Raising the roof of Newcastle’s Cluny 2 will be Martin Stephenson and the Daintees, back on home turf for Christmas. DAVID WHETSTONE reports.
Those in need of a good gig could do worse than head for Cluny 2 where Martin Stephenson and the Daintees are Christmas partying.
Over the past decade the Cluny gigs by Martin and the gang have become something of a tradition, rivalling – though on a smaller scale – the old Lindisfarne Christmas concerts at Newcastle City Hall where the North East seasonally let its hair down.
Martin Stephenson has been in the musical saddle for 30 years, during which he has built a reputation as a classy songwriter and a no-holds-barred performer.
It all began in the early 1980s when Martin Stephenson & the Daintees, loosely described as a British folk/rock/pop band and featuring – according to online music guide AllMusic – “rockabilly, show tunes, rootsy pop, straight-ahead rock and punk”, signed to Tyneside-based Kitchenware Records.
The first single was released in 1982 but the band’s best-selling album, Boat to Bolivia, came out in 1986. Three more albums followed – Gladsome, Humour & Blue; Salutation Road; and The Boy’s Heart – before the band was dropped by the label and subsequently disbanded in 1992.
Stephenson continued to perform and record and the Daintees re-formed in 2000. Two years ago the band completed an acclaimed tour, performing Boat to Bolivia in full, and it seems that normal service has been resumed.
Last year the 11-track California Star was the band’s first record to appear in a new deal with Absolute Marketing. Distributed by Universal, it was more evidence of Stephenson’s eclectic approach, with influences of folk, country, Americana and rock ‘n’ roll.
“I just went on a little journey with it,” he said at the time. “I don’t have huge budgets now but I like that. It makes you resourceful.
“Rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t built on huge budgets so it’s good to have a little bit of pressure. Sometimes if you’ve got huge budgets, you end up sitting in the Jacuzzi when you should be playing.”
On-line reviewer Paul Scott-Bates declared: “Martin Stephenson should be a household name. Fact.” The opening track, The Ship, he called “sublime” and “a lovely, calm start to the album”.
Last year the Daintees played the acoustic stage in Glastonbury and this year came another album, The Haunted Highway, featuring Martin, John Steel on guitars, Kate Stephenson on drums and vocals and with additional vocals by Alex Smith and acoustic guitar by Stuart MacLeod, who also mixed it.
According to the blog of Martin’s musician partner Helen McCookerybook (no space here to explain the name) – mccookerybook.blogspot.co.uk – it features two instrumentals, Johnny Red and Mahina, and songs in which Martin’s voice can be compared to that of Jim Reeves.
Writes Helen: “The last song on the album, Ride, is an anthemic song that will transfer to the football terraces with ease (need a new song, Newcastle United?)...”
Maybe, after the week just gone, the answer to the question in brackets should be yes.
Also out this year was a live digital album recorded at Sage Gateshead on May 3 and released in June.
Martin Stephenson and the Daintees have sold out the City Hall and the old Mayfair in the past but have always remained faithful to the Jumpin’ Hot Club and over three decades have played more gigs for the North East roots promoter than any other.
Club founder Graham Anderson says: “Martin has always been there for us, ever since we founded the club in 1985.
“At the time he was just gaining national prominence with the Daintees. However, he never forgot us and would come down on a Monday night to the cellar of the Bridge Hotel to try out new material or just generally hang out.
“As time went on, he became a fixture of the club and brought some of our musicians, such as Gypsy Dave Smith and Ray Burns, into the Daintees sound.
“In fact, he invited myself and Ray Burns on a six-week tour of the UK and I lost my job at Dunlops as a result. Best move I ever made!”
The first of two Cluny 2 gigs takes place tonight with the second on Tuesday. The gigs will be real family affairs with Martin joined by partner Helen McCookerybook, a native of Wylam and formerly of punk band the Chefs, and supported by four-piece El Cid which features his daughter, Phoebe Stephenson.
El Cid, formed in Newcastle this year, draws its infleunces from jazz, bluegrass and early psychedelia.
Buy tickets for the Cluny 2 gigs from the Cluny on 0191 230 4474