MARTIN STEPHENSON & THE DAINTEES – live Under The Bridge, London

Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Martin Stephenson & The Daintees arrived in Chelsea in the middle of a long tour. The reason is, of course, the revamped Gladsome, Humour & Blue, an album I’ve very much enjoyed reacquainting myself with over the last few weeks. The core Daintees are lead guitarist John Steel, Kate Stephenson on drums and bassist Chris Mordey with a brief guest appearance by vocalist Anna Lavigne. The re-recording took a back-to-basics approach and the live band now trimmed away anything that wasn’t strictly necessary. The plan was simple: play the album through, more or less in order, and have some extra fun at the end.

So they started with ‘There Comes A Time’ which, with the audience full of the band’s friends, became something of an anthem – the hook line being irresistibly singable. There was a bit of messing about with a lead and it felt a bit shambolic. Sometimes it seemed that Martin was working on his stand-up routine with improbable stories and iffy jokes but after a while I had him sussed. He may look as though he’s winging the whole show but behind the joking he is razor sharp and the band is tight as a drum.

‘Slaughterman’ was followed by an acoustic solo of ‘The Wait’, less being more. ‘Even The Night’ became another anthem with just Martin’s guitar and John and Kate doing backing vocals. And the audience who took over the chorus and harmonised like professionals. A huge roar greeted ‘Wholly Humble Heart’ with a stunning guitar solo from John and then Martin did something that really impressed me. In the midst of a story about how the Americans pinched everything from us and in particular how Merle Haggard learned Kentucky thumb style from Chas And Dave he demonstrated the proof. First the chunky chords on the middle strings, then a bass lick and finally adding a melody line – plus a ‘brass’ chord hit over the pick-up. I saw it and I still can’t get my head round it.

‘Goodbye John’ saw a guest appearance by John Perry, formerly of The Only Ones. He’s a fine player but looks seriously scary and now we had two lead guitarists on stage, both under tight control – it could have got messy otherwise. ‘Signposts To Heaven’, a track from a new side-project album, Thomasina, co-written with Anna was followed by the country-rock of ‘Running Waters’ and with John Perry firmly ensconced we were treated to ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’, The Only Ones’ biggest hit. ‘The Folk Singer’ wasn’t the Tommy Roe hit, I’m pleased to say, but ‘The Whisky’ is likely to get Martin exiled from the Highlands.

Finally, Martin gave us ‘Rain’, solo-ish and acoustic-ish before the band came back to encore with ‘Boat To Bolivia’ and its infectious blend of Latin and reggae beats. The Daintees’ tour continues well into the new year and I urge you go and hear them. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard Martin before you’ll still have a great night out.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.daintees.co.uk

‘Rain’ – live from an earlier date on the tour:

MARTIN STEPHENSON & THE DAINTEES – Bayswater Road (Barbaraville Records)

Bayswater RoadBelieve it or not, Bayswater Road is Martin Stephenson’s 35th album in as many years. He emerged as one of the rising stars of the eighties with the album Boat To Bolivia. The Daintees broke up in 1993 and Martin continued as a soloist but later reformed the band. The only Daintee remaining from the original line-up is guitarist John Steel – but enough of history.

It’s difficult to know where Martin fits into today’s world of compartmentalised music. Bayswater Road is a mixture of rockabilly, 50s pop and alt country but all done with the sensibilities of the singer-songwriter that Martin always was. There are many serious songs here – don’t go away with the idea that it’s all fun – but we’re kept waiting a while for them.

The opener, ‘The Whisky’ is an all-out rocker with a serious message about the dangers of drink wrapped up in it – a sure-fire radio hit. The title track sounds a collection of memories from the fast-living days and you can have fun identifying the characters on the cover. Jon Trier’s keyboards are an important part of the sound, his breaks often defining the period. ‘Secret Crush’ starts out with a burst of surf guitar from Steel and is decorated with doo-wop backing vocals and it’s only with ‘High Sierra Snow’ that Martin dispenses with the tricks and gives us a song that isn’t played, at least in part, for a laugh.

‘Lord Lead Us’, one of three songs co-written with Anna Lavigne, is a big song with a gospel feel and soulful backing vocals by Susanna Wolfe, Nuala Keller and Anna herself and ‘Every Kind Of Heaven’ is Martin’s ecological plea. The two sit well together as the album gets serious and ‘Thorn For A Rose’ and the solo acoustic ‘Elaine’ are both lovely songs. ‘She Rides Horses’ is a gorgeous production number to bring everything to a close.

I’ve enjoyed listening to Bayswater Road. It’s different, sometimes quirky and always clever. I guess that’s what Martin Stephenson is all about.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.daintees.co.uk/

‘Elaine’ – live: