The word was that the trio would be retiring for good, and there would be no more touring, but the particular phrasing seemed to leave the door ajar for more activities.
Twelve months on from that initial statement and Lester Simpson is quick to clarify the situation.
“It is a farewell,” he says concisely. “We did leave a proviso in there just in case we were asked to go back to Belgium for a Centenary Concert next year to mark the end of The Great War, but true to form … we’ve not been asked.”
So the end is indeed nigh!
“It’s been a 25-year experience, and it’s been great, and this is a complete finish. That will be happening.”
The reason behind their decision to conclude their journey is simple: quality of life, and the quality of the music.
“We’re no longer young men,” says Lester. “Jim [Boyes] is 71 this year and lives in Belgium, so if we have gigs in this country, he has to make a 400 miles trip, and there’s a ferry – it’s quite a way for him to drive. So we decided to quit while we’re ahead.
“The last CD, Coda, has had good reviews and I think it’s really good for us to get out while we’re still at the top. I won’t mention any names, but there are people on the circuit who are still going who probably should have stopped, but we’re still good – we’re at the top of our game.”
Such comments are no bravado. In previewing the release, FRUK described the threesome as producing “the finest a capella harmonies in the English folk world as well as some of the finest social commentary in song,” and we weren’t alone as Coda picked up consistently positive reviews across the board, the release lauded for its political stance, humanity and hooks. A career high? No doubt.
Hailing from Yorkshire and Derbyshire, Lester Simpson, Jim Boyes and Barry Coope emerged fully formed in the early ’90s, with their debut album, 1993’s Funny Old World, earning Q Magazine’s Roots Album Of The Year (in ’94).
“We decided to get together after being offered Sidmouth [Folk Festival], which we got on the strength of who we were, and we were asked to do a Peace Concert in Belgium on the strength of Jim’s solo album [Out’ The Blue],” recalls Lester of their genesis. “Jim said ‘I have two other mates, we’ve just started a trio,’ so we got invited to that, and that carried on.
“It was a pleasant surprise – the sum of our voices was more than the whole, together we sounded much richer, and it sounded nice with that blend. It was pretty obvious to us from the start, the way it sounded. We were blessed.
“The Voice Squad were about at that time, and Cockersdale were still singing – it was a good time then, in the ’90s.”
The chaps continued to rack up acclaim with such releases as 1996’s Passchendaele Suite, 2014’s In Flanders Fields, and more. Looking back at their many accomplishments, Lester has much to be proud of.
“I think the blossoming of the co-operative has been the thing,” he says, referring to No Masters, the song-writing co-operative formed by John Tams and Jim Boyes in 1990 which ‘celebrates songwriting that addresses issues’ and has included such members as Chumbawamba, O’Hooley and Tidow, and the late Lal and Mike Waterson, as well as CB&S.
“That independent, self-governing thing, taking control of your music, taking control of your publishing. That will hopefully serve as an example to others, and it’s been going since long before the current trend for independent [set-ups]. I see that as a positive thing.
“In terms of performance, we’ve taken an overtly political stance, doing songs we think that matter. We do comment; we’re not just pretty harmonies, the lyrics are crucial to us.
“The Peace Concerts [in Belgium] have to feature very very high on any list, from them we’ve done music all around Europe. If we had not done that Peace Concert [in 1993 – the first of several], I don’t know … we’ve done so many great gigs.
“Working with Mr Morpurgo – Michael Morpurgo – has been an absolute joy, over a long period of time. That’s opened doors to us,” Lester says of the trio’s relationship with the War Horse scribe, which has resulted in such acclaimed collaborations as 2006’s Private Peaceful and 2008’s On Angel Wings.
“But I’ll be glad if I hear someone in a session sing one of my or Jim’s songs … to hear that they’re growing into that tradition.”
Before they officially stand down, there’s a final splattering of dates – including The Beehive folk club in Harthill, Sidmouth Folk Festival, a rare London show (Amersham Arms), and an appearance at Towersey Festival* over the August Bank Holiday.
“We must have been three or four times. I’ve been performing at Towersey in various guises for a long time. The first time was as a street theatre performer in the ’80s – that was an awfully long time ago! It’s a lovely festival, and it’s nice to see and meet up with old chums …”
But the last hurrah comes in October with a guest-filled appearance as part of Derby Folk Festival.
“Lots of our chums will be coming to help us,” says Lester, enthusiastically, namedropping Chumbawumba, John Tams, Mick Peat, Finest Kind, Fi Fraser and Jo [Freyer]. And although Coope Boyes and Simpson, as a group, will be no more, the No Masters trio have no plans to individually retire.
“We won’t be disappearing. I’m learning songs for a new quartet with Barry [Coope], Fi Fraser and Jo Freyer called Nathern, which will be a chance for us to play all our instruments – which is something we don’t do in Coope Boyes and Simpson; Jim will be carrying on working with Belinda O’Hooley with Sensations Of A Wound, working with a guitarist in Belgium and doing local song sessions. He’s got loads to do, but …” Lester smiles, “… it’s all just a short drive.”
*Coope Boyes and Simpson appear at Towersey Festival (25-28 Aug 2017) on Monday 28 August, alongside The Demon Barbers XL, Roy Bailey, Jim Causley, Dallahan, The Sweet Water Warblers and Merry Hell. Day Tickets £30. For more details, including the full festival line-up, see: www.towerseyfestival.com
For more information on Coope Boyes and Simpson’s Farewell dates, see: www.coopeboyesandsimpson.co.uk