MARTIN SIMPSON – Trails & Tribulations (Topic TSCD593)

Trails & TribulationsMartin Simpson never disappoints, whether live or on record, but rarely does he surprise. Rather he evolves over time and emerges with something new and different as he has here. Trails & Tribulations is his 20th solo album in a career going back to the early seventies. You sort of know what to expect – Martin is equally drawn to the English and American traditions; he will have borrowed a song or two and written a couple more; there will be a variety of guitars plus banjo and ukulele and it will probably all come together with a fine group of musicians supporting him. And, of course, you’ll be absolutely right.

What’s new is a richness to the music which I suspect comes from working with The Full English and Simpson Cutting Kerr. Both Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr feature here as does percussionist Toby Kearney, guitarist John Smith, Ben Nicholls on bass and Martin’s daughter Molly on vocals. Toby is generally restrained but the percussion is more noticeable than I remember. Take the first track, Jackson C Frank’s ‘Blues Run The Game’. It’s a short song but Martin takes his time over it, warming up his fingers as he does on stage as the introduction emerges. Bass and percussion provide an unobtrusive foundation and Martin tops everything off with Weissenborn decoration. Next is Emily Portman’s ‘Bones And Feathers’, which he has been singing for a year or so now, and which features banjo – not one of Emily’s chosen instruments. Martin owns it now.

From the Americas we have ‘Thomas Drew’, which would appear to be a distant cousin of ‘John Hardy’, ‘East Kentucky’ and ‘St. James Hospital’ but the first two are written by Martin and perfectly match the period feel – he had me fooled. From the English tradition come ‘Rufford Park Poachers’ and ‘Reynardine’. That leaves four others. Charles Causley’s ‘A Ballad For Katherine Of Aragon’ – music by Alex Atterson – has also been in Martin’s live repertoire for a while and it sounds like a song he would have written if someone hadn’t already done so. ‘Maps’, ‘Jasper’s/Dancing Shoes’ and Ridgeway are three more of Martin’s songs, continuing the semi-autobiographical style that began with ‘Never Any Good’.

Trails & Tribulations will be available in multiple formats including a deluxe double CD with six extra tracks including my all-time Simpson favourite, ‘Joshua Gone Barbados’. I’m holding out for that!

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the MARTIN SIMPSON link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.martinsimpson.com/

‘Blues Run The Game’ – live:

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Martin Simpson announces his 20th solo album

Martin Simpson
Photograph by Elly Lucas

World renowned guitarist, singer and songwriter Martin Simpson releases his 20th solo album in 40 years Trails & Tribulations on September 1st 2017 via Topic Records. The brand-new studio album, his first new solo work since 2013’s widely praised Vagrant Stanzas, will be available in standard and deluxe CD, digital download and standard vinyl (the latter through Vinyl 180).


Trails & Tribulations
is a collection of songs about nature, about travels and about real life stories. There are traditional songs, poems and contemporary songs by great writers, and songs that I had to write because nobody else knew what I wanted to say. I travel, I learn songs, I write and try to get better at the skills required for me to do my job. I look at the world as I pass by, on the road, out of the train window, or as I stop and pay close attention to the square foot under my nose. There is so much to see and to hear and to inspire and to try and understand. I had a huge amount of fun playing and recording these songs, using different instruments, different noises, old friends and new ones, all of whom brought so much to the mix. Martin Simpson, April 2017.

Produced and engineered by Andy Bell, Trails & Tribulations features some of Martin’s most inventive playing yet, showcasing his virtuosity on a variety of instruments including acoustic guitars, resonator guitars, Weissenborn lap steel guitar, electric guitars, 5 string banjo, ukulele – and voice.

Guest musicians on the new album are: Ben Nicholls (string bass and electric bass guitars), Toby Kearney (drums and percussion), Nancy Kerr (fiddle and viola), Andy Cutting (diatonic accordion and melodeon), John Smith (electric guitar and backing vocals), Helen Bell (strings), Amy Newhouse-Smith (backing vocals) and his daughter Molly Simpson on vocals.

