Martin Carthy’s rhythms


  • Charles Ford Institute of Musical Research, University of London Author



1960s, Martin Carthy, rhythm, UK folk song


A relatively large number of popular songs in the late sixties are metrically irregular, probably because of the popularity of pre-War blues and UK folk song at this time. Most young people encountered the latter through the recordings of Martin Carthy. This essay concerns the many irregularly metered songs that he recorded between 1963 and 1970. I use five terms to characterize the relative irregularity of these songs: Regular, Less than Regular, Irregular, Highly Irregular and Variably Pulsed. I analyse seven songs in rhythmic detail, and include an appendix summarizing the rhythmic properties of about 100 songs from this time as well as from two later albums. The essay concludes that Martin Carthy, if unwittingly, both contributed to and absorbed the general trend towards rhythmic irregularity in late sixties popular music.

Author Biography

  • Charles Ford, Institute of Musical Research, University of London

    Charles Ford is an associate fellow of the Institute of Musical Research, University of London and an independent musicologist. His Così?: Sexual Politics in Mozart’s Operas, was published in 1991. At present he is engaged with several projects, most especially a large-scale, yet detailed survey of irregular rhythms in sixties popular music, and an essay on the phenomenology of music.


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Martin Carthy

Martin Carthy. Topic 1965.

Martin Carthy’s Second Album. Fontana 1966.

Byker Hill. Phillips 1967 (with Dave Swarbrick).

But Two Came By. Polygram 1968, Topic 1977 (with Dave Swarbrick).

Prince Heathen. Polygram 1969, Topic 1997, 1994 (with Dave Swarbrick).

Landfall. Phillips 1971, Topic 1977.

Crown of Horn. Topic 1976 (with Dave Swarbrick).

Life and Limb. Green Linnet 1990 (with Dave Swarbrick).


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Fairport Convention, Liege and Leaf. Island 1969.

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How to Cite

Ford, C. (2008). Martin Carthy’s rhythms. Popular Music History, 2(3), 285-307.