Mara Simpson is a British musician and story-teller, currently based in Brighton. Through her songs and collaborations with artists (Poppy Ackroyd, Jools Owen), visual artist (Becky Lu, Gudrun Olsen) and local communities, she draws together the sublime and ridiculous from our everyday.
“I see music in shapes and colours, I write because I’m alive.
I fervently believe in magic, in the moments of transcendence when everything makes sense.
Through this I stay awake, I stay alive.“
Growing up on a Hertfordshire cul-de-sac then flying back ‘home’ to Kenya where her parents were born, shaped in Mara the traveller, the outsider and the romantic, that have become hallmarks of her music. Mara performs with her band (Poppy Ackroyd, Fiddes Smith, Jools Owen, Jamie Patterson) as well as solo.
Mara is classically trained in composition, piano and guitar as well as fine art. She has performed over 300 shows, both on festival stages and intimate concerts, most recent stages include Fusion (Germany), Kaltern Pop (Italy), Together the People (UK) and Sazavafest (Czech). Mara’s music has taken her across Europe, to New Zealand, Australia, the US and around home shores in England, performing in venues small and large, some conventional, some extraordinary (including canal boats, caves, and a hospital!). She’s become known for captivating audiences with her soulful melodies, rich lyricism, captivating voice, unassuming charm and wicked laugh.
A born storyteller, Mara’s music will resonate with fans of Patti Smith, Laurie Lee, Patrick Watson and This is The Kit. Mara paints a beautifully rich soundscape, setting the scene as she takes her audience on a journey with her, through the beauty of every day to the magic of remarkable.
“Through the dark and the light it’s always been about stories. They pour in and percolate, the lines themselves beginning to move and dance and ignite. I never know when or how I’m going to write a song, as if it’s wiser and more powerful than I am. While I’m scrabbling about figuring things out, the song flows ahead of me. In that way it can never belong to me. And that’s where the connection takes place.
This year I worked with a choir. We stood, a sea of people listening between us, as we sang and played across the room. The song-stories became shared, interconnecting the audience, the choir, the band and me, each one of us finding our own peculiar meaning, each one of us, for that moment in-time, sharing a beat, a rhythm, a breath and a heartbeat. Some kind of wholeness.
Music has held doors to the sublime and the ridiculous wide open to me. It’s been my passport to countries all over the world and the invitation to different venues, homes, journeys and conversations I could never have imagined. From shimmering roof tops to hospitals, festival main stages to 90 year old great-grandmother’s kitchen tables, music has granted me access to a world I’m thankful for. And when I get caught up within the war inside me, the confusion and torment, it’s the stories and the music that help sort everything out., that draw lines between all the souls who are not alone, those lines moving, dancing, igniting. Because without the dark there is no light. “
Mara gratefully acknowledges Arts Council England and PRS Foundation for their support.
“Soulful, sincere, warm, rich and intimate. The songwriting is stunning.”
New Zealand Musician Magazine
“Simpson’s influences come from a veritable melting pot of acoustic genres, the result is a perfectly balanced blend of folk, blues, and Americana”
Line of Best Fit
Of her 2018 choir tour
“Mara Simpson is an incredible singer, songwriter and artist. Seeing her perform recently at St John’s Bethnal Green with the community choir and seeing what she is giving to each of the communities she performs with was a truly humbling experience. Mara is a beautiful performer, and this format is an original, well-thought out initiative to engage local communities across the UK.”
Lucie Watson, music reviewer and head of music at Platoon
“…It was a privilege to be part of your music, and hear your amazing singing and guitar playing. I have seen Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Baez, Sandy Denny , John Rembourne etc the first time round, more recently and importantly Joni Mitchell and Nancy Griffiths and I think you have the originality, command, skill and sheer beauty in your music of any of them.”
London choir participant
Praise for ‘Our Good Sides’ 2016 album
(Simpson’s vocals and compositional style are reminiscent to Marianne Faithful, Joni Mitchell, and Tracy Chapman.) You could even say she’s similar to a modern day, contemporary, female Leonard Cohen. I am a die hard Leonard Cohen fan so I realise this is a big claim to make. (The album is) a lilting compilation that ebbs and flows through a range of emotions and scenarios carrying the heart print of Simpson throughout.
Goodbammsho music magazine (US)
By the end we are chanting along to the chorus “We all feel – the same way – you cannot divide us – we are holding on,” which makes us feel free and empowered. Pretty impressive for just over three minutes.
Pancakes and Whiskey (US)
Simpson’s captivating voice pays respects to a sincere form of music, arguably fitting amongst sirens such as Nora Jones and Annie Lennox.
The Music Manuel (UK)
Rooted in a tradition of superior blues and folk, the track simmers with baleful attitude without ever overdoing it, Simpson‘s rich, sonorous vocal poised with ease atop a swelling, dauntless instrumental.
Get Into This (UK)
Comrades , Collaborators and Creators
Poppy Ackroyd http://poppyackroyd.com
Fiddes Smith https://fiddessmith.com/
Becky Lu http://www.iambeckylu.com/
Amy Grace http://www.amygrace.co.nz/
Alev Lenz www.alevlenz.tumblr.com
Vanessa Thomas and Soul of the City Choir http://soulofthecitychoir.com/
Ali Tocher at Look Listen Audio Design http://hellolooklisten.com/