BBC Radio 2’s annual folk awards ceremony is by now something of an institution. A very cosy one at that. It is a tea and cakes occasion rather than a sex and drugs affair. Its celebration of the art and craft of song writing is all very well up to a point but once music becomes respectable and homely it quickly loses its power to surprise and excite.
Too much of British folk music is worthy but predictable because it has a reverential rather than a radical approach to tradition.
Nevertheless it is good to see an artist of the stature of Martin Simpson gaining the recognition he deserves. As a solo artist and as a sometime musical partner to June Tabor he has made some fine albums and his latest ‘Prodigal Son’ is a summation of all he does well. His guitar playing is exceptional and he is a skilled interpreter of classics both old and new.
It is his original song ‘Never Any Good’ which stands out in this collection however and justifies being named as best track of the year by the Beeb’s folksters.
This song is a very moving portrait of his father. In it he repeats the lines “You were never any good with money/ You couldn’t even find a job”, but it is soon apparent that those making this judgement are conservative types (including Simpson’s mother) who see success only in materialistic terms.From the song we learn that Simpson’s father was lacking practical skills and was harshly judged by his wife: “My mother said you were a selfish man and I was your selfish kid”.
This catalogue of unredeeming qualities continues until Simpson reveals the other side of his character with these touching lines:
“You showed me how to use my eyes when I was just a boy
and you taught me how to love a song and all you knew of nature’s ways
the greatest gifts I’ve ever known and I use them every day”
If you haven’t already got it I recommend getting it now.