Preview an excerpt from Pete Paphides’ liner notes ahead of the folk noir masterpiece’s August re-issue
At the merchandise stand, you could get posters for £5 a throw, whilst a set of four badges could be yours for a mere £2. Business was brisk at the first date of the Bright Phoebus Revisited tour, but the one glaring omission among all these desirable items was the very record that people had come to celebrate. If anything though, that merely served to compound the extraordinary nature of what was happening.
Over the course of four decades, the only means of hearing Lal and Mike Waterson's 1972 folk noir masterpiece had been unofficial CDs, cassettes distributed between fans and, in more recent times, YouTube uploads. And yet, despite the relative obscurity of the record being celebrated, 2000 people had packed The Barbican to witness live performances of these songs by an extended family of Watersons, Carthys and kindred musical spirits. Too folk to be embraced by the rock world, yet not trad enough for the folk clubs where performing original material was tantamount to heresy, Bright Phoebus has had to wait an awfully long time for its moment of reappraisal. Almost by stealth, however, that moment seems to have arrived. In a Mojo chart of the 50 greatest British eccentric albums of all time, the album sat proudly among household names such as Kate Bush and Pink Floyd. In 2007, Bright Phoebus was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 documentary and Lal was the subject of a tribute concert which was televised by BBC2. With every passing year, its influence on generations of musicians who had yet to be born when it was released grows ever greater.
It's tempting to say that it was a record ahead of its time, but actually, Bright Phoebus is a record that exists outside of its time. A journey into a world where beauty and hardship are intertwined: a world of pagan sacrifice and stillborn children; a world where fairytale endings are frustrated by the demands of mere survival; where even the visiting "magical man" passing through the town seems to carry with him a faint air of menace.