ELIZA Carthy’s working life is nothing if not varied – at the time of our interview the revered folk musician has spent the past few days wearing corsets and sack cloths to play a tavern fiddler in an upcoming historical drama.
“It was interesting but when people say that film is all about waiting around, they’re really not kidding,” she joked.
The film in question is a Tom Stoppard script called ‘Tulip Fever’ – adapted from Deborah Moggach's romance novel of the same name - set in 17th century Amsterdam and starring Dame Judi Dench.
But moving quickly from 1630s Holland to present-day Windermere, Eliza’s next appointment involves heading to Cumbria on Thursday for a unique show at The Lakes School.
The ‘Lakes and Legends’ concert is being hosted by Windermere Reflections to celebrate the end of its three-year environmental programme.
Eliza will be performing a series of songs on the theme of water and rivers, as well as providing the music for two landscape inspired tales performed by storyteller Taffy Thomas.
It was through Taffy – an old family friend – that Eliza got involved.
“He’s a bit of a hero on the folk circuit,” Eliza explained, “and I grew up watching him perform.
“I think folk stories and folk music come from the same source – there’s this pool of anonymous stories that have been passed on for generations either through song or told stories.”
It’s a tradition that Eliza has been immersed in her whole life – as the daughter of English folk musicians singer/guitarist Martin Carthy and singer Norma Waterson, she said there wasn’t a time when she wasn’t aware of music, and folk music in particular.
“Both my parents, but mum in particular, sing all the time – we have songs for everything in this house.”
The house in question is Eliza’s childhood home in North Yorkshire – after 14 years living in Edinburgh she returned when her mum took ill halfway through a tour and ‘ended up staying’.
Despite coming from such a strong musical background, Eliza said it wasn’t her first career choice.
“When music is around so much you take it for granted, so I actually wanted to be a writer – as well as a ballerina and an astronaut and all the other stuff kids want to be.
“My parents’ love of traditional music really instilled in me a love of poetry and I was reading these big epic stories like The Iliad and Tolkien’s novels.
“But of course music took hold – I started touring when I was 14 and never looked back.
“I always loved performing – even at the age of six I’d be jumping up on stage with my dad going, ‘Daddy, I want to sing!’”
For most teenagers, rejecting your parents’ taste of music is a rite of passage, but Eliza never stopped loving the traditional English music she grew up hearing.
“I think that’s because of the very liberated attitude my parents have to it,” she said.
“I loved it and I never felt the need to rebel against it – people tend to think of my parents as part of the wallpaper when it comes to folk music but dad used to get into trouble for playing a guitar and wearing a leather jacket.
“He was a rebel and that’s what I had to look up to – I had rebellion to aspire to.”
Now 38-years-old, Eliza has revitalised and made folk music relevant to new audiences, and has been one of its most ardent supporters and champions in recent years.
Twice-nominated for a prestigious Nationwide Mercury Music Prize with 1998’s ‘Red Rice’ and 2003’s ‘Anglicana’, she is also the winner of more than five BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
She divides her time between touring and recording with her legendary parents (as Waterson, Carthy and the Gift Band) and pioneering solo and band projects.
In addition to this, she is Vice-President of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and Artistic Associate at the Sage Gateshead.
On the folk scene today she said, “I don’t know if there is just one - it’s a catch-all term but the stages we play on these days are the same as everyone else. Comedians, mid-level rock bands - we’re all on the same circuits.
“There’ll always be people involved with it who are a bit sniffy but the same is true for any genre, whether it’s jazz or drum’n’bass.
“Most people who grew up with the music know that the most exciting thing you can do is to have fun with it.”
Now a mother to two daughters – Florence, aged five, and Isabella, aged three – Eliza is already passing on the musical torch.
“They’re very much into their music, and I’m hoping they get as much of a musical education as I got.”
‘Lakes and Legends’ is at TheLakes School, Troutbeck Bridge, on Thursday at 7pm, where Saul Rose and Furness Tradition Young musicians will also perform.
For details see http://www.breweryarts.co.uk/music/listing/Eliza-Carthy-Lakes-and-Legends.