‘He dazzled us with his dexterity, has music in his DNA’

20 Nov 2012 @ 9.59 pm
| Entertainment
"Performing is in his DNA": Martin Simpson at the Duchess. Photographs: David J Markham
Review: Martin Simpson
Venue: The Duchess, York, November 18



The Duchess in York has a reputation for hosting rock bands. When rock music and fashion collide with attitude – it can make the human spirit soar.

Martin Simpson is no rock and roller – he is a one man “folk” band. With understated elegance he hypnotises his willing audience with tales of human struggles and unrequited love – broken steel towns and ne’er do wells. It is a master class in capturing the gaze and attention of an audience by virtue of undeniable talent.

A long respected member of the folk community, he melds English folk with the sweet, yet haunting, slide guitar of the American Deep South. His music is the stuff that sustains the soul through bitterly cold winters and humid summer nights when sleep is hard to find.

He enters stage left – and begins a two-part performance that is intelligent, soulful and melodic. His fingerwork is impeccable, and tasteful harmonics wrap their arms around a crystal clear and confident sound.

The first song In The Pines is taken from his last album Purpose + Grace. Slide guitar at it’s best. The second is The Stranger Song written by Leonard Cohen.

The set is peppered with cover songs by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and even Randy Newman. They counter balance perfectly his own songs and traditional ballads. He speaks with wit and charm between each song and it is this narrative – that guides us like an atlas – through nearly 40 years in the recording studio and on the road. It’s fascinating.

I was lucky enough to spend some time with him during the interval back stage. He was funny and informative. He made me feel welcome and was excited for the future. This is a man who has found his true vocation in life.

He’s excited about his next album, about his hook up with Paul Reed Smith Guitars and I get the feeling he’s excited about going out for the next part of the show too. Writing, singing, playing the guitar and performing are in his DNA.

He came back for the second part of the show and weaved his way through the remainder of the set – taking in an intense Brothers Under The Bridge and an oft-played June Tabor song. He also played his self-confessed biggest hit Never Any Good, a fine song that won best original song at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards of the Year 2008.

During the last two songs of the set he donned a banjo and once again dazzled the audience with his dexterity. The trick is to make the complex appear effortless. He is a master at it. He returned to play only one song for the encore. He leaves us wanting more.

My instrument of choice is the bass, although I have played a 6 string too. Tonight I think I will dust down my Guild guitar again. Martin Simpson can never be emulated but he is truly inspirational.

Can there ever be a finer emotion for a musician than to inspre a fellow human being to pick up an instrument? Well if Mr Simpson achieved nothing else tonight, he made my spirit soar and that ol’ Guild guitar will be seeing the light of day for sure.

Let it rock Martin Simpson…