Top positive review
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Truthful, Beautiful, Deeply Original.
on 22 October 2013
In 1966, a man called Derrick Knight made a documentary film about The Waterson's, a family band of two sisters, a brother and their cousin. The film was called "Travelling for a Living," it was about the hard slog of making a living out of singing traditional songs up and down the country. A lot of the film was shot in the drizzly grey back streets of Hull and inside woodbine smoke filled upstairs room of pubs. The Waterson siblings came over in the film as real naturals, no nonsense, hard working people with a poetic sensibility and an authentic way with the world. They loved the strange old songs, not just the ones about ploughboys, sheperds and trawlermen, but the sort of songs that spilled out of tap rooms and music halls. The film introduced us to Norma, possessed of common sense, and the greatest of English singing voices, her brother Mike, erudite, enthusiastic and quirky, their cousin John, who listened to The Beatles in his Mam's back bedroom and had his dinner put on the table at a certain time each day and then there was Lal. Ohhh! Lal! the quiet, deep, one. In the film we first see Lal in her room, with the curtains closed surrounded by piles of books and paintings. She combs her hair as the narrator in a posh voice tells us "Perhaps the curtains are drawn as a revolt against the white net. Her bookshelves are filled with poetry." Lal, is beautiful, dark, mysterious, like an East Yorkshire Juliette Greco. You could fall in love with Lal, just by watching her in that sequence, before you hear her voice, before you try to understand her otherwordly lyricism. In a later sequence Lal sits on a chair at Cecil Sharpe House with little bakelite earphones on. She listens in deep concentration with her little finger in her mouth to some ancient farm labourer captured on wax cylinder. You need to know more about this woman, this dark lady, this sonnet from the mucky back streets of Hull.
I have had the privelege of meeting Norma and Mike, Norma's daughter Eliza and her dad Martin Carthy. I never did get to meet Lal. She died tragically young. She left a legacy of beautiful art, both painted and sung. The album she made with brother Mike "Bright Phoebus" is one of the great classics of English songwriting and is only recently getting the credit it deserves, the two albums that she made with her son Oliver are never far away from my cd player and of course all of the work she made as part of The Watersons is essential in understanding the old weird world of Anglicana...but now this!
"Teach me to be a summers morning" is destined to be the benchmark of how an artists work can be presented and promoted. It's not a cd, not a box set, but a thing of genuine loveliness, a desirable object, that is both a compendium of truth and beauty to the eye and an aural experience akin to wearing earphones that put you in touch with nature. It comes as a cleverly designed artists note book, a bit like a deluxe moleskein and it's filled with words, handwritten words that make you believe you were peeping over Lal's shoulder as she wrote them and images that are breathtakingly reproduced. The whole thing is an assault on the senses, by go, it even smells good. The cd is a perler, Lal's songs when she was first making them, like watching someone making a patchwork quilt that is going to be, not just on your bed, but on your children's children's bed There is an introduction by Lal's daughter, Marry, in it she says "Mum would go without breakfast, dinner and tea rather then lose creative flow, living on coffee and woodbines, her pen lagging behind her brain, refusing to pause to spell correctly. Her work was intuitive, honest, beautiful and deeply original" And there you have it. This cd/book whatever you want to call it, captures all of those attributes. Of course it's out on the Fledg'ling/Topic imprint, who else could have done it justice? And my suggestion would be, don't wait until Christmas, just get one now.