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Monumental new song from Martin Simpson

Mike Harding | 15:42 UK time, Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A few years back I wrote a book called 'Walking The Dales'.

Long out of print now, it was a lot more than a walking book, it was an homage to a place that I've loved since I first cycled there from Manchester as a kid of 14.

Some of the photographs in the book showed gypsies at Appleby Fair.

I've been going there for years to watch them trade their horses and to see all the stalls and the blacksmiths, the fortune tellers and the lads playing what we called 'pitch and toss' back in Manchester when I was a lad.

I've always had a great respect and affection for a long persecuted and misunderstood people and their way of life.

For centuries, the gypsies have been made scapegoat and folk devils by many from Adolph Hitler to the good burghers of Dublin, a wonderful song by Liam Weldon called 'The Blue Tar Road' tells of Dublin Corporation ('Good Christians to a man') moving the travellers on.

It finishes with the lines:

"The man above who died for love
And was nailed unto a tree,
Wasn't he a traveller too
The same as you and me?"

That song, and songs of Ewan MacColl such as 'Freeborn Man' and 'The Thirty Foot Trailer' seem to me to tell something of the story of the Travelling People.

Another more recent song that touches on gypsy life has had me in tears every time I played it.

'One Day' by Martin Simpson and Martin Taylor appears on Martin Simpson's forthcoming CD 'True Stories'.

Martin Taylor's son Stewart died tragically young, and the song, based on a four-line poem by Martin Taylor and finished by Martin Simpson is a simple, heart-breaking story that draws much of its imagery from gypsy life

Taylor comes of gypsy stock and is related to the Stewarts of Blair the travelling family famous for their songs and singers.

Horses and singing are brought into the song:

"One day I'll hear hoof beats and not grieve for the rider,
And the song that you sang will bring peace and not pain."

The most tragic and yet hopeful image in the song is that of the oak trees in the hedgerows.

When a gypsy child is buried, it is buried with an acorn in each hand, and from the acorns grow twin oaks.

That is an image that has haunted me ever since I first heard the song and it haunts me still. It goes without saying that the new Martin Simpson album is immense, but in amongst all the great music 'One Day' stands out as a monumental and wonderful song.


  • Comment number 1.

    I heard 'One Day' for the first time just under two weeks ago when Martin played it at the Gate To Southwell Festival. It took my breath away. One of his finest and that's saying something.

  • Comment number 2.

    Has anyone written a song about the reality of the modern travellers who in no way confirm to your memories. Perhaps some one should write a song about the violence and disruption the travelling community cause wherever they go. I speak as one who is on the receiving end of it on a regular basis. I look forward to the usual level of invective whenever one has the audacity to criticise this so called community (in reality organised crime)


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