Martin will tour extensively this year, including a headline set at Cambridge Folk Festival in the summer and London’s Kings Place in autumn, following the release of Trails & Tribulations.

Hand in hand with his long and storied solo career, Martin has been central to seminal collaborations like The Full English, The Elizabethan Sessions and Simpson Cutting Kerr. He has worked with a dazzling array of artists from across the musical spectrum: Jackson Browne, Martin Taylor, June Tabor, Richard Hawley, Bonnie Raitt, Danny Thompson, David Hidalgo, Danú, Richard Thompson and Dom Flemons, to mention a few. He is consistently named as one of the very finest acoustic, fingerstyle and slide guitar players in the world and is the most nominated musician in the history of the BBC Folk Awards, with a remarkable 31 nods. A true master of his art.

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Martin Simpson – Trails & Tribulation link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.martinsimpson.com/

‘Blues Run The Game’ – audio stream:

FAY HIELD live at the West End Centre, Aldershot

31st March 2017

Fay Hield live
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party started their spring tour at a brisk pace – seventeen songs, including two encores, in a tight ninety minutes. I can imagine there being a bit of tension in this situation particular as Fay announced that ‘Fair Margaret And Sweet William’ had been arranged by Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and herself only that afternoon. We probably wouldn’t have known if nothing had been said but it is rather impressive to write an arrangement and play it from memory a few hours later. Still, I do think they need to relax a bit.

Fay began, as his her custom, with ‘Willow Glen’ accompanied only by Harbron. The rest of the band appeared (Ben Nicholls being fashionably late) for the unusually jolly ‘Tarry Trousers’ and ‘The Weaver’s Daughter’. Fay did promise us a fair share of misery later and had also promised that she would bring her banjo on this tour. She was as good as word and proved to be a melodic player in what I suppose we must call the English style.

After ‘Old Adam’ it got an outing on ‘The Old Grey Goose Is Dead’ with a new sombre tune. I suppose that it’s a generational thing but Fay was surprised to learn that most of us knew it from childhood as ‘Aunt Nancy’ or ‘Aunt Rhody’ and I was surprised to learn that she didn’t. The geese got another name check in ‘The Grey Goose And The Gander’ and the first set closed with ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’.

The second half began in upbeat fashion with ‘Pretty Nancy Of Yarmouth’ and got back to the misery with ‘Green Gravel’ and the aforementioned ‘Lady Margaret’. The band took its turn with a version of ‘Bold Princess Royal’ before ‘Go From My Window’ with Roger Wilson handling second vocal and Sweeney switching to nyckelharpa. ‘The Lover’s Ghost’ made a suitably mournful closer.

The first encore saw Fay solo and unaccompanied with ‘Young Maid Cut Down In Her Prime’ with the Hurricane Party returning for ‘Long Time Ago’. The music was as splendid as ever and sometimes us oldies like to get home at a decent time but please guys, slow things down a bit.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.fayhield.com

‘Raggle Taggle Gyspy’ live:

Fay Hield talks to Folking about touring, banjos and working in the shed

Fay Hield
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Last year Fay Hield took her Hurricane Party on tour to promote her new album, Old Adam. They are on the road again soon so I had to ask if there was anything particularly significant about this tour.

“I’m hoping to bring my banjo along, actually.” I had to ask! “You’re the first person I’ve mentioned this to; not even the band yet. I’m hoping to do one solo, just me and the banjo and I’ll be bringing some older material back. There will be lots of Old Adam but lots of other things as well.”

The Hurricane Party will feature one line-up change. “The drummer will be Andy Tween because my regular drummer [Toby Kearney] is part of the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra and he couldn’t get time off. So it’s Sam Sweeney. Rob Harbron, Ben Nicholls, Roger Wilson and Andy. He teaches at Wells Cathedral School and he’s great.”

