ONE BLOKE ONE MANDOLIN – Fair Travels & Fine Times (Mind If I Play Records MI-IPR-2148)

Fair TravelsOne Bloke One Mandolin is better known to his friends as Stevie Simpson. He’s a much-travelled veteran who exists under the radar as far as too many people are concerned and he’s still paying his dues. That can’t be right. Fair Travels & Fine Times is something like his sixth album and it’s a fine piece of work. Live, he lives up to his pseudonym although it’s actually a mandola, the better to make an impact on a bar full of noisy drinkers.

Many of Stevie’s songs come from his life and travels. Take ‘The Lure Of The Road’ – Stevie is a biker and lives in a trailer and the song is a surprisingly tender acknowledgement of the freedom that he enjoys and echoed in the title track. I’m not sure how autobiographical ‘I Don’t Drink These Days Like I Used To’ really is – he was on diet Coke the last time I saw him – but it’s a great song. His style is Americana which makes him welcome just about everywhere with the exception of one town in Germany as chronicled in ‘I’ll Just Call You Clint’, which is very nearly a misprint. ‘(Still) Too Poor For Trailer Trash’ is a revisiting of one of his early songs so I guess Stevie is staying true to his roots.

The other strand of Stevie’s songwriting is history and he is obviously very well-read. The first track, ‘Sweet Dark Wave’ tells the story of the Boston Molasses Disaster and no, I hadn’t heard of it until today either. Back in 1919, a storage tank exploded and two million gallons of molasses flooded downtown Boston killing eleven people. Locals claim that, on a hot summer day, you can still smell molasses but I have to ask how you even find out about something like that. He’s less specific about the origin of ‘One Night In Old Detroit’ but it feels like it’s based on truth and ‘The Arctic Convoy’ certainly is.

Stevie is the sort of guy who knows everyone. On Fair Travels & Fine Times you’ll find Jim Bennion and Jono Watts from Leatherat, Tracey Browne and guitarist Steph Hoy and if you think that ‘A Temporary Boatman’ is evocative of another song, you’re right. He always adds a hidden track on the end of his albums and here it’s the Levellers’ ‘Red Sun Burns’. Sadly, he’s not allowed to record his version of ‘Ernie’!

Chances are you’ve never heard Stevie and I urge you to rectify that. This album is the perfect place to start.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘The Bosun’ live: