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“I allowed myself to be sucked into that piece of nonsense” Martin Carthy recalls feud with Paul Simon over Scarborough Fair

A reworked version of the song appeared on Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 record Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

Paul Simon and Martin Carthy

Image: Getty Images

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British folk legend Martin Carthy has opened up about his infamous feud with Paul Simon over the latter’s adaptation of his arrangement of the traditional ballad Scarborough Fair.

Recalling his grudge with one half of the Simon and Garfunkel duo in a recent chat with Uncut, Carthy admits that the charge of plagiarism decades ago was a mistake on his part, saying “First of all I told myself jokingly, ‘Cheeky sod, who’s he think he is, singing a traditional song…’ But I allowed myself to be sucked into that piece of nonsense [about him having stolen the arrangement].”

“I was really taken in [by people in the industry],” says the musician. “What a fool I was, eventually allowing the music industry to get control of Scarborough Fair, and me signing the ownership of it over to them.”

“It’s a fucking folk song, everybody owns it, and that includes Paul Simon. It’s mine, but it’s also yours.”

With the hatchet now buried, Carthy also shares that he’s been in touch with Simon of late, adding, “He was very helpful to us during the pandemic.”

“He contacted me. He’s a good man. He was on a tour in the late ‘90s where he was trying to repair some of the damage he felt he’d caused internationally — he said, ‘Were you mad at me?’ I said, ‘Yes, I was, once, but I got fed up with being mad at you.’”

“Because it wasn’t true, he didn’t rip me off, the arrangement he had was a tribute, it wasn’t the same as what I played, and what a lovely compliment to pay. In those three years in the early ‘60s I don’t think I spoke more than a dozen words to him — he was full of companionable silences, he’d just sit down and enjoy the company, then, ‘Gotta go now, bye, nice to see you.’ It was nothing awkward, he was just a nice bloke.”

Carthy continues: “I sang Scarborough Fair with him at the Hammersmith Apollo and it was bloomin’ lovely. I’d been unable to sing the song properly because there was too much baggage, but I sang it with Paul and it was truly great. I laid the ghost to rest with the help of Paul. But I was never able to sing it again after that.”

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