As well as being an outstanding performer, Fay is also a distinguished academic combining her singing with teaching, writing and research which may explain why she works in a shed at the bottom of the garden away from domestic distractions.

“My Ph.D was about the folk scene and folk-singing communities and how they function – and why they’re brilliant because I was born and brought up into it. My family is the folk scene and I love it and get so much out of it. It’s what I like to do and it’s what I want to bring my kids up in and feel comfortable with. I wanted to understand why it’s so brilliant and yet why is everybody worrying about it dying out; why do people find it difficult to get in; why does it have a reputation for being a bit cliquey and how has that happened?

“My research is certainly not negative in trying to find all the badness in it and why it doesn’t work because it really does work for a lot of people. I’ve been working a bit on how audiences listen to folk music and I’m building that up into a book at the moment.”

Fay lectures in music management and ethno-musicology. “I love teaching. I cover all sorts of genres and parts of the world and it’s more about method and how to study music rather than standing there in front of a score.”

As a life-long devotee of folk music I still find it difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t get it what the appeal is. What does the expert think?

“Something in the songs catches me. Some songs you just think, ‘wow, that’s amazing’ and some songs you just have to sing over half a dozen times until you get inside it and then it doesn’t leave you alone. I find them very powerful, you build a bit of a relationship with them and you understand them – and you understand a bit about yourself because of how you understand them.”

And what about the melodies? To me, they just feel right, somehow. “A lot of people get very excited about modal tunes but a lot of them are straight major and the minor sometimes goes into Dorian. If I write a tune myself – I’m not a classically trained musician so I don’t really think in terms of major and minor – it doesn’t come out straight. It’s often pentatonic in a weird kind of way or there is something there. I do love that colour note stuff or when a melody drops and the bottom note is never the tonic, it goes to something a bit random but it fits.

“In classical music, if you put in a modal note it just feels a bit stuck in there but in this kind of music the tunes are so organic so they settle and fit – colourful but not in a dramatic way. People sing or play the tunes in a way that makes sense to them and rounds off the corners in different ways for different people so, yes, they do feel right.”

I’m not sure if any of that will help me. Perhaps I’ll just stick to ‘wow, that’s amazing’.

Artist’s website: http://www.fayhield.com/

‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ live:

Tour Dates

Friday 31 March                West End Centre, Aldershot
Saturday 1 April                Theatre Chipping Norton
Sunday 2 April                   The Stables, Milton Keynes
Monday 3 April                  Red Lion, Birmingham
Tuesday 4 April                 The Lights, Andover

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Fay Hield link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

GEOFF LAKEMAN – After All These Years (own label GLAK-01)

After All These YearsGeoff Lakeman isn’t quite as famous as his sons but he is a much regarded singer and songwriter, particularly in the West Country. At 69 Geoff has finally succumbed to the temptation to record an album, After All These Years, produced by son Sean. Geoff usually performs solo with concertina but with friends and family like his it must have been impossible to resist getting them on board, although the contributions of Jim Causley, Cara Dillon, Kathryn Roberts, Sam Kelly, Ben Nicholls, Jamie Francis, Seth Lakeman and Nic Jones are commendably restrained except when it comes to choruses. Geoff himself has the voice of, if not a young man, then a young man who has seen a bit of life – strong and characterful.

If you were a folk club regular in the sixties and seventies you will be entirely at home with this set. Not that Geoff is locked in the past as his cover of Reg Meuross’ ‘England Green & England Grey’ proves but the mix of material is such that if you don’t care for a particular song you’ll like the next one.

The set opens with ‘The Farmer’s Song’. It was written by Roger Bryant but easily could be one of Geoff’s as he demonstrates with the next track, ‘Tie ’Em Up’. Both are about the decline of traditional rural industries and while both writers were preoccupied with the plight of Devon and Cornwall the same stories are true all around the country. ‘Rule And Rant’ is a bit of obscure Cornish history involving an ingenious mine rescue. The traditional songs include ‘Ye Lovers All’, a song of romantic teasing from Ulster, the well-known ‘Jim Jones’ and ‘The Green Cockade’ a Cornish version of the song that may have arrived from Ireland and ‘Bonny Irish Maid’ – there’s a pattern developing here.

