Martin Stephenson & Friends
Washington Old Hall.
Tyne and Wear
Saturday 19th 2017
“Welcome to our very own little Woodstock.” Laughed Washington’s finest son; “listen…..and you can hear them flying in from Barmston……and Blackfell…..and even Oxclose!”
How the swelling crowd cheered to hear local villages being name-checked at a ‘Rock Concert.’
So started the first ever concert that I could walk to and from in under 30 minutes each way.
Washington Old Hall is the former home of George Washington and now owned by the National Trust who are trying to dust off their ‘fuddy duddy’ image with a series of multi-cultural events at their premises around the UK.
Tonight local lad Martin Stephenson; who went to junior school and church about 200 yards from the main gate; was making his first appearance in his home-town for many a long year; in the Nuttery……which is a beautiful orchard which had been lit with fairy lights and a bar at one end a stage at the other.
Martin introduced his cousin Jamie and friend John who are known as Violet Chimes to open proceedings. The one time Punk Rockers pleasantly surprised the sold-out crowd with a blend of Indie Rock and Alt. Country Twang.
Their songs had originally been written in the early 80’s but the duo have only got around to recording them recently.
Playing to a sympathetic audience two songs really stood out; Brand New Town…..about growing up in Washington (which was then deemed a New Town) and Heart of Town about their teenage love affairs….in that very same New Town.
Their set was all too brief; but only because the Star was about to do a 20 minute acoustic slot too and there was a strict 10pm curfew less than two hours away.
With a 35 year and 40+ album career to choose a set from; there were surprises around every corner; with Merle Travis’s Cannonball Rag opening the evening followed by the inspired Rain (chosen because the clouds were fair drawing in).
Aware he had to curtail his rambling stories he managed to abridge the intro to Greenhouse (My Grandfather and Me); but the delicate Sad Tale of Joe McCue which followed; involved a little interaction with a couple of old friends in the audience as he explained who Joe had been.
As he was about to start Home, he dedicated it to his dearly departed Mother and the story brought a tear to my own eyes as Saturday would have been my own Mam’s birthday. A rather beautiful and poignant song for both of us.
By the last notes of Slaughterman the cool breeze of earlier in the evening was now becoming a cold wind; but at least it was dry and the warmth Martin and his songs brought meant it was hardly noticeable at all.
There was a fifteen minute intermission, where the queue for the only two toilets on the site meant that some naughty men may have helped water some apple trees; but I couldn’t possibly comment.
Martin on the other hand was glad-handing so many people that he knew from his childhood that he had to be forcible reminded he was there to do a show!
Now with the Legendary Shipcote on Dbl. Bass and the quietest man in Rock n Roll, John ‘Bongo’ Miller on a single snare drum; the second half got off to a swinging start with Little Red Bottle; the first of many songs dedicated to friends in the crowd; one of whom who was late back from the toilet entered the garden and the two enjoyed a minute or so of banter before the pal walked on stage for a handshake and a man-hug, without a care……..you don’t get that at the Royal Albert Hall do you?
It was no real surprise that Martin totally ignored his latest album Bayswater Road in favour of age-old favourites like Sweet Misdemeanour and Salutation Road; plus I finally found out what Colleen was actually about……you live and learn.
No Martin Stephenson gig would be complete without the Anti-Thatcher Classic….. Left Us To Burn, complete with a chorus of Pantomime Boos during the introduction when her name was mentioned and a couple of choruses of Blank Generation on the middle.
For me the absolute highlight of the evening was when Martin started to introduce a song that reminded him of a night he was on a bus coming out of Sunderland which begat a story about various bus routes and their anomalies in his teenage years; then remembered a fight on a bus, which begat a story about the various ‘Fighting Families’ of Olde Washington; many of whom were represented tonight and cheered when their names were mentioned which led into Martin dedicating Blue Moon of Kentucky to a girl he hadn’t seen before tonight since they both left school nearly 40 years ago.
I go back to the beginning by mentioning all the albums and great songs Martin has written in 40 years; so the choice for a finale in such a short and compact set could be seen as bizarre, contrary or even brilliant……Doc Watson’s Southbound, which got to show what a canny guitar player the singer-songwriter is when he sets his mind to it.
What more can I say? I’ve been to hundreds of gigs over the years; but not one in the orchard of historical Manor House with one of my favourite ever artists telling jokes about people I know and the villages I’ve lived in.
I don’t care how many weeks Ed Sheeran sold out the 02 in London I know it didn’t and couldn’t compare to this wonderful hour and a half in the company of one of Britain’s finest songwriters and raconteurs. This is why I absolutely love live music….I was there……you weren’t …..I win.