Welcome to the 2019 Folking Awards and thank you again to everyone who participated this year. The nominations, were in eight categories, and came from our ever-expanding team of writers and were collated into shape by the Folkmeister and the Editor over a pint or two, which also involved, a few arm-wrestles and a spot of beer-mat aerobics, in a convenient local watering hole.
There were five nominees in each category, all of whom have impressed our writers during 2018.
As we said last year, all are winners in our eyes, as are quite a few who didn’t make the short list. However, it’s not just about what we think, so once more, it was down to you, our ever-growing readership, to make the final call.
We will now compile the results and announce the winners of each category at some point next week.
*The Public Vote for each category closed at 9.00pm on Sunday 31st March (GMT+1).
Soloist Of The Year
Gilmore & Roberts
Daria Kulesh and Jonny Dyer
Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar
The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Trials Of Cato
Best Live Act
The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
A Problem Of Our Kind – Gilmore & Roberts The Well Worn Path – Seth Lakeman The Joy Of Living – Jackie Oates Queer As Folk – Grace Petrie Hide And Hair – Trials Of Cato
Smith & Brewer
Best International Artist(s)
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.
There is rarely a dull moment in conversation with Martin Stephenson, but that’s exactly what you’d hope for from someone who’s never stood still during thirty-five years in love with music. For him, it’s not a career, it’s a lifetime calling, and his restless troubadour spirit has now amassed an extraordinary catalogue of over forty albums.
The latest to join the collection is an album very close to Stephenson’s heart, and that is the re-recording of his critically acclaimed second album Gladsome, Humour & Blue, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and is as pertinent and poignant as ever.
When in 1986 Martin released his debut album Boat To Bolivia he was recognized as one of the most perceptive songwriters of the day, with a thoughtful, layered sound in an age of excess. The NME said Stephenson “builds bridges between love and hate, cradle and grave, folk and pop, past and present”, which very much applies to his latest re-recording.
Stephenson realised it was a powerful album at the time, with a wide and far-reaching vision. Part of his genius is in producing songs that are timeless, with a message as powerful now as it was then. He inhabits this updated album’s message with the same degree of conviction and passion as ever, breathing beautiful new life into an established classic.
The original captured a special moment in time; the mellow maturity of this album shows it has stood the test and surpassed it. Recorded in Beetroot studios Airdrie, near Glasgow, with go-to engineer Stuart Macleod who guests on guitar and backing vocals on the album.
Martin did a limited initial run which was covered by purchases from loyal Martin Stephenson/Daintees fans, or ‘friends’ as he prefers to call them. These are a hard core of faithful followers whose support helps to fund and cycle his music and creativity. It is more organic than forms of ‘crowdfunding’ and works symbiotically in that it is mutually supportive and built on trust. Working with limited budgets can certainly force creativity and some of the best art is created that way!
The songs on this album are all gems in their own way, and Martin uses his music to bring to the forefront a number of social and political issues of the time such as ‘Wholly Humble Heart’, which took the world by storm in 1988. It sang of a gay man’s battle for love – to the backdrop of the hateful Clause 28 against homosexuality – and showed Stephenson’s singular defiance in the face of injustice. Never afraid to tackle controversial subjects, he remains a poetic champion of the underdog and oppressed.
‘Old Church’ was a strange song for a 24 year-old to take to a rock and roll band! It has a unique viewpoint in that it sings of the building itself, not religious attachments. For Stephenson, a deeply sensitive and empathetic soul, simplicity is the key to spirituality and to him love without control is the answer.
’Goodbye John’ is a unique stream of consciousness which originally covered ten foolscap pages and ‘Get Get Gone’ is part of that same outpour. The chorus was subconsciously written to both John Martyn and John Steel. Stephenson finished touring with Martyn in 86 and John Steel left The Daintees the same year, so it was very symbolic…
Paul Samwell Smith had produced Cat Stevens 15 years earlier and the name Mathew became a special link between these two gifted musicians with the synchronicity of names in Steven’s ‘Mathew And Son’ and Stephenson’s ‘Me And Matthew’. Ironically, Samwell Smith is working with Cat Stevens again, just as the 30th anniversary celebrations take place.
As Sounds magazine said of the original album, “ One of the finest and grossly underrated singer songwriters this country has given birth to has stood in the shadows too long “. It is time to change all that and Gladsome, Humour & Blue cements Stephenson in the annals as a truly great songwriter…
Gladsome Humour and Blue 30 will be out November 23rd on Barbaraville Records
Believe 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.