Festivals · Gigs · Music

Bright Phoebus Revisited

Well, I thought it was great.
The Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow on Wednesday night, after an epic bus journey from Edinburgh (the capital) to Glasgow (Scotland’s major city) of 2 hours and ten minutes – for forty-five miles, in normal weather.
Infrastructure, we got it.
Martin Carthy, Marry Waterson, Eliza Carthy, Richard Reed Parry from Arcade Fire and supporting cast MD’d by Kate St. John.

Bright Phoebus Revisited live Glasgow

They did the record proud and I got Marry and Martin’s autographs on my Bright Phoebus booklet with the great sleevenote by Pete Paphides.


Bright Phoebus

I was raving on about this album to my friend John last week. I’d just let him hear The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle. “But would I get it – is it not folk music?”
I had to explain that, yes, although Bright Phoebus was made by ostensibly folk musicians, its reach is far beyond genre – a bit like Odessey and Oracle or even Marquee Moon. Cosmic Humberside Music!

Bright Phoebus reissue Lal and Mike Waterson

Bright Phoebus was released in 1972 and effectively vanished. This was partly due to small and botched original pressing, so there were very few copies in existence, but also due to the album not matching the expectations of many of the people who did buy it.
The proper title of the record is Bright Phoebus Songs by Lal & Mike Waterson, which hints at the problem – the Folk Police were not ready for an album of originals from former members of The Watersons folk group.
The Watersons, from Hull, had been very big on the British folk scene from 1964, where the expectation in the clubs had been that performers would sing traditional songs from the area they were from in their natural accents. This became constricting and although The Watersons were doing well in that context, it became too hard work for too little reward and the group disbanded after a couple of years of scrabbling for a pittance.
Lal and Mike were writing songs for themselves though and in 1971 had a set of demos each, which old friend Martin Carthy heard on a visit to Hull with his new band, Steeleye Span. Ashley Hutchings agreed with him that the songs needed to be recorded and enlisted Dave Mattacks and Richard Thompson from the Fairport Convention mothership – Tim Hart and Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span were also in for the recordings, which started in May 1972, produced by Bill Leader.

Bright Phoebus Lal Waterson Mike Waterson

It took about a week to finish the recordings – on a few tracks, the Thompson/Carthy driven band is augmented with cello and woodwind, but the core sound is that of Thompson and Carthy interveaving their guitars to make one big, timeless accompaniment.
And the songs? Although, infamously, the fact they were composed by Mike and Lal (and sometimes with help from Lal’s friend Christine Collins) was a problem for many of The Watersons’ old fans, most of the time you wouldn’t know they are not songs from the old, weird England. The imagery is straight out of Childe ballads or The Golden Bough, although the subject matter is often more personal than mythically symbolic.
The mixture of the timeless style of the songs and the enthusiasm and skill of the players may well be why the record has endured.

Lal and Mike Waterson

But I say “endured”…there was a big hole in the middle between the release in 1972 and this reissue from 2017. I had certainly never heard of Bright Phoebus until a couple of years ago, when the Waterson and Carthy extended family performed some concerts of the material, with special guests including Richard Hawley. The writers, Lal and Mike Waterson died respectively in 1998 and 2011.

Mike Waterson Bright Phoebus

It appears that the original seeding of albums from 1972 spawned many cassette copies, which those in the know were swapping throughout the next decades – cassettes became CDRs in the noughties, then there was YouTube…

The Watersons

Last year the Domino label reissued Bright Phoebus in a remastered edition, which also included an extra CD of a selection of the 1971 demos – I didn’t get one immediately and for a few anxious weeks it looked as if the additional CD was not going to be re-pressed.
But I did get the demos CD and it was definitely worth the wait, if its intensity is a bit spooky – these are intimate recordings, obviously, and the clarity that the modern remastering gives them makes it sound as if the Waterson siblings are in the room.
But the parent album is a treat in itself and I’ve played it at least once most days since I got it in September.
This is Lal Waterson’s “Red Wine Promises” from Lal & Mike Waterson’s Bright Phoebus (I don’t know why YouTube has it as “Red Wine and Promises…”)
The guitar is by Martin Carthy and the vocal is by Norma Waterson – I love an album which has a track performed by neither of the album’s named creators!

Demolition · Music · Pubs

The Music Group…

The Music Group North Merchiston Church

 When I arrived back from the Christmas holidays, I was delighted to have received this CD from a dear friend.
North Merchiston Church was at the top of the street where I live now – I attended from childhood until my late teens. During and beyond that time, I played in The Music Group mentioned on the sleeve. We would play at Christmas and other festival services in the church, at old peoples’ homes and hospitals – it was fun and yet another example of the Church of Scotland’s role as social adhesive in the latter part of the 20th century.  Some of us had discovered pubs as well.
The musical performances herein are not as bad as I feared or remembered – they’re a lot better, in fact. The sound is pretty good given that they were all recorded on a 1960’s cassette recorder which would be planked on top of the church organ.
The church was demolished in 1988 – as happened with many Scottish churches, the size of the congregation had fallen so much that necessary repairs to the fabric of the building could no longer be afforded and North Merchiston church joined congregations with St Michael’s, about five minutes walk along the road.  Here’s a recent picture of the frankly imposing St Mike’s…

 St. Michael's Church Edinburgh

Predictably, I have loads of great photos of the demolition, which I must scan and add to this blog – in fact, I bought my first 35mm camera precisely for the purpose of taking these pictures. It is impossible to find any good pictures of the church on the Internet – the aerial picture on the front of the CD is as good as it gets.

Media · Music

Francis Macdonald – Hamilton Mausoleum Suite

Fellow fashion victim Francis Macdonald has a new classical piece coming out very soon and here he is on the front of the Arts section of The Herald last Saturday…there is a picture not dissimilar to this on Francis’ blog (linked from here under “Cool Stuff” below.  Between “Zoella” and “Plain or Pan” – who’s not eclectic?)
“Scales from the Crypt” though? And I don’t think “reincarnation” is quite the right word.
But I shouldn’t be too hard on The Herald – I’m a little in love with them today as they’ve sent me a free Kindle Paperwhite after I entered a giveaway a couple of weeks ago.
Joking aside, it gladdened my heart to see this recognition for Francis. I’ve known him for a long time and have an idea of how hard and assiduously he’s worked as a musician, label manager, artist manager, impresario, songwriter and composer in many genres for many years.

Francis MacDonald Teenage Fanclub Glasgow Herald


The cover art for Hamilton Mausoleum Suite, which will be released on Francis’ label on 26 January.  Or Friday.  It’s going to be a big deal, I think and hope.

Francis MacDonald Hamilton Mausoleum Suite

Festivals · Gigs · Music

Diane Garisto – Stoned Soul Picnic

Diane Garisto Live Glasgow Celtic Connections 2018

We were in Glasgow last night for one of only two shows we’re going to at this year’s Celtic Connections festival (the twenty-fifth year now.)

Celtic Connections 2018 The Music of Laura Nyro


The music of Laura Nyro

Diane Garisto was one of Laura Nyro’s trio of backing vocalists through the nineties – in fact, I saw her in 1994 with Laura at her show in London. She has also toured with Steely Dan and sings on Paul Simon’s Graceland album. She now fronts this project which is dedicated to Laura’s music and spirit. (There is a website for Stoned Soul Picnic which is well worth a look.)

Great band playing a selection of Laura classics, mostly from the earlier part of her career. Guests joining Diane and the band were Shawn Colvin, who’s playing her own headline show at the festival tonight, and Karen Matheson – Colvin also did a solo rendition of “Save the Country.”

Laura Nyro stoned soul picnic


It had been rumoured that Paul Buchanan was going to sing; that was incorrect, but he was around.

A mutual friend has told me to say hello to Diane, so I did…a charming lady.

Diane Garisto with Stuart Ferguson