I guess many of us tired old bloggers are at the time of life where we are beginning to evaluate/re-evaluate our fathers, as so touchingly displayed in J. David's piece below. I lost my own pa nearly 30 years ago, his memory now more benign presence than black hole, but this is neither about me nor him, being more an opportunity to, possibly, introduce, a name less well known than I would like, one Martin Simpson.
For me, as a UK based folkie, his name has always been bubbling under my surface tensions, a perennial on the listings pages over decades, cropping up in good company yet never quite as celebrated as the company kept: he has appeared with June Tabor and been a member of the Albion (Country/Dance) Band on occasion. His style is an interesting hybrid of an english tradition, albeit with odd tunings, spun with a delta blues bottleneck bravadaccio, honed from years resident in the U.S., styles that are seldom played alongside each other. And devoutly acoustic, no mean hand also on banjo. However, in recent years, into his 4th decade of recordings, he has hit a purple patch of masterful solo records and a slew of collaborations within which he has seemed the patrician guiding focus. Awards and accolades have tumbled around him in swathes, his admirers including one Richard Thompson, who has said: “I am a big fan of Martin's playing. Perhaps the highest praise I could give is to say that he never stops getting better!” Here they are playing together.
But what has this to do with fatherhood? Time for the song:
I just love the apparent disparagement of the lyric, the way the narrative catalogues the shortcomings, perhaps being the voices of criticism the boy Martin heard of his father in childhood, the sums thereof unwittingly combining to produce an adorable image of a wonderful father, hang the husband, breadwinner stuff, just a lovely and loved man who adored his son. OK, perhaps a rose tinted memoir, but one that effortlessly has me welling up even just thinking about the song. Live in concert it has a particular poignancy, as Simpson describes how he, as the son of an older father, his father being over 50 when he was born, himself became a first time father in his 50s. The hope he can be the same to his son exudes from every pore of his being. And maybe the song is right. Why is it that the workplace statistics of a man are so more highly celebrated than the more ethereal family persona? The list of giants of politics, business and, yes, even the arts are littered with distant figures from their neglected progeny and worse, cruel and insensitive parenting almost de rigeur for the self-made man.
There are other songs by others that touch on similar territory. Some perhaps even written with the insight of having not been themselves the father they reminisce so fondly of. To all intents and purposes, Ian Dury seems not to have been an easy man but his song to his father hits a similar vein:
Isn't it the truth, as we get older, abetted by those annoying and increasing similarities in the mirror, far from hoping we won't become our fathers, as teenagers, in time, inevitably, we do.
Buy the studio version of 'Never Any Good' and hope your own sons will think so kindly.