I might have begun by remarking on how long it must be since I listened to the original Gladsome, Humour & Blue but having played the new version once I had to dig out my old vinyl and give it another spin. It’s still a great record and ‘There Comes A Time’ grabbed me immediately, or again, or both. This was Martin and The Daintees’ second album and everything was going for them including having Paul Samwell-Smith on-board as one of the producers.
Martin has taken a new approach to recording Gladsome 30. He has thirty years more experience, his voice is a little deeper and stronger and he has trimmed away much of the decoration leaving essentially a guitar band, somewhat heavier than before. There are subtle differences, too. The lyrics have been changed in small ways so that ‘There Comes A Time’ is now written mostly in the second person until the final verse in which Martin reveals that he’s where he wants to be and the line “I have my reign” is almost triumphal. Martin addresses the song to his younger self, it seems.
I like the way that ‘The Old Church Is Still Standing’ segues into ‘Even The Night’, the sounds of the organ (actually Martin’s guitar) bridging two of the album’s finest songs and then drifting away into what was originally the end of the first side. ‘Wholly Humble Heart’ opens with stinging electric guitar from Paul Steel and develops into the album’s big production number. It was an important song in 1988 and it still is. ‘Me & Matthew’ is an immediate contrast being just fingerpicked acoustic guitar and voices.
Martin has added two bonus tracks. The first is a rock’n’roller called ‘Get Get Gone’ which mixes up its time zones by including a Metro station and a ten bob note as well as pound pounds. Martin lets his accent run free on this one. Then, after a pointless wait (et tu, Stephenson?) we have another version of ‘There Comes A Time’, almost hymnal with its multi-voiced guitars. Gladsome 30 isn’t a replacement for the original, in fact I’ve enjoyed listening to both side by side, but while it stands alone it is also complementary. You do need both.
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.
Way back in 1982 Martin Stephenson and the Daintees put their first single out on the seminal Kitchenware label, and four albums, including the classic debut Boat To Bolivia followed in the 80s before Martin retreated from the big city and bright lights to head back north. A successful solo career followed with Martin self releasing albums, and still drawing in sizeable crowds live, while occasionally re-convening the much beloved Daintees culminating with the original line up reformed, and re-invigorated really on form and fire.
Some thirty-five studio albums in Martin not only still has that affable nature and maverick approach most importantly he still has that knack to write classic songs that stop you in your tracks and linger in your mind.
A piano flourish announces Bayswater Road’s arrival on straight ahead rocker ‘The Whisky’ with Martin pronouncing that ‘The Whisky is surely poison, it’s a deep dark medicine’. Too much of a good thing folks. The jaunty and jolly swagger of ‘Bayswater Road’ follows while ‘Secret Crush’ transports us back to the late 50s / early 60s with hints of a Duane Eddy guitar creeping in. ‘Lord Lead Us’ brings out Martin’s spiritual and gospel side. Upbeat and exuberant the albums single ‘High Sierra Snow’ is Martin at his snappiest and catchiest in a song redolent of classic 60s crooner pop meets postcard label pop of the late 70s. Irresistible. Nature abounds on ‘Every Kind Of Heaven’, while ‘Thorn For A Rose’ suggests that all things of beauty have a sharper side to them and need to be handled with care. ‘Shoot’ with its chunky guitar riffs and a plea to pull the trigger ends with a sharp finish while the album concludes with a touching tribute to a friend on ‘Elaine’ and the romantic ‘She Rides Horses’ as Martin croons a song of love and longing.
A Gorgeous, graceful, at times gregarious album eclectic in its selection of songs, electric in its energy. Thirty-five years on and still evolving and exciting. Stunning.