Norma Waterson RIP: the passing of a towering figure of folk music
Norma Waterson: further thoughts on the passing of a great folk character

Norma Waterson: a distinctive voice of English folk



Back in the 1960s, British music was awash with groups of fashionable-looking young people, usually though not exclusively all-male, who belted out the Mersey Sound and its Manchester, Tyneside, Scottish, Irish and London equivalents.

But folkies had their special band, too, the Watersons from Hull, two men and two women with appearances that reflected the era but a musical repertoire that evoked centuries past.

Norma Waterson, who has died aged 82, once said a good traditional song was a "like a piece of nice old furniture". As one of the quartet, joined by her sister Lal, their brother Mike and cousin John Harrison, she helped produce a sound that took traditional folk as close to rock, in terms of the power and passion of their harmonies, as it then seemed possible to reach. The "folk Beatles", some called them; it seemed an entirely reasonable description as I stood watching a wonderful performance at Les Cousins, an all-night, booze-free folk cellar in London's Soho, in - from memory - 1969.

The band initially broke up in 1969 and Norma moved to Monserrat to work as a disc-jockey, but reformed in 1972 with another key figure of English folk, Martin Carthy, as a new member. They married the same year, a union that was to produce Eliza, who quickly demonstrated her own immense talents as a singer and musician and would later perform with her parents as Waterson:Carthy. Eliza was recently honoured for her immense contributions to music by being appointed president of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

Norma waterson 2 - 1

My usual thanks to Roger Liptrot from whose he permits me to use photographs

Pre-deceased by her younger siblings, Norma was, as Robin Denselow notes in a thorough, noble Guardian obituary "one of the finest and most versatile singers of the British folk revival". I cannot hope, at a small website, to improve on his words and will add one short extract:


Norma was one of the finest exponents of English traditional songs, but displayed her love of other styles in her eclectic and soulful solo albums. Norma Waterson (1996) included songs by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead, Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson and Lal, as well as the self-composed Hard Times Heart.

The album was nominated for a Mercury prize, an award usually associated with pop and rock rather than folk, and very nearly won – the prize went instead to Pulp’s Different Class.




Image of the 'folk Beatles': public domain




RIP Norma Waterson



URL for the clip is

Colin Randall

Thanks steve … I had techie issues

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