THE WATERSONS - Frost And Fire

THE WATERSONS - Frost And Fire
Topic TSCD563
Sound, Sound Your Instruments Of Joy
Topic TSCD564

Initially The Mariners, then The Folksons, The Watersons were lynchpins of the nascent ‘60s Folksong revival just as Waterson:Carthy are similarly indispensable now, the latter’s most recent CD and tour being generally regarded as a worthy 40-years-later follow up to Frost And Fire.  Sound, Sound was the group’s fifth album and the second to feature Martin Carthy in place of the 1966-departed John Harrison, alongside Norma, Lal and Mike Waterson.  These reissues coincided with a celebratory Royal Albert Hall event in May this year and they are rightly regarded as seminal works, the1965 strange and awesome Frost And Fire especially.  Subtitled ‘a calendar of ritual and magical songs’, carrying an atmospheric Brian Shuel cover shot, iced with gloom and an almost pagan rhythmic punch, this album didn’t over-romanticise the Tradition, just put the record straight and set many of us on the right path.  A seasonal song tour through ancient rites ensuring and celebrating plenty, it stands as a unique, amazing anthology.  The ambit of 1977’s Sound, Sound focused on arcane hymnody, wassails and carols often gleaned from old, vernacular publications – Southern Harmony (1835) and Sacred Harp (1844) and used by gatherings of dissenters both here and in rural America.  Theirs were purely free spirits, not roaring ranters, who deplored the Victorian hymnals, notably Hymns Ancient And Modern (1861) that had substituted pious plodding for fine, traditional melodies.  The singing on this CD is thunderously tuneful, and almost operatic in its grandeur. 

If you’re a newcomer, you’ll be energized by the primal power of both.  These are the original albums – no outtakes, no singles’ B-sides (!) and checking in at little more than an hour all told.  In addition to lyrics and new photos, they contain the exemplary Bert Lloyd notes stating in F&F’s liners  “To our toiling ancestors (the songs) meant everything, and in a queer irrational way they can still mean much to us.”  Equally true, I feel, of Sound, Sound and melded with the Watersons’ zest, zeal and sheer verve, these are vital, transcendent recordings.

Essential listening.

Clive Pownceby   


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This album was reviewed in Issue 75 of The Living Tradition magazine.