January 31, 2022
The British folk Singer, who has died aged 82, was proud of the music she made – and her warmth as well as her toughness sang loudly in her songs
Norma Waterson was one of folk’s greatest voices – and greatest people
In the rain-sodden opening to the 1966 black and white BBC documentary, Travelling for a Living, a family of young folk singers are heading home to Hull. Big sister is driving the van, a cigarette pursed in her lips under her sharp, beatnik bob. She brooks absolutely no nonsense as she speaks about working-class culture being blitzed in the war, and how folk music can revive that community’s traditions. And then Norma Waterson sings, her full-blooded delivery coming straight from the gut, like torrenting water rushing over old stones.
Waterson, whose death was announced this morning, was one of folk’s greatest voices, and one of folk’s greatest people: proud, forthright and open about the music she made. I interviewed her in 2010 with daughter Eliza, in the family home in Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire, shortly before she suffered an ankle injury that led to cellulitis and septicaemia and a four-month coma. After the illness, she had to learn to walk and talk again. She was brusque and funny but also incredibly tender, her granddaughter Florence at her knee, her musician niece Marry popping round for tea and biscuits, the room filled with laughter. This warmth was at the heart of her as well as her toughness, and it sang loudly in her songs.
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