English folk singer Martin Carthy was at Old Songs on Sunday night, playing a delightful set whose topics included betrayal, beheadings, vengeful ghosts, imprisoned maidens, losing one’s pants, and a wife beating her drunken husband. Such is the world of British traditional music — and it was a great to see this legendary figure in such an intimate setting.
The crowd at an Old Songs show is what you’d expect: like the bus to the co-op collided with a bus full of WAMC fund drive volunteers. They were a receptive and gracious audience — except perhaps for the two characters sitting in front of us.
A man and a woman — presumably a married couple — raised their phones every time Carthy named the song he was about to play and began pecking away. It turns out they were pulling up the lyrics, and heads bent, they would follow along as he sang, their faces bathed in a blue glow.
Where do I start?
First, if you are so keen on the lyrics, maybe you should pay attention to that man on stage twenty feet away. He’s about to sing them to you.
Second, your glowing phone is in my field of view and very distracting. There’s a reason they dim the lights for the audience: it’s to focus your attention on the performer.
Third, and most important, it’s incredibly disrespectful. Old Songs is a small venue, and to sit a few feet from a performer and mess around with your phone while he’s singing is outrageous.
A woman down the aisle asked the people to put away the phones. They didn’t. My wife did the same later, aided by a few cross words from me. This worked somewhat better, but the husband would not relent with his phone. They looked to be pushing 60, but acted like a pair of 14-year-olds.
Look, I get that a there’s a scholarly element to folk music, and the origin and lineage of the work is sometimes as interesting as the songs themselves. But if you want to look up the lyrics or song facts, how about you do it after the show, not during?
Otherwise, I wish on you a fate like that which befalls those in British folk songs. Perhaps having your thumbs lopped off or being transformed into weasels would be fittingly folky.
Anyway, about Martin Carthy. This was one of the memorable songs he performed solo on Sunday, an updated take on a tale of your son going off to war.