Martin adds another string to actor’s career in TV role

Martin Simpson
Martin Simpson

SHEFFIELD based guitarist Martin Simpson has worked with some of the world’s best musicians - but he faced a different type of challenge for a TV series.

He was given the job of mentoring actor Stephen Mangan, star of Episodes and Green Wing, as he returned to his first love of playing acoustic guitar.

Martin, whose latest album, Purpose + Grace, is released on Monday, tutored the actor ready for an a performance alongside another internationally acclaimed performer, Richard Thompson, at the Cambridge Folk Festival. The process will be shown on the Sky Arts TV series ‘First Love’ in the autumn.

“It was a really fun thing to do,” said Martin. “I already had a great deal of admiration for Stephen Mangan - I think he is funny as hell. Everything I have seen him in I have really liked, and here I am bringing him back up to date on guitar! He had the grounding, but he hadn’t done it for a long time.

“There was a slight element of weirdness because it is all done on camera. He was a massive fan of me and Richard Thompson, and he was told that at the end he was going to appear on stage with Richard Thompson at the Cambridge Folk Festival!

“From being very nervous, and not having done it for a long time, he was playing with Richard Thompson on Who Knows Where The Time Goes! He shone. It was absolutely brilliant, and it was very emotional.”

Scunthorpe-born Martin is widely acknowledged as one of the finest acoustic and slide guitar players in the world. After several years working in America, he returned to the UK in 2002 and eventually settled in Sheffield, living in High Storrs with wife Kit and their daughter, Molly.

Playing traditional and his own songs, he has been nominated 23 times in the eleven years of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards - more than any other performer - and he has won Musician of The Year twice.

The new album, Purpose + Grace (Topic Records), has a strong South Yorkshire flavour, with major contributions from singer Fay Hield, fiddle player Jon Boden, drummer Keith Angel, harmonica player Will Pound, all of whom have helped to develop the reputation of the local folk scene alongside Martin.

It was recorded at Greystones Studio in Millhouse Green, Barnsley, and one of the photos on the CD sleeves sees Martin in his back garden with the Porter Valley in the background (and he reckons you can just about see the Nether Green house of his folk singer father-in-law and mother-in-law, Roy and Val Bailey!).

The opening track is the traditional song, The Sheffield Apprentice, and the album is a mixture of Scots and English traditional songs, Anglo-American ballads, his own songs and compositions from Bruce Springsteen, Richard Thompson and Yip Harburg (a version of Brother Can You Spare A Dime).

Perhaps more than ever before, Martin embraces different traditions, and he shares lead vocals with three excellent singers - Dick Gaughan, June Tabor and Dungworth-based newcomer Fay Hield. Richard Thompson plays electric guitar.

“I’m always being accused of being dangerously eclectic, but on this one I think I’ve struck a really good balance between the two ends,” said Martin. “I have got some fairly hard ‘jump up and down’ funky stuff, but it is very much folk music, in the folk tradition.

“Springsteen’s Brothers Under The Bridge is thoroughly modern, but it’s a folk ballad. I think the selection of material is just about right.

“And Kit suggested a new angle - invite your mates! They are people I have always wanted to work with, and it was absolutely wonderful. I think they gave some great performances because they were so relaxed.”

lMartin Simpson is MC when singer songwriter Sam Carter appears at The Greystones in Greystones Road on September 21.