Marry Waterson talks exclusively to FRUK about bringing together Lal Waterson’s (her mother) astonishing archive for the beautiful CD and book set ‘Teach me to be a Summer’s Morning‘ & the joys of the Bright Phoebus Revisited tour.
How did the concept of the book and CD come together? Who else was involved?
“Mum would have bursts of creative energy, time when she just needed to be writing, painting or experimenting with whatever medium took her fancy. I am my mother’s daughter in this, as I too am taken over by the very same force – it feels like a force, you feel a shift inside that spirals out to fill your mind, your hours and if circumstances allow, days which long to be weeks.
“Mum would say to me “I want to paint and write and do stained glass all at once” but would settle on which ever inspiration spoke the loudest. This meant the house was filled with a lifetime’s music and art all with her very own individual, honest and beautiful perspective. This body of work filled tattered notebooks, hung on family member’s walls, languished in draws, boxes and under the bed and I just wanted to share it, I had a feeling it would want to be seen and heard.
“Her notebooks are a thing of wonder through first draughts, crossings out, torn pages and knitting patterns, they let you inside her thought process — just a little.
“The Bright Phoebus demo tapes are Mum and Mike to the bone, intimate performances that make you feel like you are in the room with them, offering insight into the very conception of these remarkable songs.
“My Brother Oliver also had three of Mum’s songs squirreled away that no one had ever heard including the title song to Once in a Blue Moon, a song mum and I recorded together some 15-17 years ago. It had been sat there unmixed and unheard. It was very emotional to hear as you can imagine.
“I asked Topic’s David Suff if he’d be interested and got an immediate response-yes! David was a perfect partner in this because he is a talented artist himself, we speak the same language, he saw what I saw when I said I want to produce something precious, a moleskin journal that looks like it could be one of mum’s own notebooks printed on really nice stock, beautiful as befitting it’s contents. I wasn’t interested in producing something cheap looking. David and I made a wish list — the format, the beautiful die-cut for the cd, the rounded corners, tasty paper to print on, the binding choice, the elastic band…the niceties all to be brought within budget. I am very grateful he felt as passionate as I.
“I designed the book and taught myself how to use the software ‘Indesign’ to produce the artwork pages, most fortunate to be able to rely on artists Matthew Suff and David Owen to ensure I didn’t make reproduction mistakes.
Do you have a large archive of Lal’s stuff, you suggest that she was on the go creatively all of the time? How did you choose what to include and was it difficult leaving some stuff out?
“My choice of material for inclusion was based on gut feeling, the things I loved, things that were intriguing, things that I hoped she wouldn’t mind my sharing….”
Can you recall being encouraged to pursue your own art and music when growing up and did compiling this bring back any particular memories?
“This project has brought back so many memories and discoveries, it’s been a wonderful, stirring and tender journey. As a child I was always encouraged to be creative, mum couldn’t wait for me to sing with her, to share in her creative endeavours and through large parts of her life longed for other musicians and writing partners to create with, to spur her on, to bounce ideas around, to move things forward. I really regret that I only started writing seriously after she died, and really that grief, that loss was the catalyst to firmly set me on the writing path.”
Tell me about Bright Phoebus, what was the tour like? The reaction seems to have been very positive you must be pleased. Will there be any follow up?
“Whilst speaking to David Suff about a possible book, I contacted Bryn Ormrod from the Barbican to ask if he’d be interested in a Bright Phoebus show to celebrate Mum and Mike’s songs. Wow! Those five concerts were wonderful, singing fabulous songs with such talented musicians – Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker, Kami Thompson, John Smith, Kate StJohn, Neill MacColl, Rory Macfarlane and Martyn Barker, it was like performing at a concert and attending one all at the same time as I got to enjoy other people’s performances too.
“It was also just lovely up there singing with my auntie Norma after her serious illness, she played a blinder and being on tour with family – Olly, Eliza, Martin (Ann and Ella for London) – it’s special shared time, which bonds you together in the joy of it. The audience wore their hearts on their sleeves and we really felt the love, thank you to those who came. There has been talk of further events, we’ll see.”
Listening to Lal’s songs they sound like poems that have been set to music, is this how she wrote? Is there any more of an archive to explore?
“Mum wrote poetry before songs and I guess that’s why her songs sound like poems that have been set to music, she said “When the sound of the words was right, the song was right” There are a few other unheard versions of songs in her archive.”
Some sound quite autobiographical and some are more playful did she ever talk about the things that inspired her to write them? How and when were these all recorded? I’m especially intrigued by Piper’s Way, Marvellous Companion and Red Wine And Promises and the slightly unsettling, but also lusty Scarecrow. I guess all of the songs have some line, couplet or imagery that pushes them above the commonplace. The weather seems to feature a lot! Rosemary in her constant shower of rain is a striking image.
“Some of Mum’s songs are indeed autobiographical, they are probably the most oblique, others are protest songs, Letter to Joe Hains, Flight Of The Pelican and environmental, Never The Same which has the line ‘Rosemary’s sitting in a shower of rain, we’ll never be the same again’ (Atomic bomb fallout) others express a feeling or word play, she liked to paint with words.”
Lal was obviously a very capable artist, have her drawings and paintings ever been seen or exhibited in any way?
“Mum’s art has never been exhibited, though she did put a stained glass mirror for sale in a furniture shop once (I have it in my room, it didn’t sell) Mum had lots of unfinished pieces, often leaping on to the next idea.”
What else are you working on?
I am currently working on my next album, which will be without my brother Oliver this time as he is taking a break. An unbelievably talented musician and friend has offered to produce it for me and I’m also writing with the wonderful David A Jaycock, whose songs cast a spell for sure. I’ve some interesting collaborative concerts coming up. I just finished animating a video for Kathryn Williams and I’m animating a Christmas video for Lush. Animation is my new thing and I’m in love.
Interview by: Simon Holland
Teach Me To Be A Summer’s Morning (CD + Hardback Book) released via Fledg’ling 21 Oct 2013
Order it via The Fledg’ling Shop