Wednesday, 15 October 2008

How to love a song

Stop what you're doing...whatever it is! Go and listen to Martin Simpson at his MySpace page, buy or somehow get hold of his latest CD 'Prodigal Son' and/or go and see him live (dates on the MySpace page). He played the folk club here in Montrose last night and he was...well...pick your favourite great adjective and insert it here...he was stupendous...he was magnificent...he was really, properly brilliant.

Phew. I feel a bit drained to be honest. I'll try and get myself together...

Martin Simpson has been around the folk scene in Britain for a good long while – he's played with a lot of the big names of folk (as big as folk names ever get anyway). He went to live in the States for a good long while New Orleans... and a few years ago he returned to Britain and he now lives in Yorkshire. We are very lucky to have him back because whilst Simpson has long had a reputation as one of the best folk guitarists around what is really special about him is that he is now also a great singer, a great songwriter and a great selector of other songs from many traditions too. Last night in little old Montrose (to a packed, delighted crowd of some 130 or so) he played English folk, Scottish folk, North American folk, blues, a Bob Dylan song, songs by other writers of the past few decades and also some of his own very, very, very fine songs. It all blended together perfectly. It was just a joy to watch someone pleasing a crowd so completely and for all the right reasons.

Did I say how good it was?

You know those nights when the music is SO good that you just want to fly away...or disintegrate...or possibly even throw yourself at the musician's feet? It was one of those nights. Amazing playing (Simpson isn't just one of the best folk guitarists – he is one of the best guitarists, full stop), beautiful, apparently effortless and natural singing, fascinating lyrics, spellbinding tunes. Honestly...I know I get a bit excited about music sometimes but really...go and see Simpson at one of his shows if you are anywhere near any of the venues. Sit near the front. Forget anything else is happening...anywhere.

Or find a recording of his show at the Folk Proms at the Albert Hall in London earlier this year (the concert also featured Bella Hardy and Bellowhead). In an interview as part of the BBC4 programme Simpson was interviewed and talked of his love of songs. “We're all in it ...for the songs,” said Simpson plainly. Those few words explained to me simply and clearly how I've ended up at this point in my life listening to so much folk music (I didn't grow up with it, we only started listening to it so much when we moved to Montrose in 2004 and started going to the Folk Club regularly). For me there is nothing (NOTHING!) like a good song - especially when it's sung and played well (and by that I really mean with energy, understanding and a love of the whole process) and no-one knows that better than someone like Simpson. He can play and sing so many good songs – songs that are new and songs that have huge complicated histories – it really is the best of being alive.

Maybe I should stop now. The dogs are looking every sense.

P.S. The title of this post comes from Simpson's own song 'Never Any Good' which he wrote about his father. It isn't on the MySpace but it is on the CD 'Prodigal Son'. It's from this verse (and I just copied this from a fan site thing so it's just got the punctuation they have put in)

“You showed me eyebright in the hedgerow,
speedwell and travellers joy.
You showed me how to use my eyes
When I was just a boy;
And you taught me how to love a song
And all you knew of nature's ways:
The greatest gifts I have ever known,
And I use them every day.”

You have to hear it!



Anonymous said...

I just had a listen... his picking is amazing! & I prefer his version of 'The House Carpenter' to Dylan's!

Thanks for the recommendation! x

Anonymous said...

What a review! You certainly made me stop in my tracks. Heading over to myspace now :-)

Rachel Fox said...

You're very welcome, Claire! We have been playing his cd 'Prodigal Son' loads since we got it a while came out in 2007. It gets better and better with every listen.

The first cd of his we got was 'The Definitive Collection' (a best of put out in 2004). That is great too...a fantastic version of 'Boots of Spanish Leather' amongst many other smashing sounds! I have to admit that in this case it was my other (in this case wiser) half who became a big fan first. He kept playing the cds and after a while I became a big fan too!

The fact that he was born in Scunthorpe just makes me like him even more. Having grown up in glamorous locations like Darlington and Middlesbrough myself I do like folks from the backwaters!

Hope you like him too, Joanna.

Rachel Fox said...

That's a bit confusing...Martin Simpson is from Scunthorpe... not my Beloved (he's from Leeds).

Rachel Fox said...

I sent the review to Martin's info email...partly to check about putting up the lyrics...and they have mentioned it on his website which is lovely. Apparently he really enjoyed himself last night too! Love times love (as I believe George Benson once sang).

Rachel Fox said...

Also I forgot to say he did one of my favourites from 'Prodigal Son' - his terrific version of Randy Newman's 'Louisiana 1927'. I know at least one Newman fan reads this blog!

Anonymous said...

Having been to the Montrose event last night i have to say that this man was out of this world where music and talent are concerned
An absolutely talented individual And his fingers on the chords made guitar playing look so easy and effortless. Wow! ive been playing his cd all day and love it tremendously the more i listen to it
Linn Garden

Anonymous said...

Yay Scunny lads!


The Weaver of Grass said...

If the song is half as good as that lovely lyric - love it. Wish I didn't have fairly acute hearing loss - it never sounds the same through a digital hearing aid.

Kat Mortensen said...

Rachel, I'm having trouble listening to his music on the MySpace page. My laptop is balking at downloads these days. Perhaps if I reboot.

I know what you mean though. Some songs just fill you up with so much emotion and response. I wonder did the classical musicians like Mozart evoke the same feeling in their audiences? Music truly is one of the greatest gifts we have.


Rachel Fox said...

