Peter, Paul and Mary - Carry It On: A Musical Legacy Review

They brought Bob Dylan’s songs to a wider public. They shared a platform with Martin Luther King. And they recorded “Puff, The Magic Dragon”. They were, and still are, Peter, Paul and Mary. This DVD marks four decades as a trio (give or take an eight-year layoff in the 1970s).

Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers were introduced to each other in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1961 by manager Albert Grossman. The combination clicked straight away. As Noel points out, they functioned like a male vocal trio, with Mary in the place usually occupied by a tenor. They drew a lot of inspiration from the folk-protest songs of Pete Seeger and The Weavers. One of their first hits was Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer”. (Seeger is interviewed on this disc.) Another early one was “Blowin’ in the Wind”, written by a young songwriter called Bob Dylan. (Unfortunately, Dylan isn’t interviewed, which might have been interesting, as the trio also covered his “The Times They Are A-Changin’”.)

Peter, Paul and Mary were never particularly “hip” and perhaps because of that they were hugely successful. They made much less of an impact in Britain, though their version of John Denver’s “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” was a number two hit single in 1970. Perhaps to British tastes they were a little too foursquare and whitebread, a little too earnest and (to revive an old and inaccurate American stereotype) unironic. Although they were firmly aligned with the counterculture – there’s footage here of Ossie Davis introducing them at Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington – which would certainly not win them favour in more right-wing households there’s a sense that these three are cleancut boys and a girl that you could take home to meet your parents. Certainly Mary doesn’t compare with the hard-living, earthy sexuality of a Janis Joplin (who if Leonard Cohen’s song “Chelsea Hotel” is to be believed, did the things you were told good girls didn’t) nor with the She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed aura of a Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane (who was sleeping with all but one of the men in her band, practising free love as well as preaching it). As for the men, Peter (the shorter bearded one) and Paul (the tall, bearded balding one), though not ugly, were hardly erotic rock gods either. But on the other hand, they are still alive and in apparently good health while many of their more excessive colleagues are long dead.

Carry It On combines archive footage with contemporary interviews. Now all pushing seventy, the trio are withered only externally, because their memories of forty years ago are still sharp. The documentary follows their career in more or less chronological order, taking in the protest years, the trio’s well-established reputation as children’s entertainers and their reunion in 1978. It’s a little bit fulsome, but that may be a matter of personal taste, and an hour and a quarter is a little too much of it. But anyone with an interest in this trio, or in Sixties music generally, it’s certainly worth a look.

Warner’s DVD release is encoded for Regions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. It’s also in NTSC format, which is not uncommon for music titles, presumably to avoid speed-up issues in the PAL format. Subtitles are provided in five languages but these caption everything except the song lyrics. Again, this is not unusual for a music DVD, and its presumably due to copyright restrictions.

The disc is in 4:3 throughout, so no anamorphic enhancement is necessary. The contemporary interview and performance material was shot on video and it looks bright, colourful and sharp. The archive footage, in black and white and later colour, some of it film and some from TV broadcasts, varies in quality but is generally in very good condition, though occasionally somewhat soft.

The soundtrack (English only) is basic stereo. As much of this disc consists of interviews and archive material with mono soundtracks, this is more than adequate. The only sections to make much use of stereo separation are those featuring more recent performance footage, which is not surround-encoded.

There are twelve chapter stops. No extras.

I suspect the primary audience for a DVD like this would be overseas. Most people wouldn’t put Peter, Paul and Mary among the greatest 60s music, but talent and forty years of hard graft certainly earn respect. If you have any interest in them or their time, or would like an introduction, then this DVD is worth your time.

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