Thursday, 11 December 2014

Martin Simpson - Red Lion Folk Club, Kings Heath, Birmingham Wednesday 10th December 2014

Spend a couple of hours at a Martin Simpson show and coming out inspired, awed, educated, informed and entertained is a non-negotiable exit feeling. Expecting more than just the song is generally a given at a folk club show, but the extent to which Martin presents his slide guitar skills, brings his stories, observations and experiences to life to maximum effect makes him a firm favourite on the circuit and beyond. If you have an added interest in American roots music then the place to be on this Wednesday evening was a packed upstairs function room in Kings Heath’s popular Red Lion pub, the long term home for the folk club of the same name.

This is the third time I’ve seen Martin live in the last eighteen months and each show has got progressively longer. First up was a support slot for Bonnie Raitt at the Birmingham Symphony Hall followed by a headline gig in Bromsgrove. This show went even further by the club granting him two sets which easily exceeded a couple of hours. Even as the curfew approached, Martin decided to show his prowess on the banjo and this could have been so extended further but time was the ultimate enemy.

It would be impossible to even begin to recount the depth of Martin’s interim tales and it has to be said that many of them are staples of his shows but he never tires of telling them and positive reception from the audience rarely wanes. My favourites are from his time spent in the USA and there are enlightening stories encapsulating Martin’s discovery, love and passion for the blues. Martin is still peddling his excellent 2013 album VAGRANT STANZAS and on perfect cue his extended Delta tale ends with the delightful track ‘Delta Dreams’.

Martin’s extensive travels and stereoscopic interest in traditional song across the English speaking world takes us to Australia, Canada, the US and of course much musing from all corners of the British Isles, extended from Cornwall to Scotland. Although 2014 is shaping up to be a monumental year in the folk world for war centenary songs, Martin’s emotional piece ‘Jackie and Murphy’ is surely amongst the most poignant and memorable. The remainder of the show was full of many snippets including nods to Dylan and Waits as well as the amazing number of UK folk luminaries who have rubbed shoulders with Martin over the many years he has graced the music scene. All of this is laced with highly intrinsic guitar playing hailed by many as a leading light in the industry and given a glowing introduction by the evening’s host.

Prior to Martin taking the stage, local singer-songwriter Chris Cleverley was granted an extensive forty minute opening slot to share some of his songs, influences and more stories. Chris is gearing up for a big year in 2015 as he will finally back up his many live shows in the area with a debut record. Writing very much from the heart and soul, Chris merges warm and homely vocals with accomplished guitar playing, all aided by an increasing confidence to plug his talents. Amongst his wealth of original material, Chris spiced up his set with a Nic Jones inspired arrangement of ‘Barrack Street’ and a brand new attempt to inject a classic soul style into his repertoire.

If you only dip your toe occasionally into the world of folk and their extensive, well supported club network, then mark Martin Simpson as the artist to see. As well as witnessing an evening oozing with captivating class, you will leave with a richer mind and be more in tune with donkey war heroes, Wyoming bluesmen and of course one of the UKs best guitarists. 

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