REVIEW: Martin Stephenson, Sage Gateshead

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For a man who grew up in Chester-le-Street, Washington, and Sunderland, Martin Stephenson’s influences are from much further afield.

The singer and frontman of the Daintees is a songwriter who calls on the spirits of old folk, bluegrass and country artists, evoking visions of an American past.

The sound of his music is a long way from the between-song banter, with bawdy anecdotes and rambling jokes a mainstay of Stephenson’s live performances. His gig at the Sage’s packed out Hall 2 was as close to a homecoming show as his tour takes in, and there seemed to be plenty of familiar faces in the audience for him to chat with and reminisce.

The show was a recreation of Stephenson and the Daintees’ second album, Gladsome, Humour and Blue from 1988.

The songs might be a quarter of a century old, but his songwriting is timeless.

He opened with There Comes A Time – which has echoes of the ‘big music’ that The Waterboys Mike Scott was searching for.

The album ebbs and flows, with rousing full-on rockers mixed with more subtle numbers like Even The Night and I Pray. There is everything from gospel to bluegrass amongst them, and the schizophrenic nature of the record fits nicely with Stephenson’s performance style, often stopping songs midway to laugh and joke, and ad-libbing new lyrics into them.

After the superb songs from the album were finished with, the band delved further into Stephenson’s extensive back catalogue, with b-sides and extras from the same period making an appearance, before they went on a walk around the venue for old-favourite Salutation Road and finished with single Wholly Humble Heart.

Throughout the gig, the singer talked (mostly) fondly of his contemporaries from the local music scene in the ’80s and some of the artists he shared recording studios and stages with.

Putting Stephenson in the lofty company of Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame, Lloyd Cole and Prefab Sprout mainman Paddy McAloon might sound a little generous at first, but listen to the albums or go and see him live, and you’ll realise it’s where he belongs.