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:

HEG & THE WOLF CHORUS – Rain (own label)

Rain2While we still wait for their debut album, promised for 2016, the rather wonderful Heg & The Wolf Chorus bring us the third of their “hand-crafted” EPs with matching artwork by Heg Brignall – a future collector’s item if you have the set, I have no doubt.

After the boisterous A Tale Of Sailors these three songs seem rather more considered. The first track, ‘Song For Home’, begins with the sound of a distant storm – synthesised, I think – and the rumbling of Joe Kelly’s double bass. The theme and style are continued with ‘Rain’. In both, we are exposed to the elements, travelling and changing as we go – “nothing will feel the same”. ‘Sail On’ is the perfect place to leave us wanting more as they return explicitly to the maritime theme which runs throughout their music. “I’m stepping into the unknown”, sings Heg, “I’m reaching out” and indeed they are.

The arrangements are as complex and detailed as ever with Heg’s keyboards and Vince Martin’s violin providing the leads over the bass and percussion. There are some glorious harmonies, sometimes churchy, sometimes pastoral, sometimes with the backing voices singing alternate lines with Heg, particularly effective on the title track. Producer Gareth James Bailey deserves praise for his work on all three EPs but particularly on this one which shows off the band’s musical ingenuity to best effect.

And now we wait.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.hegandthewolfchorus.com

There’s nothing from the new EP on video yet but this is gorgeous. From 2013,  the single B-side ‘Maiden’:

THE REDLANDS PALOMINO COMPANY – Broken Carelessly (Clubhouse Records CRUK0016CD)

Redlands PalominoIn late 2011, not long after the release of their 2011 sort of ‘comeback’, Don’t Fade, drummer Don Tilbury announced he was relocating to Copenhagen with his family. So, in early February, the quintet, co-fronted by husband and wife team Alex and Hannah Elton-Wall with David Rothon on pedal steel, 12 string and assorted other guitars and Rain on bass, set up stall in an old Methodist Chapel in rural Gloucestershire (a painting of which adorns the cover) and spent six days laying down the material for their fourth album pretty  much as live,  coming to the songs as new rather than having being pored over for months beforehand.  Alex was once more in the producer’s chair with Hannah writing all bar two of the tracks. Following some overdubs ad mixing, was all done and dusted by that summer, but, in true form, it’s taken a further two years to finally surface.

It’s been worth the wait, though I do have to say that, this time round,  Hannah’s vocals are a lot stronger and more confident than her husband’s, something that seems to have been tacitly acknowledged given that she takes the majority of the leads with Alex only in the spotlight on three  occasions, channelling Gene Clark on ‘Solitary Strangers’ and the Byrdsian ‘She Can Live Without You’ (penned by Rothon), on both of which he sounds unusually thin, even struggling on some of the higher notes, and going for a hoarse delivery on the la la la-ing  barroom arms-linker ‘Floorboard George’.

That aside, there’s no complaints as they kick off with the chiming pedal steel of ‘In These Lines’, Hannah hitting her stride with ‘Everything I’m Not’ with its Rumors-era Mac touches, the rhythmically rolling,  almost boogie-like title track with a lyric that draws an analogy between breaking a free-spirited horse (echoes of ‘Chestnut Mare’, perhaps) and breaking a woman’s heart, and the country bounce of ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Down’ with its sprightly drumming and Simon Kelly’s fiddling.

So far it’s very much plus ça change in terms of their familiar country rock comfort zone, however there’s a decided shift of direction when the album reaches ‘Scattered Earth’, it, ‘Swim’ and ‘Perfect Forever’ all atypically taking the mood and tempo down, the lyrics of the former two reaching into the darkness for themes of death and salvation. Something they should explore further.

It’s briefly back to business as usual on ‘The Big Freeze’, before they wind up with seven minute epic ‘Band Song’, Hannah drawing on her Emmylou influences for a movingly heartfelt and unflinchingly honest memoir about twelve years of making music with all the stress and strain it entails as she sings of being broke and tired, scattered near and far, waiting for the break that never comes. But, while the opening line may declare “I think it’s fair to say that the band have had their day”, that downbeat requiem’s kicked into touch, confessing she’s still out there singing because “the pedal steel still makes me want to cry”; a celebration of the enduring power of music that leads to the defiant ‘bring it on’  and a clarion cry of ‘long live the band’. Amen to that.

Mike Davies

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Artist website: www.redlands.moonfruit.com