British songwriting troubadour Martin Stephenson returns with a re-recording of his acclaimed Gladsome, Humour And Blue Album, giving it a refreshed feel to mark its 30th anniversary. Matt Mead looks over the album and interviews Martin exclusively for Louder Than War.
There is rarely a dull moment in conversation with Stephenson, but that’s exactly what you’d hope for from someone who’s never stood still during 35 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 40 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 10 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 Mathew. Ironically, Samwell Smith is working with Cat Stevens again, just as the 30th anniversary celebrations take place.
As Sounds mag 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 23 November on Barbaraville Records
October 18th- The Cavern- Liverpool
November 1st- Wardrobe – Leeds
November 2nd- The Met- Bury
November 3rd- Oran Mor- Glasgow
November 8th- Hare and Hounds – Birmingham
November 9th- The Venue- Derby
November 11th- Crookes Social Club- Sheffield
November 22nd- Rescue Rooms- Nottingham
November 28th- The Old Market- Brighton
November 29th – Thekla- Bristol
November 30th- Under The Bridge- London
December 1st- The Booking Hall – Dover
December 6th- Voodoo Rooms- Edinburgh
December 7th- Old Fire Station- Carlisle
December 8th- The Sage- Gateshead
December 9th- Eden Court- Inverness.
Interview with Martin
LTW: Can you please tell me abit about your upbringing?
Martin: Typical council house in a mining village near Durham. Great parents though; very blessed with loving kindness in impoverished circumstances
When did you first get interested in music?
My sister got a guitar for her 13th birthday, I found it in my Mum’s wardrobe which created a minor upset, it was in a cardboard box and named ‘KAPOK’ – I was very curious. My sister learned Country Roads and a little Spanish music which she later taught me. I can still remember them, but never truly tried to play music till I was around 14.
Who were your first musical influences?
Elvis, Captain Beefheart, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Electric Prunes, Lenny Kaye and his Nuggets album, being a punk in 77/79. My main mentor from age 11- 15 was table youth leader and table tennis teacher Jim Sixsmith. I met him when I was 11 and he was 27. We were inseparable as he became a kind of guru to me and I was super receptive to everything he taught many of us. He was a Doors and Family fan so we soaked up all of that, he turned us onto soul (Aretha, Eddie Floyd, Otis… so so much we had invested in our early teens)
What prompted you to start to write music?
The first thing I did was write a few poems. The first one was about a boy who was in my junior school class named Gary Irwin. One morning after Christmas break his chair was empty, we were all choked, he was playing on the ice and went under, lost. This affected me deeply, he was the first person I wrote a poem for, but truly they have always been songs, as I can feel it now exactly as it came to me at 7 years old and it definitely was both conceptual and in music and lyric form, they always seem written in advance and my job is to just channel them, looking back now I realise it has always been that way
I also met my pal’s elder brother once at the age of 10, we had a chance meeting. I did not have the capacity at that time to realise he was a 19 year old student suffering from depression. I just looked at him startled and he passed me gently. I was in awe, he whispered sorry as he disappeared around the corner. One week later he’d be dead; he poured petrol on himself and burned to a cinder in a local field
A song came again but I never wrote it down not hummed it, though it was burned into me I could never forget it, that is what aural trad is I suppose, but I was too young to understand then. I materialised the song at 14 years of age in lyric form that matched my years then. I never shared the song till 1991 where I changed the focus on suicide to the birth of an angel. This gave me permission to share the song The Sad Tale Of Joe McCue with a free and loving heart, ironically the most memorable version recorded was done with my Rockabilly band The Toerags
When did you start to learn to play guitar?
Around age 15 or 16 with a Beatles songbook and a Pink Floyd songbook. Syd Barret and Peter Green were my favourites.
How did your initial success start, what was the defining moment for you?
I was busking with my mates in 1980-81. Keith Armstrong the founder of Kitchenware had heard of us and seen our little posters, he invited us to busk in the shop he managed on Northumberland Street, Newcastle. It was a small HMV just off the high street. He was busy getting his label off the ground and had only signed Hurrah weeks earlier, who were originally known as The Green Eyed Children
Keith had cleverly promoted a New Order gig at the Mayfair, not long after Ian Curtis had died. He made 2k out of promoting that gig, very savvy was Armstrong and he planned recording Hurrah’s first single The Sun Shines Here SK2, as SK! was a video Fancy Newcastle Now!.
When Keith saw us he wanted us down for that session, so we all travelled to Berry Street Studio’s London, where Scritti Politi recorded Sweetest Girl and Hurrah commenced recording the A & B side (Don’t Eat Food) whose riff will be etched in my memory my whole lifetime! At around 2pm Hurrah took a lunch break and we were given 30 minutes to nail our A&B sides Roll on Summertime and Involved With Love.
I spent the first 15 mins trying to sellotape two plastic cups together and even went to the local shop to buy some rice. I remember the bassist Chris Mordey say, that’s 15 minutes you’ve wasted and the shaker I made didn’t work. He was about to throttle me, anyway we checked the instruments, using Hurrah’s backline and did our A side first take…. I had a pale blue Fender Musicmaster and just felt young and happy, no ambition whatsoever. I I remember on the last chord Keith running out shouting “I’m your manager right!” and I said, “What’s a manager? Who would want to manage me?” Then we had 5 minutes to nail the B side which we did first take. That was my defining moment!
How did this come about and how did it feel to have people listening to and enjoying your own music?
Not long after SK3 went out it became single of the week in Sounds, 1982 by then. U2 were supporting the Only Ones, a miles better band than U2, but look at history. I still personally prefer The Only Ones
I was shocked anybody listening to me, but soon we were to support Aztec Camera and I was totally inspired by the 18 year old Roddy Frame. He was in music what I was like in table tennis; music was my 2nd subject and I was always told at school I didn’t have any talent. I still feel they were right, but inspiring young folks and being a punk between 77/79 were enough to disperse the negative voice and we got into the habit of trying to create and perform… Edwyn was a great inspiration, as was Lou and Patti earlier, Rocky Erikson & Buddy Holly… all the gems.
Fast forward to the present day and you have decided to re-record your album Gladsome, Humour And Blue. Why have you decided to do this?
To parachute into a truly beautiful piece of art and enjoy it as it’s grandparent, play with it, enjoy it’s vision and share with it what I know now, which isn’t that much!
Was there anything on the original album that you were particularly unhappy with?
If you are from my background and have a humble map, and are not the self-entitled pleased with themselves brigade, there is a load of stuff that you feel could be better, but it’s like taking a photo. You just let it go and you trust the bigger picture and the universe reveals the wider angled lens and the little nit-pick things that personally got to you seem trivial in a collective more expanded perspective, freedom!
What are you hoping that the new listeners will hear with the re-recorded album?
Some beautiful relaxed playing, 2nd takes with a 30 year gap between each one.
Did it take long to record the album?
No, a day and a half for the drums, scratch bass and rhythm guitar, another day for the lead guitars, a day for the vocals, four or five days, no keyboards. A week for Stuart Macleod to mix it; he wasn’t rushing.
Will you be going on tour to support the album?
Yes our first date is October 18th in Liverpool’s Cavern. My daughter’s band are supporting. They are called Big Pink Yacht she is on bass. The guitarist and singer is Rupert Hughes, son of Taffy Hughes, small world eh?
What are your plans for the future and what’s your favourite Captain Beefheart album?
Stay alive, be creative, care for folks, be true, continue not to sell out, no matter how small the budget or rattly the roof is. Most of all be grateful and kind. And it’s Clear Spot.
All words by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found via the Louder Than War archive pages.