Magna Carta - new lease of life for a classic band

Magna Carta at Grassington Festival at Burnsall Village Hall - Chris Simpson, Laurens Joensen, Will Stockbridge, Wendy Ross and Andrew Jackson performing the track Fields of Eden. (Picture by Dave Aston)

Magna Carta at Grassington Festival at Burnsall Village Hall - Chris Simpson, Laurens Joensen, Will Stockbridge, Wendy Ross and Andrew Jackson performing the track Fields of Eden. (Picture by Dave Aston)

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Live review by Jan Robinson Pictures by Dave Aston

Magna Carta, Grassington Festival, Burnsall Village Hall.

Magna Carta at Grassington Festival at Burnsall Village Hall - Chris Simpson, Will Stockbridge and Laurens Joensen. (Picture by Dave Aston)

Magna Carta at Grassington Festival at Burnsall Village Hall - Chris Simpson, Will Stockbridge and Laurens Joensen. (Picture by Dave Aston)

In the relaxed, informal setting of Burnsall village hall, Magna Carta was introduced by MC Robert Fort as “one of the Dales greatest exports!”

Since 1969, the group has toured 60 countries, rubbed shoulders with many famous musicians and sold eight million records worldwide, so the chance to see them in the Yorkshire Dales was indeed a real treat!

After being given a very warm welcome, the six piece band comprising Chris Simpson (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Doug Morter (guitar and jokes!), Wendy Ross (violinist), Laurens Joensen (slide/acoustic/classical guitar, mandolin), John Sheppard (drums) and Will Stockbridge (base guitar), launched into their concert, masterfully executing an entertaining collection of songs, both old and new.

A heartfelt, glowing tribute from Chris Simpson was made to the late base player Lee Abbot but then a more lively tone was introduced through songs interspersed with jokes, employing Doug Morter’s dry sense of humour!

An unspoken sense of appreciation abounded - a warm blanket wrapped around the hall being the appropriate analogy!

His warmth was reflected within the group - observed by one visitor from Hull who commented “they were fantastic and showed great generosity of spirit by allowing each talented musician to take centre stage”.

This was demonstrated to the max with Laurens Joensen’s fantastic slide guitar solo and by Wendy Ross on violin.

An “advanced state of refreshment” (Doug Morter’s term) facilitated some audience participation and it became clear that after Chris Simpson opened the second half with the World in the Palm of My Hands, that the attentive audience were completely in his!

He spoke of being rejuvenated by the recently discovered tapes from the group’s Seasons album (1971) live at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, now released on CD.

Whether this discovery gave Chris the impetus to finish writing the long-awaited album, the Fields of Eden, remains unclear, as the band’s website states it has been “a concept that has gestated for nine years”.

However, its release is now imminent, the album based on the central theme of what is happening to Chris Simpson’s beloved Yorkshire Dales, an issue close to his heart.

The inspiration became clear as the talented song-writer and band gave a taster of some of his compositions - a rendition of Greenhow Hill, based on his family’s mining heritage, Long Time Running, the Same Rain and European Union Blues with its provocative content!

However, it was the final number, an extended version of the Fields of Eden with its Middlesmoor overture, that was the folk legend’s piece de resistance! Magical!

It cleverly combined acoustics/vocals and haunting violin accompaniment with the spoken word, a beautifully delivered soliloquy by Andrew Jackson.

It was an emotionally charged performance which confirmed Chris Simpson not only as a true Dalesman, but as the dynamic song-writer that he is.

The topical lyrics resonated with some of his audience, having an emotional effect on Dales folk as Chris explained with a lump in his throat that he was “bringing the song back home!”

An appreciation of this was echoed by a local visitor who “loved the fact that the concert was set in the area that the album was based upon”, a sentiment endorsed by a Middlesmoor Daleswoman, whose deep appreciation of the lyrics led her to enthuse “it was brilliant - can’t wait for the album to be released.”

Magna Carta may have been on the road for 45 years, but they have taken on a new lease of life by returning to their roots.

As Andrew Jackson concluded “to move forward you have to go back!“ Chris Simpson oozed experience and combined with the accomplished band’s special musical qualities, the taster of the previously slow-burning album, left the audience wanting more.

It was a special evening, the friendliness reflected in the fans - the warmth even extended outside!

Magna Carta in Burnsall! They came, they sang, they conquered!