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The Watersons: Early Days

The Watersons: Early Days (Topic TSCD472)

Early Days
The Watersons

Topic Records TSCD472 (CD, UK, 1994)

All tracks recorded by Bill Leader.
Compilation and production for CD by Tony Engle.
Photography by Brian Shuel.
Design Intro, London.


In 1965 and 1966 the Watersons were Mike Waterson, Norma Waterson, and Lal (Elaine) Waterson and their second cousin John Harrison.


Tracks 1-5 are from the multiple-performer album New Voices (1965):

  1. Boston Harbour (Roud 613) (1.50)
  2. The Greenland Whale Fishery (Roud 347) (2.34)
  3. Three Score and Ten (Roud 16873; TYG 5) (3.28)
  4. The Broom of Cowdenknowes (Roud 92; Child 217; G/D 4:838) (1.23)
  5. King Arthur’s Servants (Roud 130; G/D 3:704) (1.12)

Track 6 is a previously unreleased recording:

  1. Rap Her to Bank (Roud 1786) (1.38)

Tracks 7-17 are all but one track from the 1966 LP The Watersons. The left-out track The Plains of Mexico hasn’t been reissued on CD yet.

  1. Dido Bendigo (Roud 584; TYG 76) (2.53)
  2. The North Country Maid (Roud 1367; G/D 5:1058) (2.31)
  3. Brave Wolfe (Roud 624) (4.27)
  4. The Jolly Waggoners (Roud 1088) (2.53)
  5. I Am a Rover (Roud 1112) (4.59)
  6. Fathom the Bowl (Roud 880) (2.52)
  7. The Thirty-Foot Trailer (3.30)
  8. The Holmfirth Anthem (Roud 1046; TYG 55) (1.58)
  9. Twanky Dillo (Roud 2409) (3.38)
  10. The White Hare of Howden (Roud 1110; TYG 79) (1.59)
  11. All For Me Grog (Roud 475; G/D 3:580) (2.39)

Tracks 18-27 are most of the 1966 LP A Yorkshire Garland. The four left-over tracks from this LP have been re-released on several CDs: The Pretty Drummer Boy in 1999 on the Lal & Norma Waterson CD A True Hearted Girl, and Sorry the Day I Was Married and The Yorkshire Tup in 1999 on the CD Mike Waterson, and finally The Morning Looks Charming in 2004 on the Watersons’ 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

  1. The Poacher’s Fate (Roud 793; Laws L14) (1.38)
  2. The Tour of the Dales (4.30)
  3. Willy Went to Westerdale (Roud 2792; TYG 1) (1.55)
  4. I’anson’s Racehorse (Roud 176) (3.14)
  5. The Ploughboy (The Khaki and the Blue) (Roud 163; TYG 32) (3.03)
  6. The White Cockade (Roud 191; TYG 2) (3.36)
  7. Ye Noble Spectators (Roud 610; TYG 83) (3.36)
  8. Stow Brow (Roud 185; Laws K18; G/D 1:20; TYG 7) - Lal (3.21)
  9. The Wanton Wife of Castlegate (Roud V14112) (1.41)
  10. The Whitby Lad (Roud 261; Laws L16; G/D 2:260; Henry H691) (3.14)

All tracks trad. arr. Watersons except
Track 13 Ewan MacColl

Sleeve Notes

In 1965 Topic released the album New Voices which, as its name implies, was an album of singers whose voices, although familiar in the folk clubs of the time, were new to record. The introductory notes to that album including the following passage: It’s customary for recording companies to blow big fanfares when introducing new artists and to use windy words such as "honour" and "pride". Well, it is an honour and Topic is proud to present these singers but we feel that their own songs and their own singing are the best recommendation, and they need no other.

This note, describing The Watersons, accompanied their 1966 album, The Watersons: The Watersons’ enviable combination of dark good looks, ringing voices, abundant charm and immense vitality have already given them the kind of star status within the folk song revival which is usually reserved for pop singers outside it. They are unpretentious and unconventional stars, taking television appearances, top billing at concerts and ovations at clubs in their stride. Their gypsyish zestfulness is worlds away from the strictly commercial glamour of the world of pop music: but their own glamour is all the more potent since it is the product of personality rather than publicity. There are four in the group, Michael, Norma and Elaine Waterson (two sisters and a brother), and their second cousin, John Harrison. Michael Waterson sings lead most often and they all come in on choruses with their own hand crafted harmonies, an immediate recognisable and uniquely distinctive group sound which is uninhibited, spontaneous seeming and rich in texture.

The Watersons sing songs from all over the country but pay special attention to those collected in their native East Yorkshire. They live in Hull, the great seaport beside the Humber that also produced one of our greatest poets, Andrew Marvell; and in Hull they have for some years run their famous club, Folk Union One.

They already have one LP on Topic, the widely praised collection of ritual and ceremonial songs Frost and Fire, and are also featured on the anthology record New Voices. They are no longer new voices but familiar and feted ones, singing on this new record, songs they have made particularly their own.

[A. L. Lloyd]