Virtuoso Sheffield musician Martin Simpson inspired by his first guitar for 21st album

Sheffield-based singer, songwriter and guitar virtuoso Martin Simpson reflects on how it all started 54 years ago as he prepares to release his latest album.

Monday, 19th August 2019, 12:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st August 2019, 3:48 pm
Martin Simpson

Growing up in Scunthorpe, that’s when he got his first guitar.

These days, as a firmly established resident of Sheffield, Martin is renowned as one of the great acoustic guitarists, nominated a remarkable 27 times in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, more than any other performer.

For nine consecutive years, he was in the running for Musician of The Year, winning twice.

He traces the numerous themes of his 21st solo album, Rooted, released on Topic Records on August 30, back to those early formative days.

He says: “The music and songs embrace nature and travel, mental health, real life stories, loss, politics and history… and the threads that bind all this together can be followed back a long way, to 1965 when I got my first guitar and started to soak up material and ideas at a very rapid rate.”

Rooted was recorded in Sheffield and Oxfordshire, and features some familiar names amid the stellar array of guest musicians, many with strong connections to the Sheffield area.

They include Nancy Kerr (fiddle and viola), Andy Cutting (melodeon and diatonic accordion), John Smith (electric guitar and vocals), Ben Nicholls (string bass and electric bass guitar), Julie Matthews (vocals), Alan Barnes (clarinet), Max Simpson (vocals), Amy Smith (vocals), Chris While (vocals) and Tom A Wright (drums and percussion).

Sheffield-based cellist Liz Hanks, who joined Martin and his daughter, Molly, at High Storrs School last year for his fundraising concert in aid of the school’s classics department, is among the line-up, as is Richard Hawley, who contributes backing vocals to the first single, Neo.

Martin himself plays banjola, five-string banjo, six-string fretless banjo, electric bass guitar and electric and resonator guitars.

He remains in demand for guitar workshops having recently led masterclasses at Richard Thompson’s acoustic guitar and songwriting camp in the Catskills Mountains, just outside Woodstock.

Much closer to home, he will be passing on his expertise and enthusiasm to players of all levels at a guitar workshop at Kenwood Hall Hotel, Nether Edge, from November 8 to 10.

An extensive UK tour ends at the University of Sheffield’s Firth Hall on December 19.