Saturday, August 10, 2013

Intensely familiar - review of Sam Carter

Sam Carter at New Greenham Arts on Friday, June 28, 2013

YOU know when you hear a song played that seems so intensely familiar that there is no way that you haven’t heard it performed live before - possibly more than once? That happened to me with Sam Carter’s Dreams Are Made of Money. It rang such a strong bell that I could picture myself, as  part of an audience, singing along to the chorus. I even told Carter himself after the show, that I must have seen someone else cover his song, but I couldn’t remember who. He had no idea who this could be, simply commenting “ah well, the PRS cheque will still come to me”.

Unfortunately, there will be no Performing Rights Society cheque winging its way through his letterbox on this occasion - after several hours of trying to work it out, I concluded that in fact I had seen Carter himself performing Dreams Are Made of Money on the BBC TV show Later... with Jools Holland last autumn. As me and Jools Holland are not one and the same, I have decided that it is the insane catchiness of this future folk standard that has burrowed it into my mind, and there it will stick forever more.

Carter is fully aware of the compulsive nature of the song’s tune - he first heard it himself performed in its original version as Antioch, a hymn performed acapella by four harmonising voices, while gleaning inspiration for his most recent album, The No Testament, which is partly influenced by the American tradition of shapenote singing. He told the audience that after one hearing of the song, he was unable to shake it from his head, and so reinvented Antioch as a hymn for the modern world.

Whether self-penned, traditional or a mix of both, many of Carter’s songs have tales behind them, often drawn from his more painful life experiences, including rejection in Pheasant (“you flattened me like a pheasant on a country road”) and a disintegrating relationship in She Won’t Hear. It seems like the women in Carter’s life can’t expect a song written about them until the love is gone.

Most personal of all, and stunningly moving, was Here In The Ground, the title song of Carter’s 2008 debut EP, written about the death of Carter’s older sister at the age of three, when he was a toddler. This contrasted with the following song, a cheery little ditty called Lumpy’s Lullaby, written for the child of Carter’s surviving sister while still in utero. Almost certainly entirely lacking in soporific tendencies, it was a sweet reminder of the circle of life, and how it can impact on one family.

As Carter himself quoted on stage (from whom, I can’t remember), “no one lives long enough to write a traditional song”, explaining that a song has to be passed through generations of musicians, changing and developing along the way, before it can be considered “traditional” - and, of course, no one remembers the original composer by then. On the eve of his 30th birthday, and with his BBC Folk Best Newcomer Award three years in the past, it may be that with at least one song (Dreams..., of course), and possibly with more, both written and unwritten, Carter has confirmed his place as a composer of future folk standards. Let’s hope that his name is remembered for them.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, July 4, 2013

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