JC writes:-

I’m quite excited by this one.

Martin Stephenson, with and without the backing of The Daintees, has long been one of the most admired artists here at Villain Towers.  I had a plan to pull together an ICA some time ago but then I got a bit gallus and decided to approach Martin’s biographer to see if he fancied taking on the task.

While it is the case that Rich Cundill has contributed a number of comments to the blog over over the years, this is the first in-depth piece. He’s chosen some great tunes….

Rich writes:-

I’m taking a broad approach to this just to make things difficult for myself! Could easily have limited it to just his initial 4 albums with The Daintees between 1986 and 1992, but wanted to show just how wide ranging the great man’s music has been for over 30 years, including his solo albums and many different collaborations.

Side A

1. Crocodile Cryer (from Boat To Bolivia, 1986)

Impossible to get away from the magnificence of this, the first track on the first Martin Stephenson & The Daintees album. Writing with an insight and maturity that was one of the most startling things about his early work, Martin tells the tale of phoney mourners at a funeral just out for what they can get. John Steel on guitar and keyboards leads The Daintees with an equally old-beyond-their-years backing that could be The Band with added melody. Still a live favourite to this day.

2. Rain (from Boat To Bolivia, 1986)

Just Martin, an acoustic guitar and some poetry about the Rain falling. Live he will often play it with all the house lights down. Pins dropping. A moment of rare musical purity.

3. Slaughterman (from Gladsome, Humour And Blue, 1988)

From the 2nd album produced by Paul Samwell-Smith, Gary Dunn has replaced John Steel on lead guitar, but the Daintees still have that swagger and poise. The lyric concerns a young footballer whose Dad wants him to get a proper job. “No would-be Ian St Johns are gonna bring me down”.

4. I Can See (from Gladsome, Humour And Blue, 1988)

Almost hymn like in it’s spiritualism and a wonderful melody, with a light touch that probably only Roddy Frame could achieve back then. It’s about a need to find strength when you feel weaker than ever.

5. Spoke In The Wheel (from Salutation Road, 1990)

From the 3rd Daintees album that found Martin at a crossroads in his musical career. The record company wanted him to be a solo artist and tried putting him a studio in the USA with a bunch of session musicians, but he fought against it as best he could to keep his beloved Daintees brothers on board. The album shows the strain and is not his strongest work but through all the hassle comes this one great song, lyrically fighting against something that is trying to control him. How apt.

Side B

1. Neon Skies (from The Boy’s Heart, 1992)

After the Salutation Road experience the band dusted themselves down and reconvened back in Newcastle with the legend that is Lenny Kaye producing. The resulting album pushes Gary Dunn’s guitar playing to the fore and there is a punk attitude to a lot of the songs as if they know this music business malarkey is perhaps not for them. And so it’s not surprising that a highlight is Neon Skies, written when Martin was 16 and Patti Smith was his heroine. You get the link, yeah?

2. Something Special (from California Star, 2012)

Move forward 20 years and my word so much as happened. It’s cheeky of me to do this but you can read the full story in The Song Of The Soul available here – but to cut a long story short we find Martin back with John Steel in a Daintees line up that is as strong as ever. Catch them live if you can, you will go home with your spirits raised. The album California Star features this ballad that can in many ways be seen as the re-write of the early song Slow Lovin’ (from Boat To Bolivia) but instead of finding young love it’s about finding that special someone in your later years. It’s got a helluva middle eight as well.

3. Lilac Tree (from Lilac Tree, 2000)

At the turn of the millennium a bunch of Daintees fans led by a formidable young lady called Jane Cooper developed an on-line forum and, more than that, a relationship with the artist that was very special indeed. It resulted in fans essentially funding the recording of an album called The Lilac Tree. I can remember to this day playing this the first track from it and feeling incredibly emotional that we had helped in getting this great piece of music out to the wider world.

4. The Crying (from Beyond The Leap, Beyond The Law, 1997)

In the mid-90s Martin began to collaborate extensively with many different musicians. Mainly for the pure joy of playing live. Recording these events and releasing them as albums happened intermittently, sometimes with mixed results, as that wasn’t really what it was all about. On one occasion though in the village of Leap in County Cork, Martin and members of The Devlins, The Prayer Boat and many other fine musicians made an album with a ridiculously tight budget that probably captures the spirit of Martin’s music better than any. Beyond The Leap, Beyond The Law. And this track The Crying is about a young son finding his Dad in tears.

