"What's It Matter How He Came?"
The death last weekend of Norma Waterson at the age of 82 takes from the English music scene one of the great figures of the revival in interest and resurgence of development in that area of music which the 'ordinary' people of England have been assiduously trained to scorn by their permanent ruling class, who don't want the 'ordinary' people to get the idea that any art created by other than artistic prostitutes and catamites - and latterly by highly-remunerative corporations - could ever be worthy of consideration by 'serious' people.
But Norma Waterson - even with all of her background and significance - never confined herself to the tradition, and her 1999 album The Very Thought Of You provides ample proof, featuring as it does her interpretations of evergreens such as Over The Rainbow and the title track alongside covers of Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III and Nick Drake.
The first track on the disc is a version of Freddie Mercury's Love Of My Life, and that leads me to the track immediately following. Before I direct you to it however, some context is needed.
There is a person called 'Joe Haines' (at least, he is rather than was at the time of writing; I was taken aback to find that he was still alive). Haines was a Fleet Street hack who became the Press Secretary for Harold Wilson during his time as both opposition leader (in the days when the term 'opposition' actually meant something to the Parliamentary Labour Party) and prime minister. In other words, he was a professional liar, obfuscator, misdirector and thug, who was probably the progenitor of the long line of creatures of such sublime qualities of dishonesty which leads down through Ingham via Campbell to Stratton and beyond.
When Wilson left politics in 1976, Haines went back to ordinary hackery at the Daily Mirror. When the notorious Robert Maxwell bought the Mirror titles in 1984, Haines told his colleagues, "[Maxwell] is a crook and a liar - and I can prove it".
Rather than carry out a proper journalist's duty and do precisely that, however, Haines instead became political editor, a non-executive director and - latterly - assistant editor of the company's main daily title. Quite content with being the paid pussy for 'a crook and a liar', the wretch then wrote an authorised biography of his master which was so ridiculous in its attempts to burnish the Bouncing Czech's reputation that it would have been considered to be too hagiographical by a mediaeval clergyman writing in praise of one of the early saints of the church.
When Freddie Mercury died from the complications of HIV/AIDS in November 1991 (by a curious relationship of events, less than three weeks after Maxwell had 'fallen off' his yacht near the Canary Islands), Haines penned a column (I say 'penned'; it was more likely composed by his dipping his talons in the blood of ritually-slaughtered babies) which excoriated the late singer for his attitudes and his lifestyle and extrapolated that into whatever the opposite of his encomium to his late employer could have been called (an excomium, perhaps?) aimed at gay men everywhere. I won't reproduce any of it here, but it was a vile and vicious screed from the disordered mind of what Peter Cook in another context would have referred to as "a loathsome spotted reptile".
The piece caused outrage (which was probably the intent, of course), and one of the many made deeply angry about it was another member of the Waterson clan, Norma's younger sister Lal. She wrote an open letter in condemnation of Haines. Some years later, shortly after Lal's death at the appallingly young age of 55, Norma set the letter to music and put it immediately after her Freddie Mercury cover on The Very Thought Of You. Reply To Joe Haines is a remarkable song in which Lal's excoriation of the hack's words - couched, however, in a tone somewhat more of regret than of fury - is melded with the most beautiful and elegiac melody which sounds utterly within the tradition. As such, it proved to be a more than adequate riposte to Haines' vituperative bile, and part of the revenge of fate that everyone remembers who Mercury was and only a few remember Haines, and that only for his piece of hate: