At 78 years old, and raised by a half-gypsy mother in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Norma Waterson is a folk legend that many haven’t heard of. If you made her into a character, she would wear a long dirty coat that drags through the dust of a small western town. She would have two hellhounds with deep red eyes at her side. She would whisper a small word to some young local as they pass. The local would scream, tear strips of flesh from their face, and run out of town asking everyone along the way why their soul is so suddenly empty. Nobody fucks with Norma.
Recorded in a chapel of her hometown of Robin Hood’s Bay, her and her family, which is the rest of the band (her daughter Eliza Carthy sings and plays the fiddle while her husband, Martin Carthy, plays the guitar) stand strong as fuck to play these folk tunes. This isn’t your yuppie fucking popcorn folk. You won’t find songs about butterflies, purple skies, soy lattes, or parking lots on this shit. When she sings Nick Lowe’s “The Beast in Me” (made famous by Johnny Cash), she does it as well as Cash. And, if you knew me, that’s saying a fuckton. She does it in her own way, for sure. But, after hearing her story, you’ll understand an entire dimension to those simple words.
Norma has drifted through the skankiest fucking swamps that life can bring. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and has been nominated for a Mercury Prize. Then, in 2010, Norma got ill and went into a coma. After this, she pulled herself up by sheer fucking grit and learned to walk and talk all over again. Did you get that? She learned to walk and fucking talk? I feel like it’s got to be said again: Nobody fucks with Norma.
These songs come with dirt, spit, grim, bloody teeth, bare-knuckle boxing, and a fuck you attitude. You can hear the same vibe with artists like Nick Cave or Tom Waits (she even starts this shit with a cover of Tom’s “Strange Weather”). This is the kind of music you’d expect to hear on television series like Peaky Blinders or Deadwood. Then, when this shit slows down, it breaks your heart like it’s a fucking twig. This is that dirty and true shit. It’s as real as a slap in the face and as honest as the sting of whiskey.
Sarcasm and cynicism are popular with folk music now of days. It’s cool to not give a shit. Whoop-dee-fucking-doo. Those like Norma don’t give a fuck. She’s going to care about things, tell her truths, and tell them well. And to those young folk fucks that think life is tough because they had a bad drug trip, hopefully one day you’ll walk by Norma and her bloodhounds and hear what she’s got to say.