Bright Phoebus Revisited – Barbican

Why this gig?

I could pretend that I’ve been a huge fan of Bright Phoebus for decades, but it wouldn’t be true. Even though I’ve been listening to various combinations of the Waterson/Carthy folk dynasty for about thirty years, I only became aware of Lal and Mike Waterson’s lost masterpiece a couple of years ago.

But it is a masterpiece. so the chance to see it performed by various Watersons, Carthys and other friends was just too good to miss.

Note: Normally, I’d include an Amazon link so that you could buy the album. But there’s no decent, officially released version of the album available.

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This is one of those Barbican shows where there’s a house band (a number of British folk musicians led by Kate St John) with a various guest vocalists. Many of the vocalists are from the Waterson/Carthy family – led by Lal Waterson’s daughter, Marry.

The evening starts with all the assembled Waterson/Carthys singing the album’s opener, “Rubber Band”. This is followed by Marry Waterson singing “Fine Horseman”. These are two of the songs that I know best from the album and tonight’s versions are both very impressive.

The evening continues with the songs slightly out of order from the album and interspersed with other songs that Lal and Mike wrote at about the same time. Special guests include Richard Hawley, John Smith, Kami Thompson (whose rather, Richard, played on the original album) and Bob Davenport, who stunningly recreates his original vocals on “Child Among The Weeds”.

Towards the end of the first half, Jarvis Cocker comes on to sing “Scarecrow” and to finish the first half he returns to join in on “The Magical Man”. His performances are both good, but it’s clear that he hasn’t been listening to these songs for almost forty years like many of the other people on stage have.

The second half continues in the same vein, but I think there are a higher proportion of non-album songs. I’m particularly impressed by Kami Thompson’s “Evona Darling”, which was written by Mike Waterson and recorded by Kami’s mother, Linda.

But the standout performance of the second half has to be Norma Waterson’s “Red Wine Promises”. Norma sang it on the original album and singing it tonight obviously means a lot to her.

Then there’s a rousing “Bright Phoebus” to close and an encore of “Shady Lady”, both of which involve the entire company. It’s a great ending to a really enjoyable evening. It’s great that these songs are getting some attention at last. I hope that the album gets proper CD release soon.

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