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.