5. Haunted Highway (from Haunted Highway, 2015)

And we wrap up with the title track from the latest Daintees album. Martin with John Steel (guitar and keyboards), Kate Stephenson (drums), Chris Mordey (bass). As fine an outfit as you will find anywhere in the UK these days.


JC adds…….

I thought it would make sense to dig out the review of The Song of the Soul which I penned back in 2009 just a few weeks after the book was published……

“I’ve never hidden the fact that I’ve long been big fan of Martin Stephenson, and I can give this book no higher praise than by saying it was every bit as enjoyable and entertaining as seeing the great man himself play a live gig.

While it isn’t a warts’n’all story, it is a piece of work that doesn’t flinch from certain things, and leaves you in no doubt that Martin, particularly during the time when he was drinking to excess, wasn’t always the nicest man to be around. The story of his behavior at one gig in the north of Scotland in 1996 is particularly toe-curling, but it proved to be the event that led Martin to getting on the phone to Alcoholics Anonymous and sorting out his life.

I was someone who bought loads of records by Martin Stephenson & The Daintees between 1986 and 1992, as well as going to see the band on numerous occasions. I also knew that Martin had gone off and done all sorts of things in his solo career from 1993 onwards, recording albums in all sorts of weird and wonderful places and in a variety of styles including country, bluegrass, folk and traditional. I was fairly confident that I was at least aware of all the records he’d been involved in, even though I might not have them in the collection.

I was astonished to learn however, from a brilliantly researched and informative discography that there are more than 20 solo albums out there if you want to get everything that Martin has recorded…I would have guessed maybe nine or ten if you’d asked me before now. A lot of songs appear on more than one CD, but recorded with a different set of musicians and in a different style, and the authors, Richard Cundill and Mark Bradley, do a fantastic job in describing the tone of each record acknowledging that, for the most part, only the truly devoted would describe every release as flawless…

Looking again at the book as I type this, what I especially like is the fact that it doesn’t concentrate on the glory days with the Daintees at the expense of the solo career when it was largely the efforts of a group of fans that kept Martin going through some very tough times, financially and otherwise. (Incidentally, this collection of fans was known as the E-Group – and that’s a reference to a type of mail and not a type of drug…). There’s just over 100 pages devoted to Martin’s childhood, youth, early musical efforts and his time with the Daintees and Kitchenware Records, but there’s the same again for the years 1994 -2008, and then the incredible 24-page discography.

I’m someone who devours musical biographies, authorised or otherwise, with somewhere in the vicinity of 150 of them lining the bookshelves. The Song Of The Soul is among the best of them – I’d put it up there with Andrew Collins‘ bio of Billy Bragg, and the self-written efforts of Bill Drummond, Julian Cope and Mark ‘E’ Everett.

One great thing I learned was that in late 2003, Martin Stephenson released an album called Airdrie, named after the town in which it was recorded. The authors describe it as one of the finer works in the Stephenson discography, but reveal that it is quite difficult to get a hold of as the singer fell out with his then manager and others who were working closely with him, and the CD wasn’t pressed in huge numbers. Thankfully, there’s e-bay nowadays and I was able to buy a copy just the other day, from which this song (a regular in the current live sets) is taken:-

mp3 : Martin Stephenson – Mountainous Spring

The book ends on a hugely upbeat and optimistic note, recalling how the Daintees have got back together for gigs and indeed a new album that appeared in 2008. It also makes the point that I’ve tried to make on this blog before that the best way to capture Martin Stephenson at his very best is to get along to a gig near your home town as soon as you can and see for yourself how witty, charming and talented this unique singer/songwriter really is.”




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.



One of my favourite folk out there in cyberspace is The Robster.

This time last year he decided to start-up a blog called Is This The Life? which aimed to tell how music has had an influence on his entire life, warts and all.  He wasn’t going to kid anyone on that he’s always had a really cool taste in music which he demonstrated with one of his very first postings as he professed an undying love for The Bay City Rollers, The Rubettes and The Womblesclick here to see for yourself.

The Robster made a great observation about how everyone’s story begins with their mum and dad as that’s where a love for music is nurtured.  My mum celebrates her 76th birthday today and come September my dad will hit the grand old age of 80.  They have always loved music and to this day they head out to Glasgow city centre every weekend to pubs where live singing from the drinkers is encouraged and welcomed, accompanied by someone on either keyboards or an acoustic guitar.  That’s my mum pictured above back in June 2013 belting out something on the floor of one of those city centre pubs….it was the day that The Stone Roses played a huge outdoor gig in the city and the pub had a fair few of their following drinking the place dry….to be fair to them, they joined in the fun with the old folk who were the regulars and applauded their efforts on the mic (and I still think my mum is a better singer than Ian Brown).

