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British Folk Music Heroes, The Waterson Family

Updated on October 4, 2018
ethel smith profile image

With an eclectic taste in music Eileen loves a range of music which includes opera, heavy metal, folk and pop music.

The Waterson Family at the BBC

Early Waterson Family

The Waterson Family have been performing together as a group for over 50 years. The music is traditional English folk music often sung with no accompaniment.

Not that band members cannot play instruments. It is just that much of the time their different voices act as their musical instruments.

The Watersons lived in my hometown of Hull, in Yorkshire, when I was a teenager in the mid to late 1960’s.

They are now famous, veteran performers but when I was young they were just getting started. They lived in the same area of town as we did and it was a relatively poor part of the city.

This means they were not wealthy but who was in post war Britain?

Early band members Norma, Mike and Elaine, popularly known as Lal, were orphaned as young children adding extra hardship on all three of them.

In the early 1960’s they served their folk music apprenticeship around the pubs and clubs of Hull and beyond.

The Bluebell Inn located in the area of Hull called the “old town” turned over its upstairs‘ rooms a couple of nights a week to host a folk club.

Bob Dylan was becoming popular in the U.K. and folk music was the latest up and coming music trend.

The Watersons sung traditional folk songs but in their own unique style with their ow. arrangements. They also began to compose some of their own music and perform it.

It was early days but they were starting to get noticed.

The Watersons Homecoming

Watching The Watersons Homecoming, filmed at Hull truck Theatre, I enjoyed learning more of the family history as much as listening to the music.

Norma who always seemed to take the lead role anyways was the main story teller.

She told snippets of their musical history down the years, from their early performance at The Troubadour Club in London and signing with Topic records to present day performances

The original members are all now starting to show their age.

Lal sadly died in 1998 and for a time the band stopped performing. Norma has obviously had health problems and needed the aid of a walking stick during the Homecoming.

Yet the voices are still so strong and tuneful. Perhaps Mike, who appeared a little deaf, was less tuneful. He made up for it though with an individual quality as he sang.

Martin Carthy, Norma's husband is a successful musician in his own right. Their daughter Eliza Carthy, who appeared in the Homecoming concert also, has made a name for herself in music.

Ye it is as a family that they seem their most happy.

A large friendly, caring family.

They like to keep their loved ones close and it seems to have paid off. Younger family members have had their times trying to escape folk music but all eventually return to the fold.

I love the fact that the original Waterson members still have a strong Hull accent. Most of us do. It is something we are not proud off but that we find hard to shed.

The Watersons moved to Robin Hood's Bay some years ago but still retain the accent of their youth.

The Waterson's music is traditional English folk music that somehow has a timeless feel to it. It may be a thing of the past but this family manage to keep it current

Long may they continue to do so.

UPDATE June 22, 2011

I was sad to learn that Mike Waterson died early today, June 22, 2011.

RIP and thoughts to the family.

© 2011 Ethel Smith


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