Martin Simpson: folk music is dangerous

 Prodigal Son



October 2017 update: Another look at the archives. You can do the same simply by scrolling down the right-hand sidebar. There's lots there and feel free to yell if you come across a dead link. This interview with Martin Simpson took place back in 2007. It may be time for an update - indeed Martin and I have agreed to another interview soon - but here, plus a chance to buy an exceptional album at our Amazon link - click here, is the story as far as then ...


Martin Simpson summons a priceless scene
from his youth. There he is, back in Scunthorpe with a guitar on his knee, presumably even then making it - the guitar, not Scunthorpe - sound divine. An elderly aunt fixes him an accusing look. "Isn't that Bolshevik music?" she asks.

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Cover Story: (24) The Bells of Rhymney by John Denver. A welcome discovery

The little world of Salut! can be an incestuous place. The football corner of it, as many but not all readers will know, is Salut! Sunderland, the name giving newcomers a clue to the sad, troubled but - for those of us hooked - much-loved club whose occasional up and multiple downs occupy its thoughts.

In the most recent instalment of an exceptional series on the first time he saw each team Sunderland play (or their stadium), my friend Pete Sixsmith recalls watching and listening in horror as visiting supporters of QPR produced a drum and started to bang it. It does not appear until tomorrow (Friday the 13th no less), when it will be available at this link but has Pete declaring "I have a view on drums at football matches. You can probably imagine what it is" before wishing all manner of ills to those clubs with offending fans.

That, up to a point, summed up my view of John Denver. I was convinced that here was a man with a smooth voice and a repertoire stuffed with iffy songs. I mocked another good friend who is a great admirer of Denver's work, safe in the knowledge I would never relent, not even out of sympathy when the singer was killed in an accident while piloting his own light aircraft at the age of just 53 in 1997.

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Dipping into the Past: The Unthanks ... The Testament of Patience Kershaw

In my constant campaign to draw attention to gems from the Salut! Live archive, now that the site attracts a more respectable number of readers, here is piece of music that combines compelling artistry and painful social history. It recalls an age when young children, girls as well as boys, were sent into the mines of Britain to endure the laborious, disfiguring process of helping in the production of coal. As a reporter, I met men in the 1960s who, on the closure of their own pits, could hardly be happier that their fully grown sons would not have to work in the conditions they had known for decades. My friend and Salut! Live contributor Bill Taylor was mesmerised when he first heard the song while visiting my home in France.

I have added a couple of other Unthanks clips to show just how good they are (or how good I think they; there are dissenting views). One is another of the press gang songs I mentioned yesterday, the very moving Here's The Tender Coming, and the other is a grittier rendition of Annachie Gordon than you will encounter from most of the artists who have recorded the song. This is how I wrote about the Unthanks back in 2014 but you will also find a footnote with links to an interview conducted longer ago .. .

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Desert Island Folk: (2) Sir Mark Rylance and a Paul Brady/Andy Irvine classic

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Salut! Live's new series draws on the choices made by people of interest to this site, or on what others select from what we may loosely call our sort of music, on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

For the second edition, we turn to the splendid actor, theatrical director and playwright Sir Mark Rylance, whose achievements are numerous enough to fill a few pages of this site but include, notably, a magisterial portrayal of Cromwell in the BBC mini-series Wolf Hall. Among his honours are an Oscar and Bafta award for Best Supporting Actor in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies (2015).

When Sir Mark was interviewed for the programme by Kirsty Young in early 2015, the selection of most specific interest to us was the near-perfect version by Paul Brady and Andy Irvine of Arthur McBride. This is a superior example of many songs in the folk tradition dealing with forced recruitment, the use of roving press gangs to handpick fit young men to serve in the Armed Forces soldiers, the hiring process typically involving lashings of drink and not a little duress.

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