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:

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

MARTIN GREEN – Flit (Reveal Records, REVEAL062CDX)

flitGreen, you may be aware, is the accordionist and electronic experimentalist with Lau, and his new solo album, Flit, is no less an inventive, boundary-pushing affair that, inspired by accounts of human movement across the globe, focuses on the zeitgeist folk scene theme of migration. As the title suggests it’s a restless piece of work, one for which he’s called on the vocal talents of Becky Unthank, John Smith and Adam Holmes as well as Mogwai’s Dominic Aitchison on bass and Adrian Utley from Portishead providing guitars, bass, synths and percussion. Green’s also collaborated on the material, co-writing with Karine Polwart, Anais Mitchell, Sandy Wright and Falkirk-born former Arab Strap founder, Aidan Moffat.

It’s the latter who opens proceedings, speaking his own words on the scratchy, pulsing ‘The Living Wind’ , a narrative essentially about the colonialist destruction and displacement of indigenous peoples, before the first of four Polwart numbers, the brooding, atmospherically ominous ‘Strange Sky’, breathily sung by Unthank, with its sudden sonic storms. By contrast, the second Polwart collaboration, ‘Wrackline’, is a sparse and ghostly thing, ebbing and flowing like the waves washing up on the shore that it references, gathering midway into a tribal clatter that gradually slows before a hushed close.

Sandwiched between the Polwart tracks is ‘Roll Away’, Holmes’ deep voice wrapping itself around Mitchell’s lyrics about being transported far away from home across the ocean, inspired by the story of his grandfather and grandmother, and a folksy melody that vaguely recalls ‘Shenandoah’. The Polwart/Green material returns with ‘The Suitcase’, electronic effects backdropping Moffat’s spoken introduction about the narrator’s memories of his father (‘respect money, money keeps you safe, he told me once, as if to explain a decade and a half of absence….he was alone, even with us’) before a resonant pulsing bass note takes over along with a duet by Unthank and Holmes. ‘Laws Of Motion’ again strikes a contrast, returning to more familiar folk strains, sung by Holmes accompanied by a resonant circling bassline. The only track to which lyrics are printed on the insert, it specifically references the migrant crisis with lines about being “cast adrift on open seas” and “searchlights at the tunnel gate, barbed wire at the harbour. Restless men and women blow like sands across the border”.

‘Clang Song’ and ‘Smallest Plant’ are solely written by Green, the former a collage of seething, dark electronics and the latter, featuring him on accordion with sonorous and disorienting synth noises, a more mournful traditional folk lament duetted by Unthank and Holmes. Finally, with words by Wright, a brooding repeated guitar line from Utley and Devonian folkie John Smith on vocals, ‘The Singing Sands’, the shortest track at under three minutes, is a spectral, minimalist sketch of loss and ‘the mocking waves’.

Immediate and accessible it most certainly is not, but, while it may be challenging, if you open yourself to experience it, it’s a hauntingly powerful piece of work.

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 MARTIN GREEN – Flit 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]

ORDER – [VINYL]

Artist’s website: http://www.martingreenmusic.co.uk/

‘Strange Sky’ – official video:

THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION out now

LizSessionFeaturing Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Bella Hardy, Jim Moray, John Smith, Hannah James, Rachel Newton & Emily Askew

This 14 track CD showcases the multi-artist commission from Folk by the Oak and the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) inspired by the music, the people, the myths and the stories of the Elizabethan age.

From John Smith’s darkly brooding track ‘London’ reflecting on life as a peasant in Elizabethan England to Nancy Kerr’s deeply moving ‘Shores of Hispaniola’ examining the era’s slave trade; The Elizabethan Session is a ground breaking album of exceptional new music that beautifully conjures up the spirit of the age. It reflects the collective talent of some of the cream of the contemporary folk world, who lived and worked together for five days in March 2014, absorbing the spirit of the era and translating it into outstanding new music. Continue reading THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION out now

THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION – The Elizabethan Session (Quercus Records QUERCUS001)

LizSessionThere is an assumption common in some quarters that history is all about the past”, says Dr Ian Mortimer in his sleeve note. “In reality, history is about you and me.” That view was certainly taken on board by the “folk supergroup” (Dr Mortimer again) who were locked up at Monnington House until they had written an album. In this case the gaolers were The English Folk Dance And Song Society and Folk By The Oak.

This is a sometimes revisionist view of the first Elizabethan era sometimes applying 21st century values to 16th century events. I’m no historian and cannot comment on the accuracy of the songs in The Elizabethan Session but I can’t help feeling that few songwriters would have penned ‘The Oak Casts His Shadow’ or felt the need to. That it was Nancy Kerr who did so shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise and she almost immediately has a sly dig at Richard III – or at least the Tudor propaganda version – in ‘Suspicious Mind’ written with John Smith. Nancy also opens the proceedings with ‘The Shores Of Hispaniola’, a brilliant song which considers the slave trade from the point of view of a woman left behind, presumably in West Africa. You might get the impression that Gloriana doesn’t figure as a feminist role model for her.

The Elizabethan Session @ Folk By the Oak in 2014
The Elizabethan Session @ Folk By the Oak in 2014

The song that perhaps best encapsulates Mortimer’s dictum is ‘Hatfield’. Bella Hardy begins from a childhood memory of her sister playing Elizabeth at the house to consider the queen’s troubled childhood. For the most part, however, the view is that of the underdog. Martin Simpson contributes a short, bitter song on the death of Kit Marlowe – Shakespeare doesn’t get look-in – and the countryman in John Smith’s ‘London’ dreams of the great city and wishes for a better life. Continue reading THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION – The Elizabethan Session (Quercus Records QUERCUS001)

John Smith and his third studio album Great Lakes plus the new track Master Kilby

John Smith_credit_Warren_Orchard_Guitarist and songwriter John Smith has had a busy year on the back of his sparsely beautiful third studio album Great Lakes (released earlier this year).

Smith recently headlined a sold-out show in the UK at London’s Union Chapel  and has previously played alongside Iron & Wine, Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker and Eliza Carthy on the acclaimed Bright Phoebus Revisited tour.

Smith recorded the previously unheard track below to promote that last tour. Unfortunately we didn’t get to the tour dates in time to let you know about them but we were so impressed by John’s take on the traditional folk song ‘Master Kilby’ that we felt me had to share it with you. Continue reading John Smith and his third studio album Great Lakes plus the new track Master Kilby