Live review: Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting, and Nancy Kerr
Support: Charlie McKeon
Date: Wednesday 8th June 2016
Venue: The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool
Reviewer: Alan O’Hare – Liverpooletc
Cutting, Kerr and Simpson – photo (c) @DamienAinscough
The legendary folk singer and guitarist, Martin Simpson, is midway through an anecdote to introduce the ballad ‘Ruben’ and a busy-enough-for-a-Wednesday-night crowd finally come to life. There’s laughs, a few guffaws and the ethereal recognition that we are all in safe hands and in the presence of traditional craftsmen.
And not just Martin Simpson. Joining him tonight, in the sweltering early summer heat of The Epstein Theatre, are Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr – on violin and accordion and melodeon respectively – and they’re bringing the tunes. Sure, Simpson switches between the baritone sounds of his guitar and the harshness of the banjo, but the colour and shape is provided by the wonder of Kerr’s fiddle and Cutting’s dark cloud landscapes.
It’s not the most dynamic of nights, perhaps a half full venue is affecting our enjoyment, but we’re longing for the more intimate likes of Studio 2, Leaf or even the Music Room so we can all join in, in this, the most inclusive of music. Folk music, that is. Music that always rises in times of austerity and confusion.The time-honoured subjects of class, inequality and the harsh realities of nature are on the minds of all three singers and the set list is hard work… yes, you’ve gotta’ pay, but a little play doesn’t go amiss now and again.
The murder ballads are losing their meaning the more of them there are and the anecdotes before each tune grow as stilted as the stifling heat rising in the atmosphere. Nancy Kerr’ stinging tale of bees, Coke and dark honey (the brilliant ‘Dark Honey’) livens up the proceedings and, indeed, it’s Kerr who’s emerging as the star of the show, with shades of Eliza Carthy and the promise of, at any moment, going her own way and offering an edge.
Following an interval, a shocking idea on such a warm evening to half a house, the gig ebbs and flows, but loses its grip. We’re listening, but the tunes aren’t going in any more. They’re not connecting and the talented trio know it. Consequently, Simpson’s pre-song vignettes get more caustic and cynical and it could be argued that he’s now preaching to the converted. Perhaps. Or perhaps the room was just ill chosen, as the music is brimful of brilliance and blue notes, while never leaving the stage completely.
Folk music is supposed to hover, and not soar, but it needs to leave the ground occasionally, too..