The Fields of Eden by Magna Carta is being heralded as the greatest album they have ever made. The brainchild of writer/musician Chris Simpson, it is a paean of praise to his homeland in the Yorkshire Dales. He grew up in a smallholding on a hilltop, minus electricity and the turning Seasons on the doorstep. His dislike of towns was inbred at an early age.
Currently he lives with his beautiful wife, Cathy, in Huddersfield, but their piece of heaven is situated on a Narrowboat on the canal at East Marton, on the edge of the Dales, a few miles north- west of Skipton. Time stands still there, and ever a world traveller, to come home to the boat is a re-charging of the batteries.
In 1969, and living in London at the time, he coerced an A&R man from Mercury/Phonogram to a session showcasing his songs at the April/Blackwood CBS studios.
Simpson recalls that they were 'very rough' but for the A&R man the songs were diamonds. He was plied with liberal dollops of Glenmorangie and Simpson made him sign a beermat as a sign of good faith.
He then turned up at Phonogram, Stanhope Place the day after, and argued that the beermat constituted a contract. The A&R man with his brain still in pieces, could not argue. Magna Carta was signed.
They set out on the road playing folk clubs. Two years later after the huge success of their second album 'Seasons' they performed an extended version of the work, together with the
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the Albert Hall. Davey Johnstone was still with them, prior to joining Elton John. Simpson was ever true to his roots.
He never played the nostalgia card, simply using his magnificent childhood backdrop as a kind of blueprint from which he regarded the changing world.
Nigel Schofield in reviewing the Fields of Eden, claims Simpson is one of the greatest lyricist on the planet. He often uses soliloquys as a means of not only championing the spoken word, but making the point stick
The piece also hits home with some thought provoking truths ...' Change, just for the sake of change, goes nowhere. It is the last resort of those whose wells of inspiration have run dry...' and ...'consider, Pilgrim on what ground you stand. The road winds where it will for it has no master, but let your footsteps take you down to the plain and you might just find that the best way forward is back...'
So apart from the Dales, what shaped the man's music?
Chris soaked up everything he heard, from Donegan's 'Rock Island Line,' (which fired up a nation of guitar players) to Elvis' Sun sessions; the Everlys; Buddy Holly; Chuck Berry; Jerry Lee Lewis and onwards. He soaked in the music of the time mixing it with a growing
awareness of folk music; Country (he met his great idol, the late Chet Atkins) and the Blues. He watched the fledgling Rolling Stones start, and caught the young Bob Dylan at the Troubadour and Martin Carthy at the King and Queen, Foley Street, London 'Seasons' was written on cornflakes packets. When they showcased it live at the St. Martin-in-the-Fields folk club, the audience were stunned.
Then again in the Valhalla of Rhythm and Blues, the Marquee in Wardour Street. Same result.
Quite a pedigree.
Like John and Paul, he also loved the music of the greats, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin and Antonio Carlos Jobim, the master of the samba.
If it felt good to his ears, then he took it on board and fed it into the musical lifestream of Magna Carta.
If someone had told him back in 1969 he would sell some 8,000,000 albums and, so far, work in 78 countries across the world and be out there playing for 45 years, he would have recoiled in disbelief. Never happy to be branded 'folk', he simply mixed in its richness.
As ever, the lyric was of the utmost importance. He found that in Holland and Germany, his lyrics were taught as English in schools.
His classic 'Lord of the Ages' gave hope and strength to the suffering people of Kosovo.
After the celebrated Albert Hall concert, Magna Carta were invited to Kensington Palace by HRH Princess Margaret.
A few months later they were in the Festival Hall for a concert of poets. The late great, Robert Graves was the shining star and he praised Simpson's lyrical skills. The two of them ended up in a West Indian dive in the Fulham Road, shooting the breeze until sun-up.
Rubbing shoulders with the famous and infamous, he refers to great times with David Bowie who, after they had done a Palladium show, expressed a fear that he would be only a one hit wonder with 'Space Oddity.'
And so it has been through the years of varying fortunes until now, when in the Fields of Eden, a mature artist takes a seasoned look at our world with the Dales as a backdrop.
For example, up on the hill as a child they were ever at the mercy of the weather. So in the 'Same Rain' he ponders the mystery of a rain that has always been there, and its effect on the ages.
One should also mention his guitar playing. As innovative as his lyrics and incorporating the influence of so many styles from Scotty Moore (with whom he shared another memorable evening) to Paul Simon and his idol, the late J.J.Cale, you can know it is him from the other
side of a playing field.
The Fields of Eden is on Talking Elephant Records.