Music Review: Bright Phoebus
Monday 14 October 2013
The parade of musicians onto the Barbican stage has Norma Waterson at its centre, and there's a chair centre-stage for her, set between daughter Eliza and niece Marry, and spread either side stand musical friends and family – Martin Carthy, Olly Knight and Neill MacColl on guitars, multi-instrumentalist Kate St John, brilliant husky-voiced young singer John Smith duetting with an assured Kami Thompson, and committed turns from Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker, stick-thin enough to really do "The Scarecrow", one of many strange and wonderful works to trip from the mind of Lal Waterson.
She, with her brother Mike, wrote and recorded Bright Phoebus 41 years ago. It was released on Bill Leader's Trailer label, which later went bust, and it has never been properly re-released. What has happened is that its songs – "Fine Horseman", "Piper's Path", "Song for Thirza", "Bright Phoebus" itself – have entered into the groundwater of contemporary folk, and are known far beyond the few thousand sheets of vinyl that were originally pressed. This first concert of a UK tour was a celebratory and emotional resurrection of a deeply original, mythic, mystic work of English art. A new book of Lal Waterson's lyrics and drawings, containing a CD of demos, was also on sale.
After a rousing opener of "Rubber Band", Marry Waterson's stark, strong voice took the lead on "Fine Horseman", then Martin Carthy gave an angular, gritty shake to "Winifer Odd". Hawley played "Danny Rose" as a rockabilly rouser, while Eliza Carthy was joined by white-haired Bob Davenport for a rousing "Child Among the Weeds". For "The Magical Man", Cocker even swept a bunch of flowers from his sleeve, but the night's most powerful performances came after the interval, on John Smith and Kami Thompson's Evona Darling, and "Song for Thirza", introduced by Norma Waterson chronicling the family's orphaned childhood with their part-Romany grandmother in Hull, and the woman who cared for them, Thirza, a small, stone-death woman who herself had been rescued from the work house. "I managed to get through it," she chuckled-choked after the song was sung. It was one of the evening's most emotionally powerful performances, deserving of its standing ovation. Even after a serious illness, Norma Waterson remains a glorious singer. Equally moving was the sight of her, all through the concert, mouthing and moving to the words and tunes that her late sister and brother once composed. It's been a long time coming, and it’ll soon be gone; if it's in your area, don’t miss it.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food