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Rating: *** (3 stars)
Title: Green Fields
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: UK pressing
GEMM catalog ID: 4785
"" track listing:
Produced by Tony Engle
Originally, the Watersons were siblings Norma, Michael (Mike) and Elaine (Lal) Waterson, with their second cousin John Harrison. They come from Hull and the three, orphaned early, were brought up by their grandmother, a second-hand dealer. They're partly of Irish gipsy descent. Like thousands of others they came to folk song through an early interest in jazz and skiffle. They formed a group called The Mariners and played for a while in a coffee-house. Then, as their style became progressively less 'popped-up', more serious, they decided to start a folk song club calling themselves The Folksons before finally using their family name. They had a wide repertory but their abiding interest was in the songs and customs of their native East Yorkshire. They were renowned for their performances of traditional songs while retaining the freshness in the arrangement of the individual vocal lines.
The Watersons' first recording were for the Topic Records sampler New Voices and their first album, Frost and Fire, both from 1965. From the same time is Derrick Knights film Travelling for a Living. (The videotape is obtainable from MusikFolk.)
After two more records in 1966, The Watersons and A Yorkshire Garland, Johh Harrison left the group in the same year, moving to London. The Watersons split up in 1968, with Norma going to work as a DJ in a radio station in the West Indies, and came together again four years later. John is replaced firstly by Bernie Vickers and then by Martin Carthy, who joined the reformed Watersons in 1972 and made a permanent family commitment in marrying Norma in the same year.
In the meantime, both Mike and Lal found themselves writing contemporary songs, which were recorded by Bill Leader for the remarkable album Bright Phoebus (1972) with a whole bunch of the finest musicians of the English Folk scene: from one of the best regarded unaccompanied groups to the definitive contemporary folk rock!
The last three Watersons recordings, For Pence and Spicy Ale (1975), Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy (1977), and Green Fields (1981) all feature Mike, Lal, and Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy. In 1977, male and females go separate ways for the duo album A True Hearted Girl (Lal & Norma Waterson), and the solo Mike Waterson.
After 1981, there was a long silence, and when the next new family recording came out, they were no longer the Watersons. Mike and Lal have both given up touring but joined the No Masters musical co-operative originally formed by John Tams and Jim Boyes in 1990. The remaining two have become three, with Norma and Martin's daughter Eliza recording with her parents as Waterson:Carthy, with their CD Waterson:Carthy coming out in 1994 and Common Tongue in 1996. It is these three (plus Saul Rose) we see in the Ken Russell film In Search of English Folk Music, dir. (and starring!) Ken Russell, 1998.
In 1996, both Norma and Lal released new albums, the solo Norma Waterson with songs by the best contemporary writers, and Once in a Blue Moon, which shows the strength of the songwriting of Lal and her son Oliver Knight.
Lal Waterson passed away Friday September 4, 1998 at home in Robin Hood's Bay, Yorkshire. Her last album with her son, A Bed of Roses, was finished by Oliver Knight alone and released posthumously in 1999. There is or was an obituary on Steve Sheldon's official W:C page. In addition, obituaries in London broadsheets provide information, not only about Lal, but also about the family generally:
Both Norma Waterson and Waterson:Carthy continue to record up to today; Norma solo with The Very Thought of You (1999) and Bright Shiny Morning (2000) and Waterson:Carthy with Broken Ground (1999), A Dark Light (2002), and Fishes & Fine Yellow Sand (2004). Norma and Mike Waterson with Martin and Eliza Carthy work also with Barry Coope, Jim Boyes and Lester Simpson of the vocal trio Coope Boyes & Simpson under the name “Blue Murder”, a project starting in 1986 of which the first years are documented by a few tracks on anthologies only. However, in 2002 they recorded their first CD, No One Stands Alone. The sleeve notes of this album give a detailed history of Blue Murder, so we don't have to repeat it here.
Both Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson were awarded the MBE.
Who is Who?
