‘The luckiest man on the planet’

Martin simpson
Martin simpson

He plays clubs, arts centres, concert halls, workshops and festivals around the world, but Martin Simpson will perform much closer to home tomorrow and Saturday.

It’s just a hop from his house to The Greystones pub for two sold out bashes for his 60th birthday.

While not quite a household name in his adopted city, his reputation is assured as one of the world’s best acoustic guitarists.

And he still has plenty to celebrate. Next month there’s a support slot on the UK tour of American singer and musician Bonnie Raitt, then guitar and writing workshops in the Catskill Mountains in New York State with UK luminary Richard Thompson before the release of a new CD.

But first there’s the milestone of reaching 60. “It’s quite absurd,” he says. “I can’t really get my head around it. It seems like yesterday that I was first doing what I am still doing. I have been playing the guitar for 48 years and for a living for 42 years, which is a long time.”

With a string of BBC Radio 2 folk awards and nominations behind him, Martin launches his latest collection of songs, Vagrant Stanzas, at the Cambridge Folk Festival in July, with a guiding hand from one of his High Storrs neighbours.

Richard Hawley co-produced some of the tracks at Yellow Arch Studios in the city, although most were recorded in America by Peter Denenberg, who has worked with the likes of David Bowie and Lou Reed.

“I played with Richard at his City Hall gigs last year and played on his record,” says Martin. “We have spent a lot of time playing together, literally over the kitchen table. We got together in the studio with Shez Sheridan and Colin Elliot (from Richard Hawley’s band). I was showing them what I was doing.

“We had several ideas for the direction in which the record might go, then Richard said: ‘You don’t need anybody else, you are going to do it all on your own, as if you’re playing to me over the kitchen table’.”

Vagrant Stanzas has original compositions along with songs by the likes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and some traditional material.

There will be a single CD and a deluxe two-disc version.

Free downloads are being promised for his birthday weekend, which will see him joined by ‘special guests’ at The Greystones. And then his career rolls on.

“I was doing a sound check on stage in Exeter the other day, playing for the joy of it and I thought: ‘It can’t get any better than this. I want to continue to write and to push the envelope with my playing and arranging. I’m the luckiest man on the planet!”