A Chat With...Martin Simpson
This week we are chatting with multi award winning Martin Simpson, one of the finest guitar players around. Martin has performed all over the world and played with many of the greatest folk musicians.
Instrument(s): Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Banjo, Voice
Your band(s) or collaborations that we should know about: The Magpie Arc, June Tabor & Martin Simpson
Sub-genre: Blues, Americana
Number of years on the folk scene: 56
Greatest achievement or claim to fame: I should probably say 8 BBC Folk Awards but really my biggest achievement is making a living for my entire life doing what I absolutely love in an uncompromising fashion and opening people’s hearts.
What are you currently working on, and what’s in the pipeline for the coming year?
I have a very exciting project already in the can called Nothing But Green Willow. Recorded in Nashville and here in Sheffield it features me and Thomm Jutz and guest vocalists Tim O’Brien, Cara Dillon, Fay Hield, Dale Ann Bradley, Angeline Morrison, Seth Lakeman, Odessa Settles, Tammy Rogers, Sierra Hull and Emily Portman. It is material from Cecil Sharp’s English Folk Songs in the Southern Appalachians and the album will be released on Topic Records this summer. Also in the pipeline is my next solo record, provisionally titled Pathways of Desire. It will be a double CD with one CD of live solo performances and the other of studio recordings with some of my favourite musicians including Liz Hanks, Andy Cutting and Ben Nicholls. That will be released in 2024 as part of Topic Records 85th birthday celebrations. Also, my band The Magpie Arc will be playing various festivals this summer and will begin working on new material at some point this year. We have just played gigs number 16 and 17 which were a joy for all involved.
If someone is reading this who hasn’t listened to any of your music before, where should they start?
Topic put out a compilation of my recordings called An Introduction To Martin Simpson, I decided to choose the track listing myself and I’m very proud of it.
What’s on your playlist at the moment, and why does it appeal to you?
I’m listening to Joni Mitchell and various compilations of 1920s and 30s recordings of American traditional music, from blues and old timey to jug band music and western swing. I’m always learning. I recently discovered the slightly bizarre joys of asking a smart speaker to track down obscure blues recordings for me and I think that might become an obsession! I’m also, as ever, listening to the considerable back catalogue that I have in my head.
Where are you most ‘at one’ with your instrument? (e.g. in the studio, in a session, on stage, in the rehearsal room, on your own, somewhere else)
All of the above!
Please tell us about your practice regime, or how you keep developing as an instrumentalist.
I just play. I play for joy and along the way I discover little bits of the arrangements which challenge me, which require me to focus and actually by repetition overcome any issues I might have with the technical side of my playing.
What’s the most nerve-wracking thing you’ve done (musically), and what did you learn from it?
Playing for a funeral of a dear friend in front of lots of other friends. I didn’t think it was possible for me to shake that much.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a musician?
What’s your dream band line-up (dead or alive)?
There’s too many to choose from and I have already had the joy of working with some of the best musicians in the world in various line-ups, from Indian classical musicians to Louisiana blues pianists, Malagasy monsters, rock’n’roll stars and exquisite singers of traditional music. There are a few musicians I would like to involve in my future projects notably Greg Leisz the pedal steel guitar player.
To satisfy the instrument/equipment geeks amongst us, please tell us a little about the gear you use to make music.
I believe that you should have the best instruments you can possibly manage in order to inspire you to play to the best of your ability. Over the years I have bought and sold dozens, if not hundreds, of guitars. Sometimes an instrument will simply not hold your interest long enough to actually get much out of it, but often an instrument will allow you to write songs or arrange in a way you otherwise wouldn’t. Currently I play guitars by Taran, Fylde, Sobell, PRS and Turnstone and I also have one vintage Martin. In addition, I play various electric tele-style guitars made by Alan Kennedy and also Gibson, Gretsch and PRS electrics. I have a number of banjos ranging from a 1925 Gibson Mastertone to a 2013 Romero, I also have a Clifford Essex Paragon and Ron Saul Flat Head Mastertone and weird-ass fretless things. If you’re interest in knowing more about the instruments I play, then I explore them in depth on my Patreon page.
Photo credit: Andy Muscroft
Strange Affair – June Tabor with Martin Simpson
Martin Simpson playing ‘Never Any Good’
Martin Simpson plays a medley: Rosie Anderson, The Shearing’s Not For Me, and Bogie’s Bonny Belle
The Magpie Arc – Jack Frost (Official Video)
Martin Simpson – Louisiana 1927