Hi Linn - it was fantastic wasn't it? I pretty much always enjoy the club in some way or another but last night it was...something else!

Smithy - Scunny lads are indeed in the house (or something). Did I once go to a club in Scunthorpe with you? Or did I dream that? I think you were DJing.

Yes W of G - it is a great song. It is a very personal lyric and seeing him sing it live (about 10ft away) was...interesting to say the least. He's said on TV that it makes a lot of audience members cry and though I've never felt that way about it on the cd suddenly seeing him singing about his dysfunctional family so nakedly...I did feel differently. I didn't cry though - I was having too much of a great time!

Kat - I think they've just overhauled the music pages on myspace. Maybe even just close your browser and then open it again. Oh I hope I've used the right tech words knowledge is very thin!


Anonymous said...

Simpson is great. A true folk hero.

Anonymous said...

I'm off to listen too - if he's playing one of my favorite songs (Randy is in Dublin soon) then that's a really good start.

This is *seriously* good use of your blog - to rave about a great gig and give the guy a little well-deserved heat.

Nice one, you. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes...I think lately I haven't been listening to enough music! I don't know how it happened...

Anonymous said...

"Did I once go to a club in Scunthorpe with you? Or did I dream that? I think you were DJing."

Erm, can't remember that at all. Are you sure it was me? It must've been the Baths if it was .. oh no, I do remember.

Was it with the Microdot crew and an awful, painful embarrasment? And it wasn't at the Baths, it was at Scene 3! The shame!

Anyway, let's move on. That Martin Simpson is alright, isn't he?

Rachel Fox said...

Smithy - yes it was a big building with not many people in it. I think it was the Baths probably. Days of glory...

hope said...

It took me a while to get a chance to listen but it was worth the wait. There is some ol' Blue man in the south who is extremely proud of "Duncan and Bradley".

Can't talk...need to finish listening. :)

hope said...

"BLUES" man. I need a vacation.

Rachel Fox said...

I like the idea of an old blue man writing songs. A bit smurfy but interesting all the same.

Anonymous said...

After decades in the sidings, folk music is suddenly a mainline priority. Not before time, but I fear for the future of the 130-strong audience in the event of another major folk boom. One of the deep joys at present is the intimacy afforded by the small folk club and the ease of access it provides to world-class talents like Martin Simpson. Most would agree, I think, that Simpson stands at one corner of a square constituting the four most influential guitarists on the folk/acoustic scene. The other three must be Martin Carthy (, Bert Jansch ( and Nic Jones ( Happy listening!

Rachel Fox said...

I know what you mean Dick but there are so many good folk musicians about - young and old, famous and totally unknown - that I think there will be enough music to fill small and huge venues for a long while yet. A lot of the 'big names' like Simpson make sure they do still play smaller venues and this keeps the faithful happy (well, most of them...some of them never want to be happy I think). Plus it is such a huge genre - so much music, from so many places, so many styles and sounds that whilst some of it may be getting more media attention and bigger audiences there is other stuff that probably won't and will stay more underground (as we used to say of dance music). Simpson is just so very, very good that he is bound to appeal to a huge audience when people have access to his music...I don't know many music fans who wouldn't like at least some of what he does...but there are plenty of others with more limited appeal because of their sound or material or style.

Folk music in huge venues can be strange (in fact most music in huge venues can be stange - I'm not really a fan of huge concerts, never have been). I saw Kate Rusby in that huge concert hall in Glasgow and it was...well, not like being at the folk club, that's for sure. She is so popular (again because she is brilliant) that I have heard her say in interview that if she does smaller venues fans complain because not enough can get tickets. I still enjoyed seeing and hearing her in that venue but I don't think I'd go to the big venues too often. Just now and again.

Dave King said...

Yes, I think I do have to hear it - I almost can, just reading it from your blog. An inspired post.

Rachel Fox said...

I think you'll love his music, Dave. There is history, depth, understanding, quality, talent, warmth...all the things you admire, I think.

Rob said...

I'm not a huge folk fan, but I really enjoyed Martin Simpson's stuff at his site. He's a fantastic guitarist too. I'd definitely go to see him live.

I saw Martin Stephenson at a tiny venue in Edinburgh a couple of years ago. He said he much preferred playing the small venues and being to do exactly what he wants. When he was famous with The Daintees and packed in thousands of people in major venues, he felt really unhappy. His whole performance in this miniature pub basement was so exhuberant and he showed such amazing talent, my first thought afterwards was "Why is he not far bigger than most major stars, who have far less talent?" But then I checked myself and remembered that he was interested only in music and performing, not in the fame that attracts so many.

Rachel Fox said...

I don't think you need to be a folk fan to like Martin Simpson - he really could appeal to anyone who likes any music (almost).

I'm a fairly new folk fan really, as I said. I don't like all the folk music I've heard so far but then I'm not sure anyone can ever like all of a genre...that would be weird, wouldn't it? We've had some great musicians at the folk club in many different styles over the few years I've been going and people from all over the world. Martin Stephenson came not that long ago too - he was great, you're right, really original and interesting.

Rachel Fox said...

Forgot to say..I have heard of the Daintees but have never heard anything by them...they were big in the 80s I think (though still going according to web stuff). I really disliked a lot of 80s pop music (especially the mid 80s) so I spent a lot of that decade listening to music from other eras (like 60s and 70s soul) or from non-pop sources (Cuban protest singers...that kind of thing!). It really was a crap decade...the hairstyles, the clothes, some of the films...yuck, yuck, yuck.