Never The Same :: Hiss Golden Messenger On Bright Phoebus

Ask the most dedicated followers of British folk rock about the most sought after lost classic of the canon, and you'll likely hear 1972's Bright Phoebus: The Songs of Mike and Lal Waterson cited as a holy grail. The work of two siblings, it followed the dissolution of their family band the Watersons. Mike and Lal assembled a massive cast to record the album, including sister Norma Waterson, Ashley Hutchings, much of the lineup of Steeleye Span, Martin Carthy, Richard Thompson and Dave Mattacks of Fairport Convention, and more. But it was released to little fanfare. Due to a manufacturing error, only 1,000 copies ever found their way into the hands of folk fans, many of whom were confused by the band's peculiar mix of avant-garde, country, folk, and psychedelia, and bewildered by the disillusioned and wounded lyrical sensibility.

But dedicated listeners kept Bright Phoebus alive, passing the album along around as a bootleg. It gained high profile fans like Stephen Malkmus, Billy Bragg, Arcade Fire, and Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley. Though the Lal and Mike both passed away (in 1998 and 2011, respectively) the album continued to grow in esteem. Recently, it was finally reissued by Domino Records, with great great taken to enhance its fidelity and expand its context (the new edition features demos and longform notes by scholar Pete Paphides).

One of the album's most vocal admirers is M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger. It's one of Taylor's favorites, and it's not hard to hear a similar play between the elements of light and shadow in the songs of his forthcoming album, Hallelujah Anyhow, due out September 22 via Merge Records. AD spoke to Taylor at his hotel room outside of Portland, Oregon, where he was prepping for a set at Pickathon. Below, his thoughts on the haunting longevity of Bright Phoebus.

Mike and Lal Waterson :: Scarecrow"

M.C. Taylor: I got quite into British folk music in the early 2000s through a friend of mine named Michael Talbot who, he was younger than me, but he just had an encyclopedic knowledge, particularly of British folk music. I really liked the gotta be in it gotta have a dedication [to listen]'ve got to wanna be there at that place. That music speaks to me, their particular voices, there was something about them that I really felt compelling.

There was something that felt timeless about it, it was sort of biblical in that way. Then of course...I heard about Bright Phoebus, probably in 2005, I would say. I tracked a copy down. I actually have an original Topic pressing. I didn't realize until really recently that only 1,000 copies of that record actually made it out, because there were manufacturing issues and stuff with that record. I found a copy back then and there's something about that record that sort of put it in the same space that all of my favorite records exist in, which is that I didn't get it on first listen -- or even the first 10 listens -- but there was something that compelled me to keep going back to it.

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