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Pacific Road Arts Centre, Birkenhead 18 April 2007

Three times in the past I have tried to see Martin Simpson, universally acknowledged as one of the finest finger-style guitarists in the world, I even had tickets once, but something always came up to stop me going.

My heart sank, therefore, when Martin walked on stage at the Pacific Road Arts Centre and announced that he had had a chest and throat infection for a couple of weeks, had only flown in from Germany that morning and couldn't talk much either! He looked really tired as well so I was not expecting a top-notch performance.

But what is it about these professional musicians that makes them perform, when us mere mortals would be tucked up in bed with a hottie?!

He was absolutely superb and kept the appreciative audience spellbound for a good two hours.

He opened up with a trio of songs; She Slips Away, Mother Love and Little Musgrave & Lady Barnard which was sung well. I thought he had a throat infection I hear you cry - he did, but apparently it was much easier singing than talking!

From then on it became apparent that this was still going to be something special. Next up were a couple of songs off Martin's new album (out in July) followed by some great blues picking on ‘John Hardy' and a superb version of Randy Newman's ‘Louisiana 1927'. Two instrumental ballads, which, to a barely adequate acoustic guitar player like myself, seemed to have the most crazy open-tunings, came next and the first set was closed with a great song about his dad.

The second set opened up again with a trio of acoustic workouts - The Week Before Easter, Rosie Anderson and The Rose Of Allerdale followed by two songs from the Righteousness And Humidity album - the gospel influenced Easy Money and the brilliant alt-country Love Never Dies.

An interesting aside is that between songs when he's messing about with the tunings and then just plays a couple of riffs or arpeggios to check he's got it right, it gets you to thinking that this guy tunes up better than most people play!

The finale of this virtuoso performance was clutch of MS favourites - I Can't Keep From Cryin' Sometimes, a great cover of Richard Thompson's Strange Affair, One More Day and the outstanding Boots Of Spanish Leather.

I was absolutely gobsmacked by the entire performance. The guitar playing throughout was nothing short of brilliant and, despite his condition, the voice was working very well. Any initial disappointment I may have had was blown away by a consummate musician at the absolute peak of his powers. If he can play like this in this condition, what's he like on a good night?

PS My guitar is in the skip!

Review by Alan Jones

Best of 2007


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