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“It fell to bits in about three and a half seconds”: Martin Carthy recalls trying to teach Bob Dylan to play Scarborough Fair

The iconic folk guitarist offered Bob Dylan an insight into the London folk scene.

[L-R] Martin Carthy and Bob Dylan

Credit: Getty Images

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When Bob Dylan first touched down in England in the early 1960s, folk guitar legend Martin Carthy quickly took a shine to him. Carthy became a fixture of Dylan’s London ventures, sharing with him his intimate knowledge of the UK’s thriving guitar and folk scene as he guided him round the city.

Speaking to Uncut in a new interview, Carthy has reflected on Dylan’s early days in London. “The first time Bob sang in London was at the King & Queen, where he went down a storm,” Carthy recalls. “But then he went to the Singers’ Club at the Pindar of Wakefield where he was not so successful because both Ewan MacColl and Bert Lloyd didn’t like him.”

But, even if there was some scepticism from other musicians, Carthy could tell Dylan was quickly a crowd favourite. “I remember seeing him sing A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, and the applause at the end was thunderous. He blew the lid off the place,” he says. “It was just fabulous.”

As well as escorting Dylan round the London folk scene, Dylan also saw Carthy as an incredibly influential and inspirational guitarist. He was often begging Carthy to teach him a song or two. “He used to ask me for Scarborough Fair… and Lord Franklin all the time,” Carthy says. Lord Franklin would go on to forge the foundations of Bob Dylan’s Dream.

Scarborough Fair, in particular, was Dylan’s white whale; “He wanted to learn the guitar for Scarborough Fair and he insisted on playing it with a flat pick even though he was a perfectly good fingerpicker. He went away to Italy and and he came back and said ‘I got it, I got Scar-boro Fair’, but it fell to bits in about three and half seconds and he got the ferocious giggles,” Carthy laughs. “Then he came up with Girl From The North Country, so he ended up writing something lovely from it.”

While the pair would influence one another creatively, they have also gone on to have a mighty friendship. “He’s a mate, it’s a real friendship, and he always looks after his friends,” Carthy smiles.

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