Hometown show is special for folk star

Martin Simpson
Martin Simpson
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The list of countries to influence Martin Simpson over his 40-plus year career reads like a world atlas index.

Yet the multi-award-winning folk guitarist is very much rooted in Sheffield.

And tonight, the folk impresario plays a sell-out show at The Greystones, bringing gems from his entire back catalogue to the stage.

But while he is settled in the Steel City, his repertoire is informed by a lifestyle almost as nomadic as the characters in his songs.

Simpson – originally from Scunthorpe – has lived in Indiana, New York, New Orleans, not to mention brief stints in other places.

And he has worked with musicians from India, China and the deep South.

However, while his sponge-like songwriting has soaked up all these influences, he says folk music has the power to transcend geography.

Martin, pictured below and right, says: “Folk and blues music is all about the human experience and that’s the case whether it’s a Scottish ballad or a blues song from the Deep South.”

Working with musicians from across the globe has fed into hiss artistic output, from Music of the Motherless Child, where he blended European and Chinese musical traditions , to Kambara Music in Native songs, in which he worked with Los Lobos violinist Viji Krishnan to create an album of Hindu songs.

He then released Righteousness and Humidity, an album influenced by music of the Deep South, which was nominated for a 2003 BBC Folk Award.

It was informed by life experience.

Martin says: “I was living in New Orleans for a while and it was fascinating.

“It was like living in the Caribbean, but also like being at one big party.”

However, while exotic, he says there are parallels between music of the Deep South and traditional English and Celtic folk.

“The American traditional music is a fusion of African American and British folk,” says Martin. “And the most fantastic things happen when cultures start absorbing and reabsorbing one another.”

His eyes were opened to the power of folk music as a small child, when he heard Paul Robeson’s Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.

“I was three or four when I heard Paul Robeson sing, and it made me sad, but in a way which I sort of enjoyed,” he says. “It was my introduction to the world of melancholia, and it made me want to make other people feel – that’s why I wanted to sing.”

“I’m not being supercilious or superior when I say this, but folk tends to be real.

“It tends to deal with the truth, it’s not someone sat in an office writing songs for titilation.”

There is no doubt that he is a prolific writer, but he takes it all in his stride.

“I don't kill myself over anything I do,” he says. “Projects drive you crazy and you end up being mad a lot of the time but it is what it is. And it’s bearable madness anyway.”

Among the hundreds of songs the 61-year-old has penned or recorded, there is one stand-out favourite – Never Any Good.

He says: “It's a song about my father who was 54 when I was born. My dad was born in 1899 and fought in World War One and Two.

“The song’s about the way he was regarded by other people, but also about what an amazing man he was.

“People always said things like ‘he was never any good with money’, yet he was incredible.

“The song is a warts-and-all song about him.”

And tonight, Martin is close to home again, with a sold-out show in Sheffield.

“This is home and it’s always special to play here,” he says.

Tickets sold out so quickly for the gig at The Greystones that he put on an extra date, last night.