Saturday 9 December 2023

The holly bears a berry - a Christmas carol from The Watersons

Nothing says "Christmas" better than The Watersons - from Hull, Yorkshire; and there is no better carol than this one.

I absolutely love this harmonization, and the way it is sung. Everything about it - the tone, the dialect, the sliding harmonies, the open chords... just incredible. 

It evokes in me a genuinely ancient quality; a medieval, or even dark ages, feel.  

This was recorded during the Watersons' first incarnation, from the 1960s; the group consisting of (left to right) two sisters Norma and Lal, brother Mike (lead vocal); and cousin John (bass) standing to the left. 


Ben Pratt said...

Bruce, thank you for this stunning recording! I was hit with the same feelings you mentioned, as well as a sense of folk-ness, as if it is a song many families in Yorkshire might sing during Christmas time. My great-grandmother was brought up in not-so-far Halifax, so that may be a factor.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ben - It is always a treat for me to come back to this recording after a while - and re-experience its impact.

The Watersons were different from, and (at their best) better than, any other unaccompanied harmony folk group I have encountered.

You might be interested by this 1960s TV documentary about the group and the Folk Scene of that time, which has survived.

They had a reincarnation with Martin Carthy singing the "bass" instead of John Harrison, when Carthy (already a very big name in folk music) married Norma Waterson -- in terms of singing, the second lineup was even better than the first.

But folk music, like any performing art, is rather delicate; and after a superb first album (For Pence and Spicy Ale) (which was when I saw the group performing live in an intimate venue, a Great Experience) Watersons II's subsequent work never quite scaled the same heights.