Out To Lunch Digest: Part 3
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
Words Cara Gibney • Photos Tremaine Gregg
Martin Stephenson had tulips in his hand as he walked on stage on Saturday. “These are from us for Bap Kennedy” he said, placing them beside the mic stand. It was a nod to one of the greats we lost last year, but not just that, it was also recognition of where Martin Stephenson & the Daintees were playing, of what we have to offer too; of the ‘community’ that music creates. It was a tiny and conversely far reaching gesture, and they hadn’t even started yet.
Right from the 80s Stephenson’s mix of heart-on-sleeve, political, spiritual, personal, hilarious, gentle, hard-hitting and literary never really fitted snugly into any of the genres or categories out there. And that’s how he caught us, all the odd-balls that never fitted anywhere really. Not that you had to be an odd-ball. If you despised the politics of Thatcher, then you got it. If you have a romantic soul, then you got. If you were vaguely folk, or punk, or pop, or still breathing…
It was a Belfast Saturday night right slap bang in the middle of the Out To Lunch festival, and this was a sold out much anticipated return for Stephenson and his Daintees. They were here to celebrate the 30th birthday of their breakthrough album Boat To Bolivia, so it made sense that they opened up with track #1, “Crocodile Cryer.” Stephenson strummed the decades familiar opening bars, the bass followed, the Daintees one by one took their cue; and so did we. The tall man in front turned round grinning as he sang along with the first couple of lines, and on sussing there was a shrimp standing behind him he swopped places. No words exchanged, there was a song to be sung. “For I’m a hypocrite, a crocodile cryer” we were singing, “and it feels so good.”
One by one they progressed through the album. “Coleen” was probably more of a sing-a-long than the previous. “Little Red Bottle,” introduced with a chirpy “any alcoholics in here tonight?” The night was interspersed with ripping the shit out of his band. “He used to listen to fairground music, then punk came in 1976 and everything changed,” he said of the follicley challenged Christopher Mordey on bass who apparently used to have a big black Mohican. There were random off-road references to rude things, Thunderbirds and his singing teacher, and on it goes. “I see Thunderbirds running America” he told us. “Thunderbird 1, that’s Donald, and Thunderbird 2, that’s Boris.” Then that led on to rude things that Boris will be doing to Trump “soon enough.” Perfect comic timing, hilarious, and reliably disgusted at the state of affairs we’re in at the minute. (“You get the best mushrooms on golf courses” by the way. A fact with which the room proved quite happy to concur. )
“Barry have you smoked that ganja I gave you yet” asked Stephenson of the sound tech prior to “Boat To Bolivia.” Staying quiet on the ganja issue Barry seemed happy enough to supply the appropriately controlled sound spec. And talking about sound, there was the not unusual pain-in-the-bum talking at the bar. Of course in the louder numbers that didn’t matter, but not all of them were loud. In fact one of the beauties of a Martin Stephenson gig is the chance to hear live his softer, heartfelt songs. The ones that are more than introduced or explained, they are shared with his audience and can sometimes act as an acknowledgment of things unsaid. And when the atmosphere is just right, and the room is ready and open, they can press buttons and recollections and feelings you forgot you had. As he talked and the bar chat made it hard to hear, there was some ssshhhing from the crowd. “It doesn’t matter if they don’t want to listen” Stephenson smiled out from the stage. “It’s about love, not control. I’d rather just talk to ones who want to listen.”
“Rain” is one of those softer, heartfelt songs. He was left on his own on stage for “Rain” but he wasn’t really on his own. He knew we’d join in, we’d know the words and we’d know when they were needed. And when he’d finished and we’d applauded and the band started to walk back on stage, he started playing again. The band, trapped in time and space at the side of the stage faltered and momentarily looked confused as he started singing. “It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights …” The git was playing the Muppets’ theme for them. And the Daintees? They returned on stage and I didn’t see one of them call him one name. They’re used to it.
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees were cracker on Saturday night, but here’s one last word for those dancers, the ones who got stuck in front of stage. You know who you are. Nice moves. And the sing-a-longers, the ones who knew more words than the rest of us. Magic night. Magic.
Videos nabbed from Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival Facebook page page