Sunday, 27 November 2016

Never Any Good

I have been to see Martin Simpson, whom I last saw four years ago. On that occasion he had a couple of accompanists - Andy Cutting on squeeze box if I remember rightly - although my blog post of the time is remarkably uninformative as to what he sang. Simpson, who is above all a brilliant guitarist (as an aside, he performed a couple of songs on the banjo and his versatility almost - almost - made me warm to that instrument), mostly performs interpretations of other people's songs with just a couple of his originals. Highlights for me were 'The Stranger Song', in tribute to Leonard Cohen, and what was apparently one of the English ballad forerunners to St James Infirmary Blues (much loved by your bloggist of course) segueing into Dylan's 'Blind Willie McTell', itself heavily influenced by the blues standard.

“But power and greed and corruptible seed
 Seem to be all that there is.”

As well as a poignant, politically charged and finger-pointing song about Aberfan and, more unexpectedly, 'Heartbreak Hotel' he covered Jackson C. Frank's classic 'Blues Run the Game'. Simpson is good value for patter between songs, mostly both educational and, where appropriate, amusing. I had previously been aware that Frank had been somewhat unlucky in life; what I hadn't appreciated was that the money which he used to record his sole, unsuccessful album came from compensation that he had received for being badly injured when the orphanage in which he spent his childhood had burned down. That is perhaps beyond bad luck as we would normally understand it.

Never Any Good is Simpson's biggest 'hit'. His father - the song's subject - was born in 1899 and was fifty four when Simpson was born. Simpson himself is sixty three and has an eleven year old daughter. My own daughters - ten years or so older than his - could never convince their teachers that they had a grandmother who had been evacuated as a child during the second world war (their classmate's parents typically being a couple of decades younger than me), but even I have trouble with the thought that there is in this country at the moment a primary school child whose grandfather was born during the reign of Queen Victoria and fought in the Great War.

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