The Watersons “John Barleycorn” – Frost and Fire Revisited

Photo: Brian Shuel

The Watersons – Norma, Mike and Lal Waterson and their cousin, John Harrison – put out ‘Frost And Fire: A Calendar of Ritual and Magical Songs’ in 1965 after going through a particularly arduous audition process for Topic Records.  Norma Waterson told the story about how it came about – it seems that The Watersons had a spot one evening at The Troubadour club and “Martin Carthy was running the night and he asked us if we wanted to do two or three, so we did. We got a good reception and in the interval this man came up to us and said, ‘Do you want to make a record?’”  That is the way to do it – stand up, amaze everyone, get signed.

But why are we talking about The Watersons today?  Well, there doesn’t actually have to be a reason to talk about The Watersons but this time there is – ‘Frost And Fire: A Calendar of Ritual and Magical Songs’ is getting a 45rpm vinyl re-issue on Topic Records, and distributed by Proper Records, on October 28th.  Great!

There’s another story about the recording – which was recorded in the bedroom of Bill Leader’s flat (you can’t make this stuff up!) – with the assistance of A.L. Lloyd, about whom Mike Waterson recalled: “He was a guru to us. We sang one and he said, ‘Mmm… we shan’t use that one. It’s too subservient.’ It was a harvest home song, where they’re praising the farmer all the time. Then we sang another one and he said, ‘Sing it again… sing it again… sing it again.’ We sat there in this back room, singing it again and again, and Norma said, ‘What’s the matter with it?’ He said, ‘Nothing, my dear, just self-indulgence.’

Class.  Pure class.  As is this rendition of ‘John Barleycorn’.


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About Jonathan Aird 2043 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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