Review: Martin Simpson – Pacific Road Arts Centre, Birkenhead – 06 Feb 2010
Posted on: Tuesday, Feb 9, 2010
Pacific Road Arts Centre, Birkenhead: 06.02.10
Having long been an admirer of his music, it was a pleasure to at last catch the very wonderful Martin Simpson in a live setting. This son of Scunthorpe, who has spent a long spell living in the USA, but is now back on these shores, is without doubt one of the most brilliant and talented acoustic guitar players we possess, and with a rich, folky voice, and a most appealing stage manner, with several lengthy stories and anecdotes to set the scene on the songs.
Over two hours at Pacific Road he entranced the audience with his superb guitar work – indeed, he has a tone and touch second to none – aided by quite magnificent sound, no mean achievement for a solo artiste in such a big room. In 2007 he released the critically acclaimed “Prodigal Son” album, winning best song at the Folk Awards for the touching ‘father and son’ song “Never Any Good” – his current release, “True Stories” has again reached the same high standards, and we were treated to a good selection from both releases.
Among his time in the USA were a three and a half year spell living in New Orleans, and he played a gorgeous version of Randy Newman’s timeless “Louisiana 1927” – a song about a great flood of that year, and very poignant after Hurricane Katrina; also the touching “An Englishman Abroad”, about an eccentric English actor named Henry, who lived by him in New Orleans. The traditional “Sir Patrick Spens”, which has scooped him an award in this year’s Folk Awards, was again, quite lovely.
One of the highlights of “True Stories” is the beautiful “One Day”, and as he explained it came about from a four line verse written by fellow guitar player Martin Taylor, after the tragic death of his son, Stewart. He asked Martin Simpson to finish it into a song. He based it on the gypsy tradition of burying a child with an acorn in each hand and the sight of twin oak trees – intensely moving indeed. The afore-mentioned “Never Any Good” evokes similar emotion, but this time on the relationship between himself and his late father – another song that pulls at the heart strings.
The blues and gospel feature in Simpson’s music, and he delivered a mesmerising “I Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes”, from the pen of Blind Willie Johnson – with his thrilling slide guitar work. Traditional English folk music becomes invigorated in his hands, and he paid tribute to Northumbrian shepherd and musician Will Atkinson, with the song of the same name, and also the dance tune “Kielder Scottische”.
A brace of demanded encores saw “The Sheffield Apprentice” – a British folk tune that had made it’s way over the sea to the USA, and the evergreen “Stagolee”, both performed on electric banjo, on which he is adept as on guitar, to bring a quite marvellous evening to an end. I would wholeheartedly recommend Martin Simpson to anyone who has not seen him – his mastery of the guitar and fine voice are a treat to behold, and after over thirty years making music, his success is well overdue.