The Visitor by Chris Simpson – A review by Nigel Schofield

Even before you open this jewel of a volume, you warm to it… beautifully presented with captivating illustrations, it lures you in like the inviting Yorkshire rural road that draws you towards the dale beyond. You turn the pages… a forword by Patrick Stewart, an informative introduction, some words of commendation from James Herriot, a brief biography of the author, a comprehensive illustrated discography… then the story begins to unfold.

Taking place in the three days leading up to Christmas, it is a tale threaded with mystery but rooted in reality, detailed, beautifully observed, with its solid depths glimpsed like limestone thrusting through the green sweep of a fell. Naturally, the countryside is snow covered, but the rather than mask its beauty, the season enhances it and it’s viewed with the evocative precision of a Peter Brook landscape.

Those of us who know Chris Simpson’s work through his songs for his band Magna Carta know his eye for detail but also his deft skill as a storyteller, holding attention in both brief miniatures and epic sagas from The Seasons Suite to The Fields Of Eden. No surprise then that one is drawn into the tale of The Robertshaws, Ros and Emily, determined Dales dwellers, remainers in their Yorkshire isolation when their son and even their friends have taken the downward track townwards, and the Stranger of the title whose unexplained visitation makes such an unexpected difference to their lives.

The art of a tale is in its telling and the best of tales will fail in the hands of a stumbling narrator. No chance of that here: voices speak from the page with a resounding authenticity; the eight date-stamped chapters lure you onwards deeper into this very particular world; words are always well-chosen and phrases stand with the self-supporting surety of a dry-stone wall. This is a real vivid place, a landscape with a Hardyesque sense of its own character. The North Yorkshire, remote, isolate, strange yet truly natural comes alive, old England vivid in the same way as New England envisioned by Robert Frost.

This is a story that needs to be read. To summarise or paraphrase would be to diminish it. It encapsulates that “uniquely Yorkshire ability to combine craft and art”.
This is a Christmas story. But it is also tale for all time. Just as you don’t need to be in Yorkshire or from Yorkshire to appreciate it, so Winter is evoked as a setting. Just as he has in countless songs, Chris Simpson takes you there, a certain companion and a guileless guide. Like the “tall figure outlined against the late afternoon sky”, you are welcomed into a windswept world you take pleasure in passing through.
The Visitor is a gem in perfect setting. Treasure it!

Nigel Schofield

Click this link to get a copy of “The Visitor” from Amazon UK.

About Nigel Schofield:
Chris Simpson wrote:
“Nigel Schofield is well connected with MC. He was a presenter on Pennine Radio. I hosted a whole series of shows for him.
He is a HUGE MC fan. I used to take my demos into Pennine, and he’d record them. A lot of MC classics went down.
Then he got a girl to sing harmonies on the demos: Linda Taylor! The rest, as they say is history.
He is also a top line journalist on Telegraph & Argus.
Has written some superb sleeve notes for MC and The Visitor in the northern press.
For him writing this review is a labour of love.
Incidentally, he regards my ‘Song for John’ as one of the greatest songs ever written.”