Sunday 23 June 2024

IN THE ROOTS OF MUSIC

Newsletter SIGNUP

spiral earth
Sunday 23 June 2024

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Sound Magic.

Mar 19, 2023

It is with sadness that Spiral Earth acknowledges the passing of Simon Emmerson, a much needed and valued figure in roots and world music. He died on March 13th at the far too early age of 67 years. His career was one which moved in many circles and genres, under the adopted monicker of Simon Booth he first came to attention as part of Weekend and the jazz leaning Working Week, as a session musician he played on and particpated in a roll call of albums including those by Everything But The Girl, Vic Goodard, The James Taylor Quartet and Manu DiBango which foreshadowed his later inspirations and influences.

Under his proper name he found the spotlight once more with The Afro Celt Sound System in the mid 1990s, whose debut album freely melded Irish with African influence in a dizzying yet seductive mix. They became the darlings of the progressive roots scene at the same time as other artists like Higland electro piper Martyn Bennett began to dabble with samples, keyboards, dance infleunces and serious electronics as a way of moving folk music onward. They succeded too, siging with Peter Gabriel’s Real World label and won all manner of awards from the roots, dance and rock scenes, the band even happily played raves. Collaborating with Sinead O’ Connor their second album was even bigger than their first, at the centre of the gleeful maelstrom of musical diversity was Emmerson strumming his guitar, a huge grin on his face, his enjoyment in a pioneering job well done, obvious.

The Afro Celts were still an ongoing concern when he was taken, last glimsped by Spiral Earth at the 2021 Shrewsbury Folk Festival where they performed a wonderful set just what was needed to kick some life into a  folk scene  stumbling forth after the blanket silence forced on it by the Covid epidemic. This version of the band had also come through a split in the core membership when James McNally and several others departed and formed their own version of the group. For a while there were two Afro Celts, however in 2016 Emmerson won control of the name as McNally agreed to work in a new guise under a different banner. However it was Emmerson’s band which so far has produced the only new material with ‘Flight’ in 2018.

In parallel with the Afro Celts Simon also ran The Imagined Village, a band based in British folk music but utilising the wide variety of cultures and backgrounds found in modern Britain to present new interpretations of centuries old material. Again working with such well known traditionalists as Martin and Eliza Carthy alongside Johnny Kalsi( dohl drummer) Billy Bragg, Transglobal Underground, Shelia Chandra, Paul Weller, Tunng and even moderinist ceilidh band Tiger Moth success followed. Both the mainstream and specialist press lapped up three albums and an EP which saw dub, fusion and world influences filtered through Brit roots to create a unique music which worked as effectively on the road as it did in the studio. He was also a producer adding his ideas and inspiration to a mind boggling list of albums, even overseeing a rootsy remake of Beatles songs with a host of folkies ‘Hard Days Night Treatment,’ for the Lush label.

Away from his role as producer, orginator and performer of such eclectic music Simon Emmerson was a dediacted twitcher, his love of and fascination with birdlife led to collaborations with the RSPB on recording bird song but more than that it expanded on his core belief that everything in life is connected in particular nature and music. It became his passion to find those connections and to bring them to a wider attention, some might call him driven but from what he wanted to achieve Simon Emmerson could not be disuaded, determination was but one of his trademarks.

We could do with more like him, he made genuine music with heart, soul and vision. It is his legacy.

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