The Gold Badge of the English Folk Dance and Song Society is awarded for unique or outstanding contributions to folk music, dance or song, distinguished service to the Society and/or exceptional contributions to the Society’s work. It is the highest award the Society can confer and it may be awarded to: “Those who have made unique or outstanding contributions to the art or science of folk dance, music or song” or “Those who have rendered distinguished service to the aims of the Society through their exceptional contribution.”
The award was presented to The Watersons in 1982 and the following text of the award citation (author unknown) was kindly provided by Malcolm Taylor at the EFDSS Vaughan Williams Memorial Library:
BOUQUET FOR WATERSONS
What a pleasure to be honouring The Watersons! They’ve been on the go a good while now, but nobody tires of them and nobody will. More than any other singers in the Folk Song Revival they have been a powerful influence, not only on account of their skill, but because of the honesty, modesty and affectionate care they bring to the songs of their choice. Also, they are prize examples when it comes to seeking and finding songs that are little known but capable of pulling down the stars.
Of course, the curious beauty of their individual voices stands them in good stead. Nobody’s voice is like theirs; just a few bars from any of them is immediately together – earthy, nothing flash, no show biz, everything fitting together deftly to create the special Watersons sound. I remember the explosion caused when their sound was first heard in the folk clubs. Harmonies that break so many rules, harmonies of a piquancy to lift you on your toes. Just a few antiquarian nutters complained that to sing English folk song in harmony is “untraditional”; God help us. Essentially, The Watersons sing “We” songs, not “I” songs, songs for all to sing, and that’s the velvet true heart of folk song.
I thing The Watersons would agree that, properly speaking, the songs should not be presented by audiences sitting in rows, passively absorbing whatever the invited shining light has to offer. A club should be a free for all, an event to get everyone singing together. Given a chance, that would surely be The Watersons’ world.
So, Watersons all, you may not have received much in the way of decoration, but you have got something much better, the affection of us all. Today’s badge is something you can flash with pride. No-one in the Folk Song Revival has earned it better.