Martin Stephenson: Darwen Library Theatre – live review

Martin Stephenson may have originally appeared on our radars as an Indie king back in the 80’s but latterly it’s been the folk music community who’ve taken him under their wing & not only embraced him but given him awards too. He’s a man at the top of his game and, as Paul Scott-Bates found out, a really top bloke too.

Fill up both my lungs with oxygen…..

I recently met up with Clive, an old friend that I hadn’t seen for around 13 years. One of the first things he said to me was “Have you been throwing stones at my greyhoonds”. “Why” you’re asking? It’s a line from ‘Louis’ by Martin Stephenson & The Daintees, and we had arranged to go and see Martin as part of his solo tour at Darwen Library Theatre in July of this year.

The last time I had seen Martin and The Daintees perform was at Burnley Mechanics Theatre in 1989 as a run up to the release of the Salutation Road album ”“ it was a thrill with the town being my birthplace, and one of the very first music concerts to be held there (I had been badgering the Events Manager for some time that the venue was perfect ”“ thankfully, he eventually listened to me!). It started as a very formal affair ”“ a bank of sloping seats which could be rolled out for that ”˜theatre feel’. The support artist was one Paul Handyside. Clive and I had seen Paul as part of Hurrah! who were another act on the same label as The Daintees, Kitchenware, they were another of those ”˜nearly’ acts who really deserved much more success than they had. Paul did a solo acoustic set in front of the stage, and gave a beaming smile in our direction when I shouted for him to perform ‘How Many Rivers’ from Hurrah!’s massively underrated debut album Tell God I’m Here.

Martin and The Daintees were then on top form. The set went on for ages and after the first encore, Martin returned alone, jumped down from the stage, sat on the floor, and asked the audience to join him! Obviously they did, not everyone, but enough to make a huge circle, which included Martin, in front of the audience. “Don’t you have any f*cking homes to go to?” he smiled. He then performed several acoustic songs whilst one member of the circle lit up a dubious looking cigarette and passed it round! I passed.

I had seen Martin and The Daintees perform twice before that night, once in 1987 after they had started to attract attention following the release of the classic debut album, Boat To Bolivia. I saw them at the International in Manchester where they were supported by Gypsy Dave Smith who had also performed on the album. They were incredible live and even then you felt as though you’d known Martin for years.

The second time I saw them was again in Manchester, at the International 2, a venue that you could easily drive past (as we did!) as the entrance was only visible by a single door in the middle of a row of shops. The supports that night were Love Train, signed to Siren, and promoting the brilliant Rags To Riches To Rags, and, the then unknown Melissa Etheridge promoting her eponymously named debut. She performed an amazing set ”“ a real shame the UK never took to her, but, in later years, she became a big name in her native USA. I seem to remember Martin had given himself a reputation for hitting his forehead against the microphone and sure this is where we witnessed the very same act. Ouch.

So, this leads me back to Darwen.

I have to admit, Martin had long gone off my radar in terms of releasing new material, but, after booking front row tickets for the Library Theatre, I bought three cds albums by way of a little catching up. The support was the Eliza P, satirical Mancunian Songstress, who played six or seven great tracks which make me wanting more from her forthcoming Martin-produced debut album. Since the show, I’ve bought another three cds and will continue to hunt out others. (Martin, you’re costing me a fortune!)

He was in the bar before the gig chatting and being, well, himself. What struck me during the performance, is that he is a very likeable bloke. A real comedian. A serious storyteller. A lovely man. He played a set of material much of which I wasn’t familiar with, quite a few covers I think. He asked Eliza back on to the stage to sing ‘Wholly Humble Heart’ (see above). He chatted with us and many others after the show in between drinking Coke and eating his Worcester Sauce crisps. I asked for a photo and he hugged me like a Brother.

If you’ve never listened to Martin’s stuff, then I suggest you do. Maybe start with the undoubted quality of Boat To Bolivia. Wheel Of Fortune. Gladsome Humour & Blue. Lilac Tree. Yogi In My House. Salutation Road. They’re all crackers. But, don’t dwell on his past material. California Star, his latest release is superb. And if he’s at a venue near you, go and see him perform.

In my opinion, Martin is genuinely one of the UK’s finest ever songwriters. And a mighty nice chap.

All words Paul Scott-Bates. Paul’s website (where this first appeared) is Heaven Is A Place On Pendle. Paul has been working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, easily one of the best radio shows on the BBC. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow his personal twitter, @hiapop.

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