Topic Records at 75 review – passion and enthusiasm shine through

Towersey folk festival
Norma Waterson's superb performance will linger in the memory, but the UK's most distinguished folk label deserves a bigger celebration

A screen at the side of the stage announced "75 years of the oldest independent record company in the world", and a montage of songs released by the UK's most important folk label began with The Man That Waters the Workers' Beer. The remarkable Topic Records deserves a major celebration, and this three-hour festival show in the Oxfordshire countryside almost did it justice.

Folk musicians love anniversaries, and this was also the 50th anniversary of the Towersey festival, and the 39th birthday of a suitably celebratory Eliza Carthy, who – along with her parents, Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson – dominated the proceedings. All three have played a crucial role in the Topic story, and what made this event particularly memorable was the presence of Norma, who has cut back on concerts since serious illness nearly four years ago. She was, she announced, as old as Topic, and though she remained seated she sang magnificently, mixing passion and enthusiasm with an easy, soulful style. Backed by the Gift Band, which included Martin and Eliza, she switched from a stirring treatment of Wayfaring Stranger to exquisite harmony work on the hymn Sleep on Beloved.

The first half was more mixed. There were fine performances by Martin and Eliza, interspersed by appearances from young folk artists reinterpreting songs from the repertoire of celebrated Topic artists. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker paid tribute to Shirley Collins with The Sweet Primroses, which was pleasant but didn't match Collins' version. The entertaining Jim Causley revived songs by the Copper Family and Peter Bellamy, while Blair Dunlop showed his fine guitar work on Nic Jones songs, and Lau led the singalong on Ewan MacColl's Dirty Old Town.

It was all very entertaining, but the label deserves more. How about a major concert featuring such Topic artists as June Tabor, Linda Thompson, and the great Shirley Collins herself?


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy - review
The lady who heads the most extraordinary folk music dynasty in England was in magnificent voice, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

31, Oct, 2010 @9:44 PM

Article image
Bright Phoebus Revisited – review

An impressive cast made an emotional and long-overdue return to the cult 1972 album Bright Phoebus, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

13, Oct, 2013 @11:36 AM

Rogue's Gallery: Barbican, London
Barbican, London
Original collaborations in event produced by Hal Wilner

Robin Denselow

29, Jul, 2008 @11:07 PM

Towersey festival – review

One of the most bravely adventurous festivals in the folk and world music calendar didn't disappoint, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

26, Aug, 2013 @11:23 AM

A look at English folk music
The Americans took that title, but guest contributor Martin Simpson argues that English folk is the style that best deserves it

Martin Simpson

20, Feb, 2005 @3:05 PM

Waterson: Carthy, Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man

Wintry folk that shines the spotlight on Britain's pagan past.

Graeme Thomson

12, Nov, 2006 @2:08 AM

Article image
Carthy folk dynasty appeals for financial support after income ‘dried up’ during pandemic
Eliza Carthy said her parents Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson were ‘struggling to survive’ after Covid-19 left them without revenues from live performances

Laura Snapes

13, Jan, 2022 @4:19 PM

Article image
Norma Waterson was one of folk’s greatest voices – and greatest people
The British folk singer, who has died aged 82, was proud of the music she made – and her warmth as well as her toughness sang loudly in her songs

Jude Rogers

31, Jan, 2022 @3:30 PM

Article image
Ten Thousand Times Adieu review – beautiful old songs sung with love
‘Bobstock’, in honour of the folk singer Bob Copper, assembled a fine and exciting lineup featuring Shirley Collins, Linda Thompson, Robin Dransfield and Martin Carthy, writes Colin Irwin

Colin Irwin

25, Jan, 2015 @4:07 PM

Article image
Martin and Eliza Carthy review – folk music at its best

The folk father and daughter's first outing as a duo counterpoints their voices, guitar and fiddle to enthralling effect, writes John Lewis

John Lewis

10, Jun, 2014 @3:42 PM