Once in a Blue Moon: A Tribute to Lal Waterson Cecil Sharp House, London

Cecil Sharp House, London

Hearing the songs of the late Lal Waterson for the first time is like discovering a beautiful island where the inhabitants are recognisably human, only not quite the same as us. Earthy, mysterious, poetic, bleakly witty and subtly erotic, they are so original that they take some getting used to. But this tribute concert is proof that they will endure.

At first, the mood is too formal. Rising star Tim van Eyken performs So Strange is Man with fellow young(ish) Turks James Yorkston and Alasdair Roberts. But though it's a strong performance, it doesn't inspire overwhelming feeling - this is music that is about going beyond proficiency, after all.

Slowly, however, the spirit of Lal fills the room. Her daughter, Marry Gilhooley, brings to life Fine Horseman; it helps that not only does she look like her mother, she sounds just like her, too. Martin Carthy reminds us of Lal's dark sense of humour with Winifer Odd, the tale of a woman whose degree got lost in the post, who fell in love with a boy that stayed "fat and small", and who ended up being run over by a cow. It is poetry at its most British.

After the interval, the performances are magical. Roberts gives a pure rendition of The Bird, a paean to loneliness, and Lal's brother Mike Waterson - introduced by Eliza Carthy as "the family troublemaker" and now looking like a mischievous Yorkshire pensioner - performs One of Those Days with young Londoner Lisa Knapp, reminding us of the ageless quality of these songs.

But most powerful of all are Norma Waterson and her husband, Martin Carthy, on Red Wine Promises, the story of a defiant drunk that has become something of a standard. Norma follows it with Song For Thirza, which is about the deaf woman who raised the Watersons. By the end of it, half the audience is in tears.


Will Hodgkinson

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

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
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

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

Robin Denselow

29, Jul, 2008 @11:07 PM

Article image
Topic Records at 75 review – passion and enthusiasm shine through
Norma Waterson's superb performance will linger in the memory, but the UK's most distinguished folk label deserves a bigger celebration, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

25, Aug, 2014 @11:49 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
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

The Waterson Family | Folk review

Royal Festival Hall, London
This emotional concert was a reminder of the continuing story of one of England's most adventurous musical families, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

15, Sep, 2009 @9:35 PM

Article image
Norma Waterson obituary
Celebrated singer of traditional English folk music whose embrace of other musical styles won her a wide following

Robin Denselow

31, Jan, 2022 @1:55 PM

Article image
Paul Morley Showing Off ... Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy

Paul Morley introduces a legendary folk family and wonders how the music they lived off and through has changed over time

Paul Morley

02, Oct, 2009 @6:51 PM