From The Desk Of The Lilac Time’s Stephen Duffy: The Watersons, Specifically The Film “Travelling For A Living,” Equality And Socialism

Stephen Duffy was the first singer in a little band called Duran Duran. He left them in 1979 and began a series of other musical projects before settling into the Lilac Time almost three decades ago with brother Nick. The band’s latest album is No Sad Songs. Stephen Duffy will be guest editing all week.


Duffy: The Watersons sang unaccompanied traditional folk songs. A lot of seafaring songs from the area where they were born and lived, in the North East of England. A brother, two sisters and their second cousin, who they treat as something of an outsider in the film. Although they made many later records, my favourites are the ones made with second cousin John Harrison. I don’t know if Travelling For A Living is available apart from in the Watersons box Mighty River Of Song. It was filmed for the BBC in the mid-’60s. It shows a world that has gone; can you see a theme in my guest editorship? Norma talks about John like he’d been born into wealth and privilege instead of somewhere else in Hull. “His mother would do anything for him,” Norma says as he is served a revolting but completely normal meal for the time. In many documentary films of this nature, someone will say how they didn’t know they were poor until … In Travelling For A Living, you see a “we didn’t know we were poor” world. Now kids know they are poor. We didn’t. Even with television showing the royal family and Brideshead Revisited, I didn’t really comprehend how much of nothing we had materially. So what we had became more important. The books and records, the jeans. When I left art school in ’79, just as Thatcher began dismantling the goodness, the gap between rich and poor was at its historical low. If people are happy as they are, happy in their community and their union, then the politics of greed cannot thrive. We were happy in our socialist, unionised world. But they couldn’t exploit us if we were happy.

Video after the jump.