After what has been a year laden with difficulties for Simpson (his progress brought to an abrupt halt after the first 10,000 pressings of his new album Young Pilgrim were destroyed in the London riots of 2011), it was good to see him getting back into the swing of things tonight.
London indie-rock group Union Sound Set got the show off to a good solid start, but their set lacked a little personality until Simpson joined them for their penultimate track. But what USS lacked in personality, the Martin Harley Band made up for. With their bluegrass infused sound, tight vocal harmonies and smooth slide guitar, these guys turned heads. Although an unusual choice to support Simpson, they did a fantastic job.
But it was clearly Simpson that the crowd (and particularly the girls in the front row) had come to see. Despite his background, he has made the arduous move across genres quite well. From the broad ranging audience it seems that he’s found a style of music that doesn’t lock him in to any specific category, whilst maintaining some of his fans from all his past musical endeavours.
Simspon’s growing musical maturity is clear to see, both as a performer and as a musician, and his backing band were great in their own right. However there were moments where it felt like the audience were being kept at arms length, mostly due to his distinct lack of interaction with them between songs. Nonetheless, he seems to have gathered a devoted fan-base that really appreciates his alternative, folk influenced new style. His sensuous, gruff vocals work well surrounded by dense harmony and his shiny guitar sound, and there were some really beautiful acoustic moments.
It will be interesting to see where Simpson goes from here and the type of shows he will continue to perform: despite the advertising, he relied heavily on his band and came across more like a front man. He hasn’t yet made the distinctive leap to solo artist that could prove to be the vital next step in his career, but he’s definitely one to keep an eye on. JRM