Virtuoso instrumentalist Martin Simpson, who brings his blues infused folk to Lancashire next week, tells TONY DEWHURST of the ‘catastrophic decline’ he has seen performing across Northern Britain
Martin Simpson, one of Britain’s finest virtuoso instrumentalists, was born in the north and lives in the north.
The North of England is being separated from the south by the most self-serving, heartless, arrogant government we have ever seen in Britain and it breaks my heart to see what damage they are inflicting on us
Raised in the industrial town of Scunthorpe, his home is Sheffield, the steel city that has forged his musical character.
While Simpson is a writer of beautiful and thrilling tunes, as well as being an outstanding composer, he has never been scared to nail his colours to the mast.
He said: “The North of England is being separated from the south by the most self-serving, heartless, arrogant government we have ever seen in Britain and it breaks my heart to see what damage they are inflicting on us.
“What we are witnessing is worse than Thatcherism. It is horrifying. I see that damage every week when I’m out on the road playing music and it disgusts me.
“Where I was born, Scunthorpe, and like many other towns in the north is in catastrophic decline.
“The opposition must pull back to the left – it is our only hope if we are going to challenge this ruthless government.”
He added: “I also sense a deep apathy, an air of resignation even, and that’s something I don’t associate with our country.
“We are living in very strange times indeed, and something has got to change.”
Simpson hops over the Pennines again next week, this time alongside acclaimed musicians Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr, to collaborate for a special show featuring The Martin Simpson Trio at Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre (Friday September 18).
Simpson, though, resolutely refuses to conform to expectations.
While his inimitable guitar playing is rooted in the English folk tradition, Simpson spent 15 years living in the musical melting pot of America, where he lived in New York and New Orleans.
“I’d been aware of these amazing Blues legends, and when I went over there I already had a massive background in the history of American music, but it exposed me to what was there and it was like ‘wow.’
“I was playing with Henry Gray who was Howling Wolf’s piano player, and I’d be on stage open-mouthed, just having to pinch myself that it was really happening.”
He recalls a road trip he took with New Orleans musician Spencer Bohren.
“We got in Spencer’s ’55 Chevy and off we went in this icon of Americana.
“We had a fantastic time listening to music on his cassette player and drove through all these little Mississippi towns, many of which were very run down and very depressing to see.
“Every time we stopped, some old black guy would appear and talk to us about about the car.
“I realised that it was a passport to communication, because the car was one of the most successful symbols of the American dream.
“We’d just stand in the high street of these little towns talking to old chaps about the Blues. There were lots of high points.
“Spencer took me to the grave of Sonny Boy Williamson beside an old burned-out chapel, and I found two nails in the ashes that had fused together in the shape of a cross.
I thought: ‘That’s enough Mojo for me – and I’ve still got it at home.”
He added: “Every day I think how lucky I am, because I’ve got to do something I’m utterly passionate about in life for a living and it is always there, beckoning for me to go further on this incredible journey.”
The Martin Simpson Trio are at Clitheroe Grand Theatre on Friday September 18. Tickets £15, call 01200 421599.