ORIGINALLY POSTED ON WEDNESDAY 2 APRIL 2008
Younger readers (if there are indeed any – I imagine my readership is mostly the 40s and over) would be astonished to learn that up until maybe 20 years ago, it was really difficult to find music on your television screen.
Here in the UK, all we had was a usually unmissable 90 minutes every Friday at 5.30pm on Channel 4 with The Tube. Other than that, it was a weekly dose of Top Of The Pops on BBC1 which, if you were lucky, might have 2 or 3 songs that you liked mixed in with a lot of dross. Over on BBC2, we had a weekly dose of The Old Grey Whistle Test which, if you were lucky, might have 2 or 3 songs that you liked mixed in with a lot of dross. And that was just about it if you don’t count bands appearing on Saturday morning kiddies shows.
In reality, I’m being unfair to OGWT, or Whistle Test as it became known sometime in the 80s. It was fronted for a few years by Mark Ellen and David Hepworth with regular contributions from Andy Kershaw as well as a woman whose name I forget but who had sort of modelled herself on Muriel Gray from The Tube (help me with a name someone please….google turned out to be my friend in 2015…her name was Ro Newton)
OGWT was a mixture of bands, promo videos and specially made short films. There was a few belters of shows – I particularly recall The Smiths unveiling Bigmouth Strikes Again and Vicar In A Tutu. Whistle Test was also where I first saw the video for Levi Stubbs’ Tears in which Billy Bragg sang live and Dave Woodhead joined in on a trumpet solo at the end, while there were a number of great one-off specials that went on for 24 hours at a time in which some of my all time heroes turned up and played live – and not always sober.
And it was Whistle Test that I first saw and heard Martin Stephenson. It was love at first sight and sound. He played a great little instrumental on acoustic guitar called A Tribute to The Late Rev Gary Davis. He then went to change his guitar for a song to be played with his band The Daintees, at which point his guitar strap gave way and he had to fumble around sorting things out. He gave a sheepish look at the camera, said ‘God Bless’ into his microphone and then strummed the opening notes of a truly gorgeous and heart-rendering song.
I went out the next day and purchased the debut LP entitled Boat To Bolivia. With eight weeks, I had to replace it as it had been played so often, usually in a drunken stupor in which I tried to play particular tracks but only succeeded in dropping the needle and causing damage and creating carnage…
It’s a truly amazing debut with all sorts of musical styles to the fore. It’s also an album that deals with a lot of personal issues for Martin, including miscarriages that his mum had suffered, his sister’s lesbianism, and his reaction to the hypocrisy of people at a his grandmother’s funeral. It was the last mentioned that he played on Whistle Test as it was also the single from the LP:-
mp3 : Martin Stephenson & The Daintees – Crocodile Cryer
mp3 : Martin Stephenson & The Daintees – Louis
It was few years later that I met the now Mrs Villain. As you do when you meet someone special with an interest in music, you pass on some of your own tastes in the hope that the special person will grow to like them. Mrs V didn’t know anything about Martin Stephenson & The Daintees. But they soon became a favourite of hers and we’ve been lucky enough to see the band, as well as Martin play solo, on quite a few occasions over the years.
Prior to seeing him live, Mrs V thought Martin was the Geordie equivalent of Leonard Cohen. She still thinks he is every bit as talented as the great Canadian singer/poet, but that Martin is a million times better looking and charismatic. And I’m not going to argue.
Oh and incidentally, the mp3 is from the original 7″ single and comes in at about a minutes less than the version on Boat To Bolivia. And above is of course the clip that got me hooked.