Song of the Month: Child Among The Weeds by Lal & Mike Waterson, 1972

* Listen to the song HERE *

Back in the dark ages before Google and YouTube, discovering new music could be a very slow and financially painful business. Seeking out a copy of something you’d read about or remember hearing once on the radio could result in months or even years of traipsing around back-street record shops, music fairs and flea-markets. There was excitement and trepidation felt before listening to it back home where the All-Important Question would finally be answered: Does it live up to expectations, or is it yet another crushing buy which you'll have to dutifully listen to a number of times in the fruitless attempt to justify the cash you've just shelled out for it?

Mercifully to my rescue was a friendship with Colin Davies who ran the fanzine for Fairport Convention founding-guitarist Richard Thompson and conveniently lived only a couple of streets away. Colin had a magnificent record collection, and as an awkward teenager with lank long hair which my mother said made me look like a spaniel, it was a relief to be welcomed by someone whose enthusiasm for music dissolved any potential boundaries which may otherwise have been present from our age difference.

With every visit round his house he’d generously spend the evening loading me up with records to borrow, enthusing about each album with fond anecdotes about being stoned as a student in the 70s at Kingston Polytechnic, his wife Nita rolling her eyes in the background while getting on with the washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning or something else of actual use.

It was through Colin I was first introduced to such delights as The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Eek-A-Mouse, Captain Beefheart, and the short-lived genre of Morris-dance rock fusion which consisted of two records (I only heard one).

Best of all was Bright Phoebus by folk siblings Lal & Mike Waterson which I remember Colin saying sold a total of 200 copies when first released, of which he’d bought two. I recently heard it described as being the 'Sgt Pepper of folk music' which is fitting. However, while The Beatles’ effort is a more pill-popping, heads-in-the-stratosphere affair, Bright Phoebus is a record with its feet firmly planted in mud, the smell of dung in its nostrils, and a keen eye fixed on the weather. It’s unique and sounds nothing like their other recordings, let alone anyone else’s.

The songs are a peculiar assortment, with chirpy country fair sing-a-longs about rubber bands, magicians and sunshine, alongside magnificently bleak tunes about desperate lives in rural landscapes.

The singing is unvarnished. Mike has a warble that sounds like he’s constantly welling-up, which is understandable given his sister’s performance – I get tearful just thinking about it. She’s devastating. Her songs and her voice cut like nothing else I know.

Lal is the greatest.

November 2014

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