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Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man

If English folk music ever had a hierarchy, Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy – along with daughter Eliza Carthy – would be at its very top. Hailing from Northumberland, the family approach folk song as a living entity and it’s this that makes their music so generous and vibrant, on stage or record. With the addition of melodeon player Tim van Eyken, Waterson: Carthy are an expandable quartet with a song for every mood.

*Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man* is a collection of festive songs. As befits its season, ‘May Song’ is a vigorous offering, its martial progress marked by drums and reeds; ‘Reaphook and Sickle’, a song for haymaking, is no less full-throated. Folk song differs wildly – heretically, even – from religious lyrics, and ‘The Cherry Tree Carol’, with its story of Jesus’s pre-birth miracles is a prime example. The group’s sleeve notes to *Holy Heathens* are a fascinating resource, delving into the origin and meaning of these songs; but the joy is, as always, in their performance.

New Internationalist issue 398 magazine cover This article is from the March 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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