I appreciate just how lucky I was to have parents who liked and appreciated music but thinking about it they were equally as lucky to have been raised in homes and in environments where music and singing were a huge part of their upbringing.  I can vouch for this as probably my very earliest memory of music goes back to when I was certainly no more than 5 or 6 years of age and it concerns a huge cupboard that had pride of place in my gran’s house – the sort of thing that sits at the top of this blog.

While there was a record player behind one of its doors, the thing that fascinated me most was what lay behind the other door, the main attraction of which was this huge round dial that could turn so far in one direction before you twisted it back in the opposite direction until it could go no further.  All the while a thin red line would go across a screen in the direction that you were turning the dial and it passed all sorts of words that made little or no sense And all this effort produced eerie and strange noises that sounded as if they belonged on the set of Dr Who.

Being a curious sort of kid, I asked what all the words meant and what some of them said to be told that they were cities from all over the world and the when the red line hit that word, what I was hearing was songs and talking from a radio station in that city.

Turns out that I wasn’t the only kid fascinated by such a thing :-

mp3 : Martin Stephenson & The Daintees – Sunday Halo

Incidentally, the vocalist announcing all the places on the dial with the ‘Berlin, Munich, Brussels, Bonn etc’ refrain is Cathal Coughlan whose band The Fatima Mansions are responsible for Blues For Ceaucescu which is one of my favourite songs of all time.  But I digress…………

To this day, I’m not sure if it was the sounds that came out of the cabinet or the fact that I was allowed to play with the dial as I would with a toy that led to me establishing a love for music.  But I think it speaks volumes that while I can barely recall all that many details about things in my life from the best part of 50 years ago  – for instance I have no recollection at all about my first day at school or certain Xmas Days when I was lucky enough to get the present I had always wanted – I can still picture the radiogramme and smile at the memory of the strange sounds I could get it to make as I played with the dial.

My parents never owned anything quite as grand as a radiogramme, but we always seemed to have the very latest and best radio to go alongside what was a modest sized record player.  Thinking back,the first houses I lived in were probably too small to have anything else.

At the age of 9, my family moved to a new house which was slightly bigger than where we had been before in as much that it had a decent sized living room.  I think it was about a year later when my parents had saved up enough to buy a new record player with wall mounted speakers and it was genuinely fascinating for all us to listen to the stereo effect as the music glided across the wall above the fireplace as if by magic.

The other great thing about this was that they passed down their old Dansette record player which meant I could play my music in my room (shared with two younger brothers) as and when I wanted.  By now I had been getting Record Tokens for birthdays and for Xmas and I was buying singles by the likes of Gary Glitter, The Sweet, David Essex, Alvin Stardust and The Average White Band – yup, Pick Up The Pieces was one of the first records I ever bought!!

But of course I was still exposed to the music my folks were listening to at the time, particularly my dad. His was, of course. music for grown-ups that was never played by Tony Blackburn on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show nor would you ever hear any of his favourite music by the likes of Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney & Wings or Supertramp on Top of The Pops. Mind you, he also loved Status Quo, and they seemed to be on every week.

Such was my continued exposure to these acts that I knew all the words to my mum and dad’s favourite songs. And its a frightening fact that I still do so many years later – but I’m not complaining as it has given me a wonderful grounding to be able to turn to any Neil Diamond song of old when it’s my turn at the karaoke….

Like all teenagers, I ended up rebelling against my parents tastes.  From about the age of 14 till I was 30 years of age I had a knee jerk reaction that said ‘anything my folks had liked was simply awful and unlistenable.  And then, out of the blue, I decided to start listening to Johnny Cash, mainly as Billy Bragg had been name-checking him as a huge influence.  It wasn’t too long before I acknowledged my attitude to my parents music was, for a substantial part completely wrong, and that I in fact had a huge hole in my own now bulging record collection.

So I want to use today to say a big thank you to my mum and dad for encouraging me to enjoy music as I was growing up.  Here’s a couple of songs that I know they are fond of that I am now the proud owner of:-

mp3 : Johnny Cash – One Piece At A Time
mp3 : Neil Diamond – I Am I Said

And here’s one of my mum’s all time favourite singers:-

mp3 : Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down (live)


And as I said…..happy birthday mum (not that she reads this nonsense!!!!!)