Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson
With Martin Simpson just returning from a brief visit to LA over the weekend, apparently there for the single purpose of picking up a brand new guitar, which inevitably prompted a spot of sardonic heckling from Mrs Simpson – ‘you don’t have enough?’, Martin Simpson cheerfully rung in the Bright Phoebus New Year with an intimate sell-out show at the Greystones in Sheffield tonight, with one or two surprises along the way. Martin was noticeably nervous before the show, due in no small part to the fact that tonight’s fund-raiser would not only be attended by the guitarist’s regular army of followers, but some parents and staff from the local Ecclesall Infant School, the school Martin’s young daughter attends. Alex Burland, a five year-old school chum in the same year as Molly, has cerebral palsy and the funds raised at tonight’s concert will go towards an existing fund sponsored by locals for a potential life-changing operation, currently available in the USA. The concert therefore had more than the normal atmosphere of warmth and sense of community spirit. Molly’s Grandad Roy Bailey had also come along to join in the fun. Opening the show was fellow Bright Phoebus luminary Jon Boden, who also acted as MC for the night, choosing one of Bellowhead’s most popular songs “Fakenham Fair” to kick things off, accompanying himself on concertina. This was by no means the only surprise of the evening. Apart from the special guests, which also included ex-pulp guitarist Richard Hawley making a very special appearance, Martin also surprised us with some recent additions to his live set including Bruce Springsteen’s “Brothers Under the Bridge” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man” of all things. Martin is no stranger to the repertoire of Mr Zim, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” appearing on his very first album Golden Vanity in 1976, together with his subsequent versions of “Masters of War”, Highway 61 Revisited and more recently “Boots of Spanish Leather”, which the singer/guitarist also played tonight. For the prelude to the traditional “In the Pines”, Martin employed the services of a device known as the EBow. This is no stranger to the modern electric guitarist, a gadget used to good effect by Noel Gallagher on “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis, Queen’s Brian May on “Good Company” and Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour on “Take It Back”. The song was rewarded with rapturous applause, which prompted Martin’s comment “oh, you like that kind of thing do you?” Martin’s father-in-law Roy Bailey was invited up on stage to sing Leon Rosselson’s utterly poignant “Palaces of Gold”, written after the Aberfan disaster of 1966, Martin accompanying the singer with some tastefully rendered bottleneck guitar. As a prelude to the song Roy reminded everyone of the value of folk songs, that they offer us a different view of events as opposed to those offered by the newspapers. A lovely moment, which prompted Richard Hawley later to confess that he ‘didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world’ when Roy was singing. That sentiment probably went for the other hundred or so people in the room tonight as well. “Kielder Schottische”, one of the instrumentals from Martin’s current album True Stories, demonstrates the guitarist’s technical brilliance, adapting a Northumbrian piccolo tune, already a nightmare to play on that instrument, for the six strings of a guitar. It’s this sort of dexterity that the guitarist is known for, a reputation that probably deserved Jon Boden’s introduction, referring to tonight’s main attraction as the ‘finest acoustic guitarist in the whole blinking universe’. Going on to introduce the next song as ‘my greatest hit’, Martin’s tribute to his own father “Never Any Good”, provided another highlight of the evening. Martin’s aforementioned newly acquired guitar was introduced for a reading of the utterly gorgeous “Air for Maurice Ogg/One More Day/Boots of Spanish Leather” medley in the second half before inviting in turn his special guests to join him on stage. Martin’s neighbour and former Britpop guitarist Richard Hawley sang a version of the old Lonnie Johnson number “Careless Love”, with Martin accompanying on slide guitar and then by Jon Boden joining Martin on fiddle for the Morris tune “Princess Royal”. With a final encore of the old Arthur Crudup rocker “Dig Myself a Hole”, Richard Hawley re-joined Martin to round off what turned out to be a predictably superb night.