Saturday, 21 May 2016

Stephen Simmons - House Concert, Staffordshire

The location evolution may have been from house to garden, but the return of Stephen Simmons to a makeshift live venue in Staffordshire was still equipped with a generous offering of highly crafted songs. This visit saw Stephen in solo mode in contrast to last year when the Nashville based singer-songwriter was accompanied by Molly Jewell on keyboards. However the underlying depth and appeal of his songs remained intact as the evening panned out to be a revealing affair on the thoughts, musings and influences of a performer steeped in the art of the original song.

The inevitable arrival of late spring UK rain did nothing to dampen this outdoor gathering securely sheltered under the haven of temporary canvas. There was even a hint of rhythmic rain as Stephen meandered through pieces from his extensive back catalogue which will shortly be added to later this year. As usual with a Stephen Simmons show, there is no holding back on the engaging and affable chat which goes a long way to revealing the inner psyche of a singer-songwriter. The polite southern persona adds a cultured edge to the proceedings which periodically digressed to celebrating the works of the greats – Springsteen, Young, Clark, Williams and Browne. Yet the crux of the evening was the continual flow of self-penned efforts.

Country music is in the DNA of Stephen, born, bred and still resident in Tennessee. However the only trend Stephen chases is in pursuit of the ultimate song. This places him on the folk side of the country genre, and although circumstances dictate that we don’t see his band in the UK, you can quite envisage them rocking a joint in line with some of Stephen’s influences.

As indicated previously, a brand new album is in the can itching for a release and hopefully the extensive European wing of the Stephen Simmons appreciation society will get the opportunity to grab a copy when he plans to return to the region later in the year. One new song previewed during this show was ‘Colours Fade’ following some interesting and honest comment on the presence and significance of flags, especially in Stephen’s homeland ‘South’.

Politics, family influence and climate variations remained the theme of the evening as song after song was shared with an appreciative gathering – many familiar with Stephen’s work following multiple visits to this part of the UK. His style fits in well with the burgeoning home concert market, an important innovative development in the model of modern indie-artist survival. Among the sprinkling of covers played, Springsteen’s ‘Tougher Than the Rest’ went down well, but I’m afraid from a personal perspective was second best to an absolute gem of a version of the Hank Williams classic ‘Wedding Bells’.

Highlights from the deliverance of well over twenty songs were spread across the pair of sets, starting with the opener ‘Parchcorn Falls’ and further exemplified by 'Spark', ‘Emily’s Eyes’, ‘Asheville Girl’, ‘Spinner of Tales’ and ‘Limavady Blues’. The latter had an appendix to the well told story of waking up in the wrong Irish hotel room and generally the inter-song chat was not littered with repeats that can be the trait of some long term visiting singer-songwriters.

This spring UK trip may have taken on an interim status, but the opportunity to submerge your senses in the live presence of Stephen Simmons’ music was an evening well spent. There was even a moment where you could have captured the very essence of the mystique surrounding a talented singer-songwriter. This, in a nutshell, brought a slice of the ‘South’ to a garden location in rural Staffordshire. 

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