The Watersons were one of England's premier singing families. Their early albums played an influential role in the revival of British folk music in the 1960s. British folklorist A.L. Lloyd recalled the group's "hand-crafted harmonies, an immediately recognizable and uniquely distinctive group sound which is uninhibited, spontaneous seeming and rich in texture," while http://www.singers.com praised their mastery of "stark melodic scales, stunning polyphonic harmonies and outstanding song selection." The Watersons represented the combined efforts of sisters Norma (born: August 15, 1939) and Elaine "Lal" Waterson (born: February 15, 1943), their brother Mike (born: January 6, 1941), and their second cousin, John Harrison. Natives of Hull, a small village in East Yorkshire county, the Watersons were orphaned at an early age and raised by their Irish, part-gypsy, grandmother who often sang at informal sessions. The group operated a folk club, Folk Union One, in Hull, where they established their early reputation. Initially known as the Mariners, and then the Folksons, the Watersons adapted their family name before recording their debut album, Frost and Fire, which Melody Maker named as "best folk album of 1965." The same year, Derrick Knight filmed the group for a video, Travelling for a Living, produced for the BBC. The original lineup recorded two more albums — The Watersons and A Yorkshire Garland — before the departure of Harrison, who moved to London in 1966. The Watersons disbanded two years later with Norma going on to host a radio show in the West Indies and Lal living with an extended family on a folk commune on the Yorkshire Moors. Although they focused on traditional British folk songs on their early albums, the Watersons became increasingly adventurous after reuniting in the early '70s. Harrison was replaced first by Bernie Vickers and, then, by Martin Carthy, who married Norma Waterson in 1972. Their first album following their return, Bright Phoebus, included original songs by Lal and Mike and electric accompaniment by Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Tim Hart, and Maddy Prior. Although the two sisters recorded a duo album, A True Hearted Girl, and Mike recorded a self-titled, solo, album in 1977, they continued to record and perform together. Three memorable albums — For Peace and Spicy Ale, Sound, Sound Your Instrument of Joy, and Green Fields — were released before Lal and Mike retired from the road in 1981. Returning to music in the mid-'90s, Lal Waterson recorded two albums — Once in a Very Blue Moon and A Bed of Roses — with her son, Oliver Knight, an electric guitarist and recording engineer. She succumbed to cancer on September 4, 1998. Norma and Martin Carthy joined with their fiddler/vocalist daughter, Eliza, to form Waterson:Carthy in 1994.
While this album contains three tracks otherwise available ("The Wensleydale Lad" and "The Brisk Lad" from Mike Waterson and Lal and Norma Waterson's "The Unfortunate Lass"), they're just icing on the cake that is the reissue of 1981's Green Fields. And marvelous stuff it is, too. Some of the songs, like "While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping" and "Hares in the Old Plantation," have gone on to become part and parcel of Martin Carthy's repertoire (although he doesn't sing lead on either here), while the rest are pieces that members either collected themselves or which have been dusted off after being found in any number of places. But the Watersons have always avoided the obvious in their choice of material and their arrangements. This album gives everyone a chance to shine, with some pieces sung by the entire quartet and others split up, giving a strong sense of variety and aptness to the voices in the songs themselves. As always, the singing is excellent, a joy to hear, with harmonies that draw from the folk tradition, chapel, and sheer inspiration. And since the Watersons haven't recorded an album since (with the untimely death of Lal Waterson), this makes for a splendid swan song.
can be heard
takes on a
songs are a
songs of fox
all go a
in the Old
add up to
More from The Watersons can be heard on a revived, re-compiled and augmented version of their last recording, "Green Fields", from way back in 1981. In this version of "The Watersons" Lal, Norma and Mike were joined by Martin Carthy and the tempo takes on a slightly quicker pace and the songs are a shade brighter in their demeanour.
Adding to the original track listing is some extra material taken from the 1977 LPs, "A True Hearted Girl" from Lal & Norma Waterson and the self-titled recording from Mike Waterson. There are songs of fox hunting, "We'll all go a Hunting Today"; midnight poaching expeditions, "While the Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping" and "Hares in the Old Plantation"; sheep shearing and even sheep stealing, "Rosebuds in June" and "The Brisk Lad", most with sub-plots of love, betrayal, courtship and camaraderie. Which all add up to seventeen glorious examples of song and singing.
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