There are a couple of oddities. The first is the original version of ‘Galway Bay’ – not that song and certainly not the celebrated parody (I confess that I was rather hoping for that) – and the closing ‘Doggie Song’. This is the sort of encore that you’ll still find in folk clubs and probably means a lot more in Cornwall but is best not recorded. That aside, this is a splendid album to unwind with, think about and sing along to.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the GEOFF LAKEMAN – After All These Years link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.geofflakeman.co.uk

‘Tie ‘Em Up’ – live:

CARA DILLON – Upon A Winter’s Night (Charcoal CHARCCD008)

upon a winter's nightIn the absence this year of a new Kate Rusby festive collection for folk fans to warm their chilly cockles, Cara Dillon, aided and abetted by husband, musical partner and producer Sam Lakeman, steps up to the seasonal plate for her first Christmas offering, Upon A Winter’s Night, an 11-string stockingsworth of traditional nuggets, hymns and originals.

It’s one of the latter, the title track, written by Sam and Noah Lakeman, that kicks things off, a jaunty Nativity scene setter that also features Uilleann pipes, Luke Daniels on accordion and Kathryn Roberts on backing vocals. There’s three other originals, Cara and Sam providing the piano backed ‘Standing By My Christmas Tree’ with its interpolation of ‘Silent Night’ and bells-pealing keyboard notes as well as the simply arranged lullaby closer ‘Mother Mary’, he on acoustic guitar and she joined on vocals in the final refrains by a family affair of Colm, Noah and Elizabeth Lakeman. The third is Sam’s own instrumental contribution, a lively woodland romp with ‘The Huntsman’, again featuring Jarlath Henderson on Uilleann pipes and Daniels on accordion alongside fiddle from Niall Murphy and James Fagan’s bouzouki with Ben Nicholls providing stalwart bass.

The other numbers are the couple’s arrangements of, by and large, very familiar seasonal tunes, first up, introduced by Murphy’s fiddle sounding like a hunting horn, being a traditional folk-sounding reading of ‘The Wexford Carol’ that gathers to fulsome fiddle finale. Rather less known, based on a traditional Polish carol, ‘Infant Holy, Infant Lowly’ is another lowing lullaby and introduces John Smith on guitar. Considerably better known is the evergreen ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, here taken at a swayalong tempo on the back of fiddle, pipes and accordion and featuring guest viocals from both Roberts and Sam’s father, Geoff.

By contrast, while often given a rousing chorus flourish, here ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ is an altogether more contemplative affair etched out by just her voice and Sam’s piano, a fine companion piece to the wholly a capella ‘O Holy Night’, Adolphe Adams’ 19th century setting and translation of a French poem (Midnight Christians) on which she duets with older sister Mary, their version joining a list that includes Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Bing Crosby and, more recently, Ellie Goulding.

This is, in turn, followed by another breath of fresh winter air with ‘Mary Bore A Son To God’, one of the earliest known Irish language carols and sung here in the original Gaelic (‘Rug Muire Mac Do Dhia’),a slightly softer reading than that previously done by Horslips with Henderson’s Wilson taking the fiddle parts.

Finally, once whisperingly recorded by Bono, there’s another traditional Irish carol, ‘The Darkest Midnight’, which taken from the Kilmore Carols collection of South Wexford (albeit a trimmed down version) is again arranged for just her voice and Sam’s acoustic guitar and piano, another lovely grace note to a collection that very much has its mind set on celebrating the real meaning of Christmas. A touch more contemplative than Rusby’s South Yorkshire offerings perhaps, but likely to prove an equally enduring bauble on folk’s festive fir.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the CARA DILLON – Upon A Winter’s Night link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.caradillon.co.uk