Martin Simpson - Skydancers

Martin Simpson is not a man to sit still for very long. Undoubtedly one of the hardest-touring musicians on the UK folk/roots circuit, he also averages a brand new studio album almost every two years. Skydancers, his 12th full length solo record for Topic since 1992, comes hot on the heels of last year’s guest-packed collaboration with the American producer/guitarist, Thomm Jutz, Nothing But Green Willow: The Songs of Mary Sands and Jane Gentry and will be released on 12th April.

Recorded by Tom Wright and Andy Bell in Simpson’s hometown of Sheffield, Skydancers collects new, Simpson-penned originals alongside 18th century broadside ballads and reverent reworkings from the songbooks of, amongst others, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Woody Guthrie, Nancy Kerr, June Tabor and Craig Johnson.

Skydancers’ title track, commissioned by TV presenter and naturalist, Chris Packham, highlights the plight of the endangered Hen Harrier – ornithology, a keen interest of Simpson’s. Elsewhere he narrates the life and times of Billy Waters, a black, peg-legged man who became famous busking in London in the nineteenth century. ‘Roger’s Cascade’ is a very personal, jaunty, 5-string banjo homage to master instrument craftsman, Roger Bucknall. Simpson is joined on Skydancers by American pedal steel maestro, Greg Leisz, Andy Cutting on diatonic accordion, Louis Campbell on acoustic and electric guitar, Liz Hanks on cello, Ben Nicholls on string bass and a bevy of accompanying singers.

Of the album and its players, Simpson shares this, “[Skydancers] is a mixture of traditional and original songs, some of my own and others by various sources, who are, as ever, diverse and transatlantic. Woody Guthrie’s classic ‘Deportee’ is so appropriate in these times of dehumanising politics. Nancy Kerr’s ‘Fragile Water’ is a song with traditional ballad roots now reflecting gender fluidity. Jackson Browne was generous enough to record my favourite pedal steel player, Greg Leisz on two tracks, who I have long wanted to work with. Liz Hanks (cello) is in huge demand as a session player and has now released her first solo album, Land which has been rightly lauded by the media. Andy Cutting and Ben Nicholls have played on so many of my albums and they are simply my favourite musicians on their chosen instruments. In addition, Louis Campbell is one of the best players I have worked with, he’s young and he’s brilliant. I love making music with these people.”

“Penguin Eggs-good. Seriously”
★★★★ MOJO

“He may just have delivered his magnum opus. Skydancers is one of those albums that’s just good for the soul.”
10/10 Guitarist

“acoustic finger-picking magic”

“an excellent record from a master of his craft”
Klof Magread full review

“I do believe this set could be equal to, maybe better than, anything he’s ever done”
Ian Anderson, Tradfolkread full review

“It’s stunning and without doubt his finest work in almost half a century of being at the vanguard of british guitar players, songwriters, singers and true custodians of folk music”
Richard Hawley

“These tracks show Martin at his very best. He has this ability to mix traditional folk with delta blues and country, but he always retains that individual style and distinctive voice that brings so much emotion and feeling to the songs. He doesn’t sing them, he lives them. I highly recommend this album from one of the great performers of our time.”
Fatearead full review

“Martin Simpson’s transatlantic cracker is full of panache and flair, with songs as soft as a cloud, as breezy as a Highland wind and as steely as his Sheffield homeland.”
★★★★★ Spiral Earthread full review