list of tracks and gigs. The author is obviously a fan of Eliza Carthy, she makes no secret of that but the book is definitely not a hagiography either. Eliza comes across as a musician who is aware of the history of the genre she is involved in but is not afraid to make her mark and create work that will, hopefully in time,become an important addition to folk music repertoire.
I really enjoyed how Sophie Parkes personalizes the book - if you are a fan it's hard to be objective but she examines the state of folk music today and how it can be appropriated by unlikely groups of people; the BNP for example.
The writer brings out the eccentricity of the Waterson- Carthy clan but also shows how thoughtful Eliza is about her music and the ever present albatross of heritage which must always be at the back of her mind.
The Afterword is given over to Eliza fans - an innovative idea of the author's and one which should be replicated in other books,I think.
I can't wait for Sophie's next book!
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on 14 June 2012
I was lucky enough to be at the launch of this book in Sheffield and have to say, the book more than delivered on the night itself!
Although a self confessed fan, the author does not fall into the trap of making this a fawning biography, instead, using interviews with the artist and her family and collaborators to pull together the strands of a very diverse and interesting artist who is not easily placed in one genre or another.
From her families move to Robin Hoods Bay, through her youth and into Motherhood, this is a revealing and well written biography that will no doubt be added to as her career continues and her fame grows outside of the "folk" scene.
I would heartily recommend this book, not just to those who are fans of traditional "English" music, but fans of any music, as Eliza is as happy messing with dance beats as her fiddle!
I really enjoyed this and I hope Sophie goes on to write more books, as she has dealt with this biography in a very skilled manner for a first book.
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on 25 June 2014
Sat down & read this in 2 days, so engrossed did I get. It embellished the general information that I already knew, as well as providing greater insights. Sophie Parkes's style is very accessible & readable. The subject of the book, Eliza Carthy (for me, the very personification of music in a restless ball of human energy) is hugely talented, earthy, pragmatic and determined. Not content to confine herself within the traditionalist folk genre, all types of music seem to be of equal interest to her, which has resulted in numerous interesting collaborations, as well as her own songwriting. It's all about making great music for as diverse an audience as possible, which she excels at. So deserving of her recent MBE. Long may she continue transforming English music.
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on 7 August 2013
As lifelong devotee of Martin Carthy ,Norma Waterson and the brilliant Eliza I was very interested in her background and career - not sure I learnt much that was new but I enjoyed the book and interviews .
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on 26 February 2017
Very disappointing. Written like a fanzine by a real aficionado. No real depth or disclosure. I had to stop reading when I discovered the great right on radical left winger Martin Carthy, so critical for instance of Paul Simon's Graceland adventure, sent his daughter to a private boarding school, because the local high school was not good enough. Palaces of Gold indeed! I enjoy Eliza Carthy as a performer, but perhaps the less I know about her and her family the better.
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on 27 February 2014
I am really sorry to say that I found this book did not quite reach the bar. It is not particularly well written, which I can forgive, but, considering the vibrant subject matter, it is, frankly, quite boring. I hate writing negative reviews, but I feel that I have to be honest.
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on 4 September 2012
I confess to being an intermittent fan of Eliza Carthy throughout the whole of her career so when this tome arrived on my doorstep for review I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy it even though I have numerous other `music' artist biographies in my collection. I (wrongly as it goes) assumed it would be written by a `fan' (Sophie is...but very eloquent) therefore perhaps the book would be written in a `gushy' outpouring that like so many other previous experiences have cluttered my dusty shelves...forgive me ladies but I am a bloke after all. This book thankfully has no traces of `that' style of writing and from the beginning Parkes gets straight into the background of how the legacy of Eliza's parents (the `king & queen' of the British folk music scene Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson) was soaked sponge-like by Eliza at a young age. Of course the indoctrination of twee `folk' music (knowingly or otherwise) in one so young played a major part in her early music `career' and although perhaps not rebellious in the truest sense forged an `attitude' that would become an established calling card within the `folk' community. In a way, falling between two camps (the staunch `traditionalists' who had first dibs followed by a creative need to be heard as a singer-songwriter) would split Carthy's audience and ultimately create a conflict that would have mortally wounded any lesser `artist' she's ultimately a strong personality who knows her own mind brandishing her `gut-instinct' (and a strong sense of right for her `English' heritage) like a badge of honour. If, with my bias towards her more `traditional' background there are many references to her associations with (amongst others) Nancy Kerr, The Kings Of Calicutt and Boden & Spiers and less towards the Eliza Carthy Band then I could be accused of waving, not drowning as I personally feel that this is where a majority of those reading this article will be interested in. As mentioned before, this is a tremendous `read' particularly if you are a musician who wants an insight about the pitfalls of working in `the industry' succumbing to the Yankee Dollar and I look forward to hearing more from what promises to be a `fine' career choice by Ms Parkes.

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on 25 October 2014
Not terribly well written but the subject matter was very interesting for me.
Som over all it was a good read.
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