Bright Phoebus (LP, Album, RE, Gat) Trailer, Highway Records (2) LES 2076 I'm looking for any info regarding the quality of the mastering and pressing of this re-issue. Black and white Highway Trailer label. I'd be grateful for any comment.
I have a copy with some label variations from the one(s) listed here on Discogs. Most noticeable is the boxed MCPS on the left side and the centered 'STEREO' text under 'Trailer' (same as 1. pressing). 'BRIGHT PHOEBUS' and ' Mike and Lal Waterson' on top of each other just above spindle hole. Tracks listed on top of each other, like the 1. press. Label is colored yellow. Does anyone know about this? Is it something to look into, or just a variation that does not mean anything?
This Month marks 40 years since Lal and Mike Waterson released the seminal folk classic 'Bright Phoebus', which later became known as the Sgt. Pepper of the folk world. However, the album wasn't always considered the classic it is seen as today.
Dismissed at the time by folk's staunch traditionalist rearguard, who saw the record as going against the very ethos of the traditional folk scene, the record has gone on to claim almost cult status amongst the folk cognoscente.
Lal and Mike Waterson, along with sister Norma and cousin John Harrison were members of Hull-based 60's traditional folk group 'The Watersons'. When the demands of a busy touring schedule started to take it's toll on the group, they decided to take an 'undefined' break in late 1968. In the period that followed Lal married her partner George and gave birth to son Oliver, Norma moved to Montserrat to become a DJ, John moved down south to study fiddle and Mike remained in Hull working as a painter and decorator.
It was during this period of downtime in 1971 that Lal and Mike both revealed to each other that they had been busy writing songs. Both clearly impressed with each other's work, the pair began writing together during Mike's lunch break and before they knew it had enough songs to make a record.
It was the early 70's and folk was in the process of going electric, with the likes of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span both rising to prominence. It was the latter that provided two of the album's key players in guitarist, and Norma's future husband, Martin Carthy and bassist Ashley Hutchings. Upon hearing the songs and what they had in mind, Hutchings declared an instant connection and it was through him that the various members of Fairport Convention came on-board.
So now that an all-star cast, featuring members and guest appearances from some of the most well known musicians on the scene, were assembled it was time to finally make the record. Trailer Records owner, Bill Leader, had only one place in mind to record the album and that was at the home of folk music, Cecil Sharp House in London. Leader had his work cut out creating this make shift studio in which, on reflection, seemed like an odd venue to record such an experimental folk record.
The completed album is nothing short of a masterpiece. It nips in and out of styles, country, rock & roll, blues, jazz, folk, pop and even has its psychedelic moments on the wry 'Magical Man'. Its a record of many standouts, from the shear tortured beauty of 'Child Among the Weeds' to the rock & roll blues of 'Danny Rose'. The former was inspired by the difficult childbirth Lal endured whilst giving birth to son Oliver, in whist his twin sister was still born. It's all pretty moving stuff. "Child among the weeds, don't need no beads; just sing him a lullaby, lullaby all the long night through', laments Lal before Bob Davenport make his guest appearance. Faced with the daunting task of singing in a foreign key, Mike was given a reprieve when Davenport walked into the studio. The results were awe-inspiring, as Davenport rattled off the line with ease, 'Fly bird fly on your raven wing; Take to the sky and sing for the love of wheeling and turning'.
'Fine Horseman' has been covered countless times and you can really see why. Lal delivers a painfully beautiful vocal, one that encompasses the feeling of loss encountered during the song. It's Lal's vocals again which bring 'Never the Same' to life. It's one of Martin Carthy's favourites here and a song he chose to cover on the wonderful tribute album to Lal and Mike, 'Shining Bright', which was released in 2002.
'The Scarecrow' tells the tale of the poor neglected scarecrow in the field, who is witnessed during the seasons with the events which are taking place around him. The song has always been renowned for its references to the dark rituals of old days, namely a child being sacrificed in return for a heavy crop yield: "As I rode out one fine spring day, I saw twelve jolly dons dressed out in the blue and the gold so gay; And to a stake they tied a child newborn, And the songs were sung, the bells was rung, and they sowed their corn".
The album's opening track shows that it's not all serious here. Mike's silly side is brought out, as experienced in one of the corniest lines ever written: "Just like margarine our fame is spreading". But don't be fooled, this isn't some throwaway number, it's as musically strong as any other composition on this record. 'Winifer Odd' tells the tale of an unlucky soul who is ultimately saved when she expects death to be imminent. It's a song that really highlights Lal's songwriting ability: "Winifer Odd Was born on one cold May morning in June, In her grandmother's bedroom, And they waited all that day for last May to come back again, But it never came".
There's a real country feel to 'Shady Lady', a song that features the vocals all three Waterson siblings. There's a similar musical feeling about the title track, 'Bright Phoebus'. A drunken Lal falling down in the rain is recalled in the beautiful 'Red Wine Promises', which features the warm vocals of their sister Norma.
It's hard to imagine how this record could have received such a poor reception upon its release back in September 1972. All involved in the album believed that this record would be a huge success - the album they'd all one day be remembered for. However, due to the record's poor reception in the media the album would end up failing to break even. In fact, due to the particulars of the contract, none of the artists on the album made any money from this venture and pretty soon the album slipped into obscurity. But things were to get worse. Interest in folk music had dropped and with Bill Leader struggling to make ends meet he was forced to sell the rights to 'Bright Phoebus', as well as those of other records on his label. The rights were eventually sold on again, where they ended up in the hands of the record's original distributor Dave Bulmer.
The album later received a CD release, however, due to Bulmer not actually owning the masters, the release was merely mastered from the original LP. The whereabouts of the masters has remained a secret, one which Mike Waterson was unwilling to give away. His views on the re-released record were pretty strong, and that was that no-one should spend their money on this poor quality replica. I spoke to Mike about this a good few years ago where he told me that he'd been handed cash from fans who had downloaded the record from the net, rather than line Bulmer's pockets. Mike Waterson and Bulmer were still firmly locked in battle over the release right up to his untimely death last summer.
'Bright Phoebus' remains one of British music's classics. Hopefully one day this record will get the full remastered re-issue is fully deserves and in a way that benefits the musicians both artistically and financially. Until then it will firmly remain as a lost treasure.