With his wide-brimmed hat, checked shirt and navy blue jeans, Simon Joyner could easily be mistaken for someone from Gunsmoke, the classic Western radio and television series that originated in his native America in the mid-1950s. As if to confirm this first impression of a man from another time and place, his music here tonight also possesses a suitably ageless quality. It is stark, simple and deceptively subtle and defies you to locate it in any given era.
The man from Omaha, Nebraska has been around in musical terms for more than a quarter of a century now. In that time he has produced a fedora hatful of studio albums – 13 at the last count – a clutch of live recordings, a number of collaborations with other artists and more singles and EPs than you can shake a stick at. Yet despite such great productivity, the fame associated with having his 1994 LP, The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll, played in its entirety from start to finish by John Peel on one of his BBC radio programmes, and his being revered by a raft of other musicians from Beck to Bright Eyes and Gillian Welch to Kevin Morby, Simon Joyner has consistently flown under the radar of wider recognition. A quiet, respectful and unassuming man, you strongly suspect that it is a place where he likes to be.
Appearing in York for the very first time – one of only four UK shows – affords us with a rare opportunity to experience the artistry and creative energy that is Simon Joyner. He treats us to a dozen songs, arcing back as far in time as 1995 with ‘Three Well Aimed Arrows’ (from Heaven’s Gate), taking in three tracks from his most recent studio album, Grass, Branch & Bone – ‘Sonny’, which opens the show, ‘Old Days’ and a really quite mesmerising ‘You Got Under My Skin’ – and pointing confidently towards the future with a couple of tunes – ‘Hail Mary’ and, perhaps the stand-out song of the entire evening, ‘I’ll Fly Away’ – which are destined for his next long player due out in August.
Simon Joyner populates his songs with characters that are either drawn from his own personal experience or his observations of others. They are songs where narratives are developed from a multi-dimensional perspective of ideas, memories and reflection. Yet wherever that road in between takes you, you do sense that each and every one of these songs begins and ends with a strong belief in the power of love.
By way of a reaction to the idiom “Get the hell outta Dodge” – made most famous by the TV show Gunsmoke – and the often perennial desire of a musical troubadour to just move on, Simon Joyner wrote the song ‘You Got Under My Skin’. Sometimes it is best just to stick it out in one place for a while, he suggests. And do you know something, on this compelling evidence alone he is absolutely right.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE