Q&A February 2011, Part III
3/19/2011 (updated 3/19/2011)

Hi and congratulations on the OBE (One higher than Martin Carthy. Discuss) -
I wonder if you saw the recent Mastermind programme on the BBC when you were someone's specialist subject? Do you think you would have gotten all of the questions right? Some were kind of factual - what album is this on etc? - but there were others like the name of your sister's boyfriend who taught you to play guitar. Oh, I think I could have gotten about 16 out of 20, no sweat.

On another subject - do you ever play 12 string guitar? I love the sound of mine (when it's in tune) but they can be a bit unwieldy I suppose - same with the mandolin. Do you play mandolin much and how do you rate yourself as a player? Ta, James Howard

I don't own a 12-string, but I've used them in the studio a lot. I used to have a Rickenbacker electric 12, but alas, no more. I have a lovely Gibson A2 mandolin, from about 1920. I would consider myself a reasonable mandolinist.

First there was your song about Bathsheba and then Teddy's about Delilah. Is there a dodgy female bible character thing going on? Who will be the first to do a version of Jezebel in the style of Frankie Laine? Robin

Ah, you too have noticed the trend. Building up to that big Frankie Laine revival.

Here's an opportunity to adjudicate a mild marital dispute: The jeans are wrinkled. The husband claims he will perform in the wrinkled jeans. The wife claims the jeans need to be ironed. Who would you support? In case the performance venue matters, it is a university setting, and the instrument is the qin (such as played by Henry Kaiser). T&J in Portland

Don't Qin players wear those silk baggy trousers with the high-collared silk jacket? In which case mere jeans, wrinkled or otherwise, may be a little too casual by half. I mean, do you want to be taken seriously?

I was so pleased that you invited Martin Simpson to your six strings guitar celebration during last years meltdown festival. I am a huge fan of his music and would be interested to hear your opinions of his guitar playing, also is there any chance that you might share a stage again in the future. Ian Bolton

I too am a big fan of Martin's playing. Perhaps the highest praise I could give is to say that he never stops getting better! No plans, but I hope we can do something again.

Richard - thank you so much for taking the time to answer queries on Q&A.

My query is regarding Hedy West:
Our archive recently received Hedy West's collection, which is wonderful in many ways. I've been inventorying the media, several hundred reels worth, the majority of which are field recordings she made of her elderly grandmother's oral history and ballad singing. We're hoping to establish better Hedy's influence (and influences) in order to receive grant funding to digitize parts of this collection, which brings me to Fairport: my boss and I recognize the second tune in Fairport's "Matty Groves" as the same tune to which Martin Carthy set "Famous Flower of Serving Men" on Shearwater ('71). Carthy attributed it to a banjo tune learned from Hedy called "Maid of Colchester." Do you recall from where or whom Fairport got it (if it is the same tune)? We also found several proofs in her photo collection from around 1966-67 of Carthy and Dave Swarbrick and wonder if she may have traveled in some of the same circles at that time. Do you recall much of Hedy? Chris Lopez

You would need to ask Martin or Swarb, or others on the folk scene from that generation, about Hedy West. I came along a bit later. In Fairport, we knew the tune to Shady Grove from the singing of Clarence Ashley, which is in the same song family. I don't remember the process by which that tune was chosen for Matty Groves - again, you would need to ask Ashley Hutchings or Swarb.

First of all, congratulations on the honor of the OBE. A very deserved and merited reward, I would say. A couple of questions: I've read that you are always noodling about on the guitar, which of course would result in the majority of your songs- but with your strong background in traditional folk and pop music, do you ever write on more traditional, specialized instruments and, if not, do you at least write with them in mind, or does the other instrumentation generally only come into play during the recording process? The reason I ask is that through the years you've been able to fit the odd or unusual instrument into your songs and have it sound natural to the point where I wonder the song wasn't written for- or on- them.

I sometimes try to write on the mandolin, or keyboard, or even on instruments I can't play well, just to open up other possibilities, and stop myself from falling into old patterns.

The other important question I have for you is wondering if you are unhappy that the Kings- on the playoff bubble- have decided to stand pat at the trading deadline, while a team like my Blues have been aggressive to the point of trading our fomer number-one-overall pick, Erik Johnson? Thanks, Dennis Stegmann - St. Louis, Missouri. PS- Hope to see you in town again, near future...

On the face of it, it's crazy to sell the wonderful Eric Johnson… however, the Blues just thumped the Kings 4 - 0 at Staples, and looked brilliant, even with about 10 players on IR. Admittedly, the Kings were utterly flat exhausted from a road trip, and played their worst game of the season, but I'd say the Blues have already turned it around, and will be a force next year.

Today my iPod shuffle came up with the Golden Palominos' 'Boy (Go)' and Los Lobos 'Wreck of the Carlos Rey'. Your guitar on both tracks is stunning. Would you ever consider (as a fun project, not to replace your own peerless solo work) doing what Santana and indeed Los Lobos did and putting together an album with a song each from all the great partners you have worked with....Maria McKee, Al Stewart, Julie Covington etc. Thanks for all the music. Tom - North Wales

Doing as you suggest totally revived Santana's career, but at what cost? I thought the album was awful, mercenary in the extreme, musical pap that sold records predictably, but it made the artist look like an undignified whore. There is a tasteful way to do it, perhaps more the approach that Los Lobos took, and I can see a case for doing something like that, at some point.