Review: Martin Simpson at the National Centre For Early Music

6 Oct 2014 @ 8.17 pm
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Magical musical journey: Martin Simpson

  Martin Simpson
  National Centre for Early Music, York, Saturday, October 4

Martin Simpson took his enthusiastic audience in York on a magical musical journey from the Humber to the Mississippi via the plains of Waterloo and blood-soaked sands of the Dardenelles.

The 61-year-old is acknowledged by his peers to be one of the finest acoustic and slide guitarists in the music business; he is no slouch on the banjo either, as well as being an excellent singer.

His interpretations of British and American traditional songs are masterpieces of storytelling, while his song-writing has produced a string of musical pearls.

The master guitarist is equally at home playing old-time music, blues, a Dylan song, a Tom Waits cover, a classic ballad or one of his own compositions. And it’s no surprise that he has amassed more than 30 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominations during his distinguished career, more than any other performer.

Simpson kicked off with a raga-style tune on slide guitar followed by the Leadbelly classic In The Pines, complete with eerie sound textures.

After playing the Tom Waits song Hold On, he served up a musical interpretation of a poem by the late Cornish poet Charles Causley, which he dubbed “Morris Noir”.

He followed that with a broken-token ballad about one of Wellington’s redcoats testing, in a somewhat callous manner, the loyalty of his sweetheart after he had returned, surreptitiously, from the killing fields of Waterloo.

Simpson swept us into the present-day with Delta Dreams, which he composed after taking an epic Mississippi road trip with fellow musician Spencer Bohren in a 1955 Chevy Bel Air; he saw Bohren’s gas guzzler as a potent manifestation of the American Dream.

We then went back in time to the First World War with Jackie And Murphy, a Simpson composition that tells the heroic story of a stretcher-bearer who harnessed the muscle-power of a donkey to help him save the wounded of Gallipoli.

Simpson conjured up a superb version of Dylan’s Blind Willie McTell before taking us back to his childhood with a sparkling arrangement of the children’s hymn When A Knight Won His Spurs.

Never Any Good, his warts-and-all tribute to his late father who taught him how to love a song, was acclaimed by the audience as the classic it has quickly become.

Then Simpson swapped his acoustic guitar for a banjo to play Diamond Joe and some blistering tunes, including Don’t Put Your Banjo In The Shed Mr Waterson, which he wrote on the instrument given to him by the acclaimed and now much-lamented Hull folk singer Mike Waterson.

A suitable end to an excellent concert.