Nick Bollinger celebrates the return of 78-year-old Yorkshire folk treasure Norma Waterson.
Norma Waterson is one of the great voices of English song. From her recordings in the early 60s with family band The Watersons, the Yorkshire-born singer has long represented a paradigm of authenticity – which doesn’t mean she can’t bring the same integrity to a Tom Waits tune that she gives to an old English folk song.
Anchor is the first new recording from the 78-year old Waterson in almost a decade – and it’s wonderful. Until a few years ago she performed regularly as with her husband Martin and daughter Eliza as Waterson-Carthy, but has been largely retired since a serious illness in 2010. So this new album – billed as Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy, but also featuring strong contributions from Martin – marks a welcome return. Her voice is weathered yet seems to have wings; her way with a song is undiminished. Nick Lowe’s ‘The Beast In Me’ – originally written for Johnny Cash - might be one of the best songs on the subject of human duality and Norma Waterson gives it a sublime reading.
It’s not always easy to tell the modern from the traditional. ‘The Shanty of the Whale’ – a mother and daughter duet – was actually written in honour of the Watersons by Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall. Others are well on their way to joining the folk canon, notably ‘The Galaxy Song’ (sung by Eliza) from the songbook of Monty Python.