The Waterson Family | Folk review

Royal Festival Hall, London

Great folk music is concerned with history, tradition and change, and this emotional concert was a reminder of the continuing story of one of England's most adventurous musical families. The original Watersons were a four-piece from Yorkshire who started out in the 1960s singing unaccompanied traditional songs with extraordinary passion. They recorded for Topic Records, now the oldest independent label in the world, and the present-day family group were back to launch Topic's 70th birthday celebrations and show how their music has progressed.

Nine Watersons were on stage, with the two members of the original quartet surrounded by their relatives. There was the boisterous Norma Waterson, in a long black dress, accompanied by husband Martin Carthy and equally celebrated daughter, Eliza. Then there was Norma's brother Mike, looking as if he had just wandered in from a country pub, with his cloth cap and pint. His wife and two daughters were also here, as were Oliver and Marry, the son and daughter of Lal Waterson, who died in 1998. They started as if they were in a folk club, singing unaccompanied and transforming the Earsdon Sword Dance Song (recorded by the original group in 1965) with stirring nine-part harmonies.

This is a family who can all still sing. The second half showed they can write as well. Eliza was backed by her own musicians for an impressively varied set that included Mohair, a poignant tribute to her late auntie Lal, and her band stayed on when the full Watersons ensemble returned for a reminder of Lal and Mike's songwriting skills. A rousing treatment of Mike's Bright Phoebus was followed by Lal's thoughtful Fine Horseman, with gently powerful vocals from Marry. Then it was back to unaccompanied singing, and Lal's stirring modern shanty, Some Old Salty. This is an extraordinary family.


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
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

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

Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson – review
This wildly varied set is a reminder that Norma Waterson is a formidable interpreter of not just traditional material, but popular songs. And Eliza Carthy was happy to let her mum dominate the show, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

08, Dec, 2011 @10:45 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
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

Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson: Gift | CD review
Eliza Carthy's exquisite playing fails to mask Gift's lack of cohesion, says Neil Spencer

Neil Spencer

10, Jul, 2010 @11:05 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
Norma Waterson, celebrated British folk singer, dies aged 82
Musician acclaimed for work with siblings and husband Martin Carthy in the Watersons had been suffering from pneumonia

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

31, Jan, 2022 @11:58 AM