Martin Simpson - Cambridge Folk Festival 2007

Martin Simpson - Cambridge Folk Festival 2007
Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
Martin Simpson performed two sets at the Cambridge Folk Festival 2007. He was joined by Danny Thompson on double bass and Andy Cutting on accordion. Kellie While(Bachelor's Hall) and Kate Rusby (Never Any Good) joined on backing vocals. Simpson, a regular performer in Cambridge at all the acoustic venues around the city, last performed at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2003 - the first time was 1976 when he was a mere lad of 23. He commented that a lot of history has passed during that time. We ended up homing in on the tragedy of war, something he is keenly aware of given that his father fought in the two World Wars of the last century.

You've now settled in Sheffield after living in the States for a long time. Your little girl, Molly, with Kit Bailey, was born two years ago. What's it like being a mature Dad?
My Dad was 54 when I was born and I was 52 when Molly came along. It's wonderful and yes, in a sense the parallels are there - between my upbringing and my life now. There are also differences because my life is frantically busy, and just at the moment - launching a CD and being here at this Festival, with Kit doing production management for the TV - we take turns in looking after little Molly.

Was this the event that inspired Never Any Good (tuning CGCGCD), the last song of your set on Main Stage 1?
Yes, this was for my father. He was born in 1899. He left school and went straight in to fight in the 1917 war. In his later years he fought in World War II. He was deeply affected by the wars even though he didn't talk about them. My mother used to say he was never any good, at earning or keeping money, hence the name of the song.

Perhaps he was never any good because he was shell-shocked?
He was so shell-shocked - who wouldn't be after two wars - it affected him all the time. I think he used to go fishing, walking and riding his motor-bike to get away from the horrors he'd witnessed, but also, it was how he appreciated life, and he tried to live it to the full. Not talking about the experience of war is not unusual for people who have been through these horrendous experiences. All they want to do is forget them. He also loved songs, and was a great singer. I guess he'd be 108 if he were alive today.

Bachelor's Hall (tuning G sus 4 = DGDGCD) the second song of your Main Stage l set - where did you find it?
It's based on Pretty Sarah, the American Appalachian lyric ballad, and re-written by Dick Connette who has a band in NYC called Last Forever. The recording of Pretty Sarah which this version is based on was recorded by John Cohen from the New Lost City Ramblers. He went to North Carolina in the late 60s and recorded someone called Caz Wallen singing Pretty Sarah. Dick Connette took that, re-wrote it, and it's now sung by Sonia Cohen, John Cohen's daughter, who sings with Dick's band. It's a great piece of work.

Is everything that you've performed today on your new album -- Prodigal Son?
No - Strange Affair by Richard Thompson is not on it, and neither is The Lakes of Pontchatrain (tuning = Open G Major). These are just songs I had to do. Pontchatrain is my bluegrass version of Paul Brady's arrangement. It's fun to do but I can't do the whole arrangement on my own; it requires other musicians to do the supporting lines, to help make the real bluegrass funky feel. Having Danny Thompson and Andy Cutting there meant I could give this a go.

You did two songs Louisiana 1927 (C Tuning = CGCFCD) and Duncan and Brady where in your introduction you talked about the Irish. I wasn't aware of the Irish being such a big part of life in the southern states in the 1860s...
People don't know about the Irish in the South. Thousands arrived after the famine to build the barricades or levies for New Orleans flood defence systems. So many of them died then from sheer heat exhaustion. There is a celtic cross in what's called the neutral ground or central median, in one of the big uptown areas of New Orleans. When you drive along, you see this big object and think what's that? - and it's a memorial to all the Irish who died there on the levies - over 10,000 of them.

And Duncan and Brady? (tuning - G sus 4 = DGDGCD)
The Irish went from being navvies to cops - particularly in the 1930s. Duncan and Brady is about a corrupt Irish cop. It's a cliché that's well known, but it's very true - Sergeant O'Houlihan - and in Duncan and Brady it's an Irish policeman picking on a Scottish bartender. Bad mistake I suspect!

What's happening now?
I go to Canada very early tomorrow morning to play some big festivals for two and half weeks, and then I'll be home - it'll be nice to be at home to spend time with Kit and Molly because it's been a hectic time launching "Prodigal Son". I'll be playing in Cambridge again as part of the autumn tour.

See you then, Martin!

TOPIC Records released Prodigal Son on Monday, 30 July the day following Martin playing at the Cambridge Folk Festival. TOPIC says: ‘With Prodigal Son Martin Simpson has made what is undoubtedly his finest recording to date. The album reflects the full breadth of his creativity, drawing on both British and American traditions as well as including several of his own outstanding compositions. Many of Martin's good friends and favourite artists appear with him on the album, including Jackson Browne, who adds a perfect harmony vocal to Martin's beautiful version of Randy Newman's Louisiana 1927. Kate Rusby and Kellie While sing sublime harmonies on two of the tracks, Never Any Good [Martin's song for his father] and Batchelor's Hall. The album is further enhanced by Danny Thompson on bass, Andy Cutting on accordion, Alistair Anderson on concertina and Northumbrian pipes and Barry Philips on cello.'

For more information about this CD visit:

Writer: Anne L Ryan
© 2007 Moving Tone Promotions Ltd.