There are many things about the 80s that deserve to be forgotten: shoulder pads, poodle perms and fingerless gloves among them. But Martin Stephenson and the Daintees second album Gladsome, Humour and Blue isn’t one of them.
It seems there is enough love and respect for this 1988 classic for it to be reissued to and remastered to mark its 30th anniversary. To celebrate, Geordie singer-songwriter Martin Stephenson and his band the Daintees are touring the UK, playing the album in full. On the face of it , this could be a risky move. Few bands would limit their set to one album, however timeless or original. But this is a risk that seems to have paid off. Critically acclaimed at the time of its release, this album’s pop-folk melodies and subtly nuanced yet politically savvy lyrics have, against all odds, stood the test of time.
Unfortunately the Eden Court show has a faltering start due to technical sound issues. Happily, Stephenson displays an equanimity that comes with decades of performing and touring. This irritating disruption just provides opportunity for the lighthearted banter that peppers the performance and they carry on unfazed. Tracks such as The Old Church is Still Standing and Nancy sound fresh and accessible despite their vintage label.
Stephenson has a vocal of such likeable warmth the audience basks in its summery appeal. The sound is more golden afternoon than golden oldie, and one new song he does manage to shoehorn into the set is evocative of a summer’s evening in both lyrics and melody.
An outstanding track is Wholly Humble Heart. Stephenson explains, “my Dad was a homophobe.” Stephenson’s response to this was to write “a pro-gay song.” It’s delightful that what could be easily written off as a poppy, catchy number has a steely, anti-establishment core with a message of tolerance and inclusivity. The current social and political landscape seems no less troubled than the Thatcher years that gave rise to these songs of comment and protest. Along with the quality of the songwriting, this may explain why, unlike so much of 80s culture, this album still has relevance today.
This was clearly a young man with wisdom beyond his years. “I wrote these songs from a 22 year old’s perspective” he explains. “Now I’m in my 50s, I thought I’d have all the answers, but I think I know less.”