Martin Simpson Biography

5 May 1953, Scunthorpe, South Humberside, England. Having started playing guitar at the age of 12, Simpson played the proverbial ‘floor spots’ at local folk clubs, and received his first paid booking at the age of 14. By the age of 18 he had become a full-time professional on the folk club circuit. He came to the attention of a number of influential people, one of whom was Bill Leader who recorded Simpson’s 1976 debut, Golden Vanity, for his own Trailer label. The album mixed such folk standards as ‘Pretty Polly’ and ‘A Soldier’s Joy’ with contemporary works such as Bob Dylan’s ‘Love Minus Zero - No Limit’. That same year, Simpson opened for Steeleye Span on their UK tour, and shortly afterwards became an accompanist for June Tabor. In 1979 he joined the Albion Band at the National Theatre and played with them on two subsequent tours. The following year’s A Cut Above, recorded with Tabor on Topic Records, is still highly regarded. There followed a succession of fine albums, but without a great degree of commercial success.

In 1987, Simpson relocated to the USA with his American wife Jessica Radcliffe Simpson (b. 18 February 1952, Los Angeles, California, USA), and the same year the couple released the duo album, True Dare Or Promise. In addition to solo and duo work, Simpson played briefly with Metamora in the USA, and also worked with Henry Gray, the Louisiana-born blues pianist. He also played on Abyssinians and Aqaba by June Tabor, and Earthed In Cloud Valley and Till The Beasts’ Returning by Andrew Cronshaw. In 1991 Simpson, by now resident in Santa Cruz, California, was made honorary guitarist of the American Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans (ASIA). A new album (Red Roses) from Martin and Jessica was released in 1994, featuring their New York-based band of Eric Aceto (violect), Hank Roberts (cello), Doug Robinson (bass) and Tom Beers (harmonica). The following year’s Smoke & Mirrors was a successful excursion into acoustic blues with a notable version of Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’. In 1996, the Simpsons collaborated with a new group of musicians on the Band Of Angels recording. After relocating yet again, this time to New Orleans, Louisiana, Simpson completed the recording of his next studio album, the all-instrumental Cool & Unusual. During this period he also recorded sparkling albums for the Water Lily Acoustics label with pipa player Wu Man (Music For The Motherless Child) and vocalist/guitarist David Hidalgo, violinist Viji Krishnan and mridangam player Puvalur Srinivasan (Kambara Music In Native Tongues).

Simpson marked his return to the United Kingdom at the start of the new millennium by recording The Bramble Briar, a collection of entirely English derived material. One track, ‘The Four Angels’, set the Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name to a new melody. The follow-up Righteousness & Humidity mixed traditional material from various American sources with a number of notable original compositions. Simpson returned to the English tradition once more for 2005’s Kind Letters.

Noted for his style of playing, Simpson is not as often in the limelight as he was in the 70s and 80s, but his regular live appearances and studio recordings demonstrate that he still has a talent of great merit and his most recent work has been some of his best.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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