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. 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.
I’ve just moved to Stroud in Gloucestershire. It’s where five different valleys meet and where one of my favourite authors, Laurie Lee, wrote. My studio looks out to the hills and the valleys. At this time of wintery isolation it’s the trees and their promise to leaf again that are providing inspiration. That and good coffee!
Gain & Loss
I have a three year old so I’m pretty occupied all the time, pandemic or otherwise! With so much in flux, I’ve been grateful for the constant source of routine and hilarity that raising a small human brings.
The magic, the connection with the audience, the connection with the players. This sounds clique, but there is just nothing like it.
Studio & Workspace
My studio is in my attic, looking out to the hills. I tend to track vocals, string instruments and synths up here, then downstairs I’ve got my piano and organ. I don’t really mind having things in different places, often ideas come when walking up and down stairs!
I begin the day as slowly as humanly possible when you’re accompanied by a three year old. Tea and books in bed then a short Yoga and Qigong sequence. I’ll swim or walk when possible, I’m a bit like a dog that needs to be let out. I try not to rush these rituals. My way of working changes a lot depending on what stage in a project I’m at. At the beginning I’ll mostly be frowning/ staring into the middle distance/ walking in the woods. When I’ve found an idea and am in flow then I’ll sit and work without knowing what time it is. It also changes a lot depending on my daughter- it’s easy to feel frustrated when you can’t work when planned for whatever reason, but learning that that disruption is actually my greatest privilege has brought a lot more balance.
I’ve always played music, I think playing music as a child is a fundamental right, whether you choose to pursue it or otherwise- singing is like running. In the UK so much music has now been taken away from schools which I find devastating, I hope we can reverse that, and that future generations are lucky enough to have access to play music and create.
I feels right.
Health & Productivity
Bounce mixes and walk with them, same for any phone meetings, moving as much as possible helps me then sit down and focus. Drink water, eat your greens, lie down, hug loved ones and drink wine with friends.
Poppy Ackroyd’s remix of my song ‘Keep you in Light’ is a very special one to me. Poppy is a great friend and it’s a stunning rework. The video that accompanies it was shot by Georgie d’Albiac Brewin in Brighton, it represents friendship, family, the seaside town I love and a promise of protection and hope.
Background image by Georgie.