Magna Carta Burnsall Village Hall 14th June 2014 The Grassington Festival Magna Carta one of a few bands that I’d promised myself I would try and see again if I ever gotthe chance. I think (but I can never be certain these days) that I saw Magna Carta somewhere sometime in the early 70s. One thing I am certain of was that I first saw them on TV in 1970 or 1971, playing on the Old Grey Whistle Test, or it may have been its predecessor Disco 2. They played a simply stunning version of “Airport Song” with spellbinding vocals from Glen Stuart. I remember talking about it with mates at school the next day, and we were all impressed by them. Three things stuck out which marked that performance for me. The first was the amazing bush of hair which circled Glen’s face. The second was the purity, clarity and high pitch of his vocals (he apparently had a five octave range). And the third was the perfect harmonies between Glen and Chris. Actually, thinking about it, there was a fourth aspect of the performance that I must mention; the exquisite guitar work of Davey Johnstone (he would shortly leave to join Elton John’s band). Today Magna Carta are (as they always were) led by founder and main songwriter, and great dalesman, Chris Simpson. From Chris’ bio on the Magna Carta site: “Chris grew up in the Yorkshire Dales, in a 16th century stone house lit by candles where, in the words of his song Wild Horses: “No T.V. or electric light And the darkness fell like a Winter’s night Silence was a friend you did not question…” He is a true Dalesman. His influences are an eclectic mix of Steinbeck, Dickens, Buchan and Hemingway together with Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee and Chuck Berry.” The current Magna Carta band also features Laurens Joensen (an excellent guitarist, mandolinist and multi-instrumentalist from Amsterdam), John Shepard (drums), Wendy Ross (classically trained award-winning violinist), Will Stockbridge, the 17 year old son of Chris’ friend Nigel the guitar technician from Richmond on bass (Nigel restored an old bass for me some years ago), and Chris’ old friend and great joker Doug Morter (who was originally in Magna Carta in the ’80s). This concert was both a reunion and (another) farewell, and was part of the annual Grassington festival. Magna Carta and Chris Simpson have a long standing connection with the Grassington festival. Chris used to live in Grassington and he has played the festival on a number of occasions, and Magna Carta recorded an album there. Burnsall is a tiny village in the Dales. To get there I had a pleasant drive across North Yorshire, passing through Ripon and Pately Bridge on the way, and then negotiating some single track roads as I got closer to the village.
The Village Hall was easy to find; I saw a string of cars parked and figured that I was getting close. The place was already full when I arrived, the concert had been sold out for weeks. Chris told us that people had travelled from Hull, Canada and Borneo (!) for the concert. A big picture of their bass player Lee Abbott, who sadly passed away in 2012, was displayed on the wall down at the front of the small hall. The concert started at 8pm and Magna Carat played until after 11pm with a short 30 minute break. The set consisted of songs from throughout their career, including a number from “Lord of the Ages”. One of the highlights was the first UK (and home coming) performance of new song “Fields of Eden” which tells the story of the dales and features a great narrative from Andrew Jackson who has a deep rich voice, and came up onto the stage to joined the band for that song. The closing song was, of course, “Airport Song”. A pleasant evening spent with some fine musicians, great songs, deep in the heartland of the place where Chris and the songs grew. It was a privilege to see him play them back where they belong. Bought a great book, “The Complete Works of Magna Carta” at the concert; a bargain at £5 🙂