New Internationalist

Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man

March 2007

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.

This column was published in the March 2007 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Comments on Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man

Leave your comment