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Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy and Chris Parkinson, The Goose Is Out, DHFC, East Dulwich, March 19th 2010

March 20, 2010

From the daughter of the clan last night to the mother and father tonight… Our local folk club, The Goose Is Out, is only a couple of years old, but we’ve had many of the greats of British folk come down to the bar of Dulwich Hamlet FC, and they don’t come much greater than the husband and wife duo Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy.

Norma has been unwell recently, so it was lovely to see her back on the stage. She was the driving force behind The Watersons, a remarkable folk-singing family from Hull comprising Norma, her siblings Elaine (‘Lal’) and Mike, and their cousin, John. A dated but fine TV documentary from 1965 shows them in action and here’s a clip from it of them with fellow singers Louis Killen and the wonderful Anne Briggs:

Check out all the other clips there for a great look at a bygone era. Anyway, Norma and husband Martin Carthy were joined tonight by Chris Parkinson on melodeon and backing vocals. The evening’s entertainment had much variety, with solo songs from Norma, accompanied songs from Martin, instrumentals from Martin and Chris, and all three singing together, and great fun it was.

What dawned on Astral and me after the show was how un-folky they often are. As entertainers, theirs is not the world of joining in well-known traditional songs in a collaborative way. Although that’s part of their act, they also unearth songs and tunes from all over the place and perform them for an audience — tonight, for example, I counted at least five American songs (even if their roots can be traced back to these isles). The first of these, Bright Shiny Morning, is a variation of both St James Infirmary and Streets Of Laredo, while another was the excellent sing-along cowboy song Blue Mountain — and Martin and Chris even threw in a New Mexican-Apache tune called Peanut Shoes. Other songs included ghost stories (The Bay Of Biscay), tales of forbidden love (Clyde’s Water) and well-known folky music-hall numbers (A Bunch Of Thyme and Green Grows The Laurel).

With such variety, it’s clear they’re not like other folk greats. They have a more urban as well as global focus, so perhaps their musical ancestors were really the stars of 19th- and early 20th-century music hall rather than farming folk gathered in a rustic pub. Thus despite the appearance of a more traditional English focus, they’re in reality just as outward-looking and curious about other people’s music as their daughter Eliza is. Which is how it should be. Here are Norma, Martin and Chris performing Bright Shiny Morning in Lewes the day before they came to East Dulwich:

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