1965 – 1981
About The Watersons
The Watersons need little introduction in Hull or indeed in the wider folk world – their contribution to the 60s folk revival is as celebrated as it is important.
Briefly known as The Folksons in their earliest days, they swiftly reverted to the family name of The Watersons. Originally comprising sisters Norma and Lal (Elaine), brother Mike and cousin John Harrison, The Watersons were the driving force behind the Folk Union One folk club, which was most regularly held at the Blue Bell pub in Hull’s Old Town.
The group signed to Topic Records and released debut album Frost And Fire in 1965. Subtitled A Calendar Of Ritual And Magical Songs, the album consisted entirely of traditional folk songs and showcased The Waterson’s unique harmony singing style. A further two albums followed in 1966 – first the eponymous The Watersons, then later that same year Yorkshire Garland.
The group split up in 1968 when Norma Waterson moved to the Caribbean island of Monserrat to work as a radio DJ. She returned in 1972 and The Watersons reformed, with John Harrison replaced by first Bernie Vickers (briefly) and then Martin Carthy, already a folk icon in his own right. Norma and Martin connected both musically and romantically – they became a couple and were married that same year.
Also in 1972, the landmark album Bright Phoebus was released, ostensibly credited to Lal And Mike Waterson, but also featuring the rest of the family across the album’s various tracks, plus a glittering guestlist that read like a Who’s Who of British folk. It was a radical departure from the traditional sound of The Watersons – original compositions, with full band accompaniments and even (gasp) electric guitars. Traditional folk had made way for groundbreaking folk rock.
The new line up of The Watersons released the equally acclaimed For Pence And Spicy Ale in 1975 (which included the Mike Waterson-penned “Three Day Millionaires”, soon to become something of an anthem), followed by Sound, Sound Your Instruments Of Joy (1977) and Green Fields (1981).
There would be no more albums by “The Watersons” as such, though they would continue to work both separately and together on numerous musical projects over the years, with occasional live performances, where they were usually billed as “The Waterson Family”.
Lal Waterson died in 1998 from cancer, at the age of just 55. Her final album A Bed Of Roses – a collaboration with son Oliver Knight – was completed by Oliver and released posthumously in 1999. Mike passed away in 2011, aged 70, while Norma sadly died in 2022 at the age of 82.
The Watersons’ influence on both their peers and on subsequent generations of musicians cannot possibly be overstated, while their impressive recorded output is as comprehensive an introduction to traditional folk music as any listener could possibly need.
Frost And Fire (LP, Cassette, CD) – Topic, 1965
The Watersons (LP) – Topic, 1966
Yorkshire Garland (LP) – Topic, 1966
For Pence And Spicy Ale (LP, Cassette, CD) – Topic, 1975
Sound, Sound Your Instruments Of Joy (LP, Cassette, CD) – Topic 1977
Green Fields (LP, CD) – Topic, 1981
Early Days (CD) – Topic, 1994
The Definitive Collection (CD) – Highpoint, 2003
Mighty River Of Song (4CD) – Topic, 2004
An Introduction To… (CD) – Topic, 2018
Rubber Band / Red Wine & Promises (7″) – Transatlantic, 1972
New Voices (LP) – Topic, 1965 (5 tracks)
Folk Songs (LP) – Topic, 1966 (track: The Broom Of Cowdenknowes)
Men At Work – Topic Sampler Of Folk Songs Vol. 3 (LP) – Topic, 1966 (track: Three Score And Ten)
The Good Old Way (LP) – Topic, 1980 (track: The Good Old Way)
Folk Heritage II (CD) – Music Club, 1992 (track: Country Life)
The Rough Guide To English Roots Music (CD) – World Music Network, 1998 (track: Country Life)
The Acoustic Folk Box (4CD) – Topic, 2002 (track: Dido Bendigo)