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Simpson, Cutting and Kerr

The Met, Bury
Sunday 12 June 2015

This show had been eagerly anticipated by the Met crowd and had been a sell out from early days. Not surprising for three performers with more Folk awards between them than possibly any other band. I would be very surprised if their CD MURMURS is not a leading contender for Folk Album of the Year at next year's awards. It was my third show of the tour so it is a reasonable assumption that I was enjoying the tour. A pretty hot and sticky night although not in the same league as Saltaire a week or so earlier.

With no introduction other than the usual intricate guitar tuning, very restrained tonight for Martin, I might add, they launched into Dark Swift and Bright Swallow with Martin taking lead vocals. A song inspired by Martin's visit to Slapton Sands, Devon, seeing the first Swallow of Spring and commentary on the hushed up wartime naval exercises which resulted in numerous American losses. Martin deftly including his obvious love of nature in what was the first of many bird references. A brisk version of The Richmond Cotillion followed effortlessly and beautifully performed by the three musicians. Andy and Nancy merging the sounds of box and fiddle around Martin's guitar. Nancy's turn next with a song Not Even The Ground, a love song which evolved into an ecological anti fracking protest 'And There's Nothing On Earth Men Won't Plunder, Not even the Ground At Young Lovers Feet', merged with this was a delightful Andy composition Two Ladies with beautiful and delicate intertwining of all three instruments.

Back to Martin and the first Banjo appearance, a beautiful instrument recently made for Martin by Jason and Pharis Romero. A traditional American song Ruben, with Martin on lead vocal and again sensational playing. No instrument remains dominant for long, all taking their turns in harmony and lead. Keeping with the American theme we were treated to a revamp of a Northumbrian Pipe tune Lads of Alnwick done American style with banjo and not a pipe in sight, it worked very well. A relative rarity for the next tune with an Andy Cutting introduction to his own tune Seven Years, a slow waltz which ranks up there with many of the most beautiful slow airs more commonly found in Scottish music. There really is nothing to say about the standard of musicianship other than it remained sublime throughout. Changing the pace from waltz to a rock rhythm for the Watersons classic Some Old Salty with a funny intro from Martin about a Martin Carthy phone call. I could go on and on about how good Nancy's fiddle or Andy's box playing or Martins guitar was but just take it for granted, it was way above superb all night. Martin took lead vocals with Nancy providing an accompaniment. Another Nancy composition, Hard Song from Nancy's solo album SWEET VISITOR was next. This song inspired by the Clean Clothes campaign and the Rana Plaza disaster. The highlight, to me, of the first set and possibly the night took us to the interval. Possibly THE broken token ballad Plains of Waterloo, well timed for the current  Waterloo anniversary. Martin gave a detailed introduction detailing the modality changes from minor to major to minor. In stark difference to June Tabor's acapella 1976 version  on AIRS AND GRACES Martin starts the tune with slide guitar before his vocals and Andy and Nancy's instruments join in. The tune was so catchy and haunting I heard several people whistling it during the interval.

Not content with the music and ornithology tuition in the first set Martin opened the second set with a brief history lesson concerning Fair Rosamund. As he often quotes "You don't get this at a Black Sabbath gig!"A very precise and delicate guitar intro with bowed viola and box filling in all the background spaces beautifully before Martin's vocals started the song. A superb Jim Causley song Angel Hill followed, this song based on the poems of Jim's distant Uncle Charles Causley. Martin termed the arrangement of this song a new genre "Morris Noir!". A very upbeat version of The Memphis Jug Band's Stealin' followed Martin's comical introduction. As throughout the show more delightful interplay between all the musicians, with these three on stage the musical quality is consistently of a high level. Changing the tone with their 7 inch vinyl single song Dark Honey, another Nancy nature song, the title based on the conception that inner city bees are creating dark honey due to sipping coke rather than nectar. The song isn't just about bees. A couple of tunes, Gather The Owls from THE ELIZABETHAN SESSIONS project and the traditional Train On The Island led into another Martin bird inspired song Toy Soldiers, his long standing love of nature and political convictions quite evident in this song. Nancy then introduced and sang a very different quite high paced arrangement of The Cruel Mother. Broomfield Hill led to the inevitable and well deserved encore, the American traditional, Boston Smuggler which closed an evening that flew by all too fast. The standard of musicianship never flagged throughout the evening. This was, as Andy Cutting said, an inspired suggestion by Martin's wife that they team up and tour as a trio. If you are going to have  a travelling sound engineer on tour with you then why not have the album's producer Andy Bell who did a wonderful job at every show I saw.

As said earlier I am certain the album MURMURS will be a strong contender for Folk Album of the Year at next years Folk Awards. The deluxe version has more tracks and they are not just fillers, well worth investing in that version if you are going to purchase. I would be very happy if a second volume came along but with all three having so many other involvements it may be a while.

Keith Belcher
Northern Sky