I’d hesitate to call Eliza Carthy a “folk musician”. Like the rest of the Waterson/Carthy clan she’s much more than that and she’s always had the capacity to surprise; moving from a member of her mum and dad’s band to the principal behind albums like Red and Rice. Her latest effort; Rivers and Railways is something else again. At 17’33” I hesitate to call it an “album” but it’s released in digital and physical formats on the NMC label (another outfit which is a bit hard to pigeonhole). It’s a collaboration with the equally uncharacterizable Moulettes and the Freedom Choir and it’s, implausible as that may seem, about Hull (as in “From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver us”.)
It’s a mix of characteristically folk rock riffs and electronics mashed up with rather backward looking interviews with residents; mostly about the bombing during WW2 but railways and fish and chip shops also figure. It’s a cool idea and it does have a kind of Northern grittiness. But, and it’s a big but for me, it can’t escape dripping with nostalgia. I don’t know that it’s possible to avoid that anymore when creating art about the industrial north because it’s a place that was at least as much as a place that is. One is either evoking a, usually idealised, past or merely promoting a kind of post Thatcher, post industrial theme park; Clogland perhaps, where mills and mines are simply tourist attractions to fit in between the Brontes.
Do I feel emotionally conflicted by this? Hell yes. It’s like watching newsreels of the Durham Miners’ Gala. A way of life was lost when the pits closed which Southrons never knew and never cared about and that hurts but, on the other hand, no-one should ever have to go down a coal mine. Ever.