NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

“The Men were up from Kent, and out of Essex too – Though naught but the Thames divides us and unites us onwards – Through all the villages of England and on to London town”. Well maybe not quite the “Wat Tyler” rallying cry (by way of Fairport Convention) … However … Paul Johnson was coming from Kent and I from Hampshire to see Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds launch Singing It All Back Home at Cecil Sharp House in North London on Wednesday 5 June and it felt like a traditional folk and Appalachian call to arms.

Many will know Naomi Bedford, but for those that have not made her acquaintance yet, she is an English roots singer that was introduced to the wider world in 2001 after a guest appearance on later with Jools Holland with the band Orbital. Justin Currie from Del Amitri describes Naomi as “An English Emmylou” and Shirley Collins as “A favourite voice of mine… I love to hear her sing”.

Naomi Bedford’s official debut album, Tales From the Weeping Willow was released in 2011 and featured guest contributions from Paul Heaton, Justin Currie, Alasdair Roberts and Paul Simmonds (from The Men They Couldn’t Hang). A History of Insolence (reviewed here – https://wp.me/p5SuEn-4eU) followed in 2014 which picked up a Radio 2 Folk Award nomination in the Best Original Song category (alongside her musical partner Paul Simmonds), for The Spider and the Wolf. This was then followed by Songs My Ruiner Gave to Me (reviewed here – https://wp.me/p5SuEn-aGQ) in 2017 which added Paul Simmonds name officially to the album title.

However, the concert was all about the new album Singing It All Back Home, as indeed was the first half of the show. You could tell it was going to be a special night as the musicians joining Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds incorporated the national guitar, banjo and mandolin wizardry of Ben Walker (who also produced the album), the 12-string guitar and backing vocals of Richard Leo, the stunning harmonies of Donna Edmead and the bass of Rhys Lovell.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

I Must And Will Be Married kicked things off with some great stage banter on the songs content preceding it. I was also filming and taking photos throughout the performance, so I’m not sure of the exact running order but feel confident that A Rich Irish Lady (learnt from Naomi’s mother from the Hedy West version), Hangman and The Rebel Soldier were all in the first set. Hangman had its roots in the Jean Ritchie and Peggy Seeger version with a nod towards the folk/country/rock versions of Gallows Pole. The Rebel Soldier closed the first set and that wonderful moment was captured in my video below.

In the second set, the Hedy West theme continued (one of Bedford’s seminal influences) with The Sheffield Apprentice, again from the new record. The harmonies throughout the night were really amazing with songs like Hands On The Plough and Who’s That Knocking (again from the new album) benefitting from the full 4 part harmony with Bedford, Simmonds, Edmead and Leo.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

In traditional territory, but closer to home came Gypsy Davy (from the album A History of Insolence: Songs of Freedom, Dissent & Strife), with a vocal delivery approach from Bedford that was very much on the other side of the Atlantic, drawing on Jean Ritchie (Naomi’s favourite version) and the Tom Paley and Peggy Seeger version to produce a mashed up version of the two with the sentiment of Woody Guthrie.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

The second set also included the chilling The Cruel Mother, this version set in New York to accommodate the arrangement from the album Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me. They closed with Railroad Bill from the album Tales from the Weeping Willow from 2011.

A great night, that breathed new life into their collected versions of Appalachian songs that had very much been rooted in the heart of the English and Scottish song tradition. Cecil Sharp House was the perfect place to launch the album.

Paul Johnson and I caught up with Naomi and Paul after the show. Click the play button below to listen to the interview.

Darren Beech

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NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me (Dusty Willow DWR004)

Songs My Ruiner Gave To MeConcerning Love, Madness & Obsession” is what is says.  I’m never sure what to expect from Naomi Bedford but I’m not sure that this was it. Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me sort of picks up on Tales From The Weeping Willow except that it’s more Americana, verging on C&W. I confess that I listened to it three times through before I even felt able to venture an opinion.

The first track, ‘We’ve Hardly Started Yet’ is pure country. I’m guessing that it’s about two people in the prime of middle life rejoicing that they still have lots to look forward to. Probably autobiographical, then. ‘Misty, Golden Road’ picks up on the same theme, this time reflecting on the places they’ve been and the things they’ve done and featuring Ben Walker’s banjo. Then comes ‘The Cruel Mother’, located in New York to accommodate the arrangement. It seems oddly placed given that it’s followed by ‘The Still Want You Blues’ with Andy Summers’ slide guitar. Things get even stranger, now. Percy Bysshe Shelley could never have imagined ‘Young Parson Richards’ sounding like this. It’s not the most pleasant poem but it takes Gerry Diver – who else – to really bring out the oddness in it. This track also supplies the album’s title.

Paul Simmonds wrote six of the songs here but mostly takes a back seat to Naomi when it comes to lead vocals. An exception is ‘Ballad Of A Self Made Man’, which Paul might have considered for The Men They Couldn’t Hang but it isn’t really them although it does have the political edge of their best work. ‘Ramshackle House’ revisits and updates ‘Misty, Golden Road’ then it’s Naomi’s turn with ‘I Hate You’, reminiscent of ‘Positively 4th Street’ but with rather more empathy.

Finally, Paul’s ‘Better Than The Best’ is a sort of song of praise to his partner, Naomi. I’ve omitted mention of a couple of titles, mainly because I’m still figuring them out but Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me is an album that I’ve really enjoyed getting to grips with.

Dai Jeffries

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‘The Still Want You Blues’ – live: