Martin Stephenson and The Goodwill Trio
Westgarth Social Club
Saturday 30th April 2022
I have to confess that I’m not normally crazy enough to undertake a 5 hour drive for a gig these days, but this is no ordinary night.
In the oasis of a North Eastern Social Club’s retro stage room, making its mark over the past few years for live music, I am settling in to my maiden visit to Middlesbrough and the very first time seeing The Goodwill Trio perform together.
If you have read the RMHQ review of their Goodwill Factory album then you’ll be one step ahead to understanding why I’m here: this ensemble has an irresistible fun undercurrent driving their obvious musical talents.
So, despite seeing Mr Stephenson numerous times both solo and with The Daintees, my gut feeling is that it’s gonna be worth the miles to catch this one too.
First up is a sturdy support slot by the London based guitar driven Indie Americana band Modern Hinterland. Fair play, the audience were seated bang on time; as the band launch into their set.
Happy to be playing live again, frontman and guitarist Chris Hornsby eases in, this gig has been in the pipeline for two years: a clear reminder that for artists & audiences alike, things are only just returning to “normal”.
Joined on stage by Simon Shippey who seems to effortlessly flit between keys, guitar and B/V’s (and operate a vast array of pedals!) plus Tim Thackray on bass and B/V’s, for me some of the best moments are when they are all harmonizing together, along with the thundering drumming of John Singh. Standout tracks are No Escape from their 2021 album Diving Bell, with it’s bright, anthemic guitar riff mixed with a hooky chorus and Where Do You Go which combines punkier influences with the aforementioned vocals sprinkling some Californian sunshine around the room.
The half time bell and on the move it’s downright impossible not to get caught up in the current of the friendly, family vibe buzzing around the place, whether it’s a trip to the facilities or the bar, it seems that everyone wants a chat including the trio as they take to the stage: Martin Stephenson’s well-renowned humorous banter kicks off the main event, immediately and delightfully bouncing off his co-players, guitarist Rupert Hughes and on fiddle Niles Krieger.
Everyone totally relaxed on and off the stage in a millisecond it seems, Martin opens the set with Long Forgotten, a fine track from Beyond The Leap, Beyond The Law. I should always remember to remember (!) that without any warning this artist has the ability to sweep you from belly laughing to tugging at any manner of deeply rooted emotions in a hair’s breadth by the power of his songs.
The rich bright sound from just the three instruments echo round the room, as Niles’s fiddle swoops and blissfully dances with the guitars, I glance round to note that everyone is paying attention.
It’s a song I know very well and this has to be one of the best versions of it to date.
It is followed closely by the seriously heart-tugging track, The Sad Tale Of Joe McCue written about a local boy who committed suicide age 19.
Although penned when only aged 14, it took until Martin turned 30 to be in the right space to finally record it; and when performed, just like tonight, it always demonstrates why he is a master of emotional storytelling.
There is a very endearing impromptu feel to the set, customary at Martin’s solo gigs given the huge back catalogue at his fingertips, and tonight the mischievous banter between the trio just adds to the entertainment as it seems that Rupert and Niles, just like us, have no idea what is coming next.
It happens to be one from their album, the riotous punky track New Wave Dave.
A whole heap of frenzied fun live, it has to be one of my favourite moments of the evening with raucous B/V’s, and Niles creating a new genre of anarchic bluegrass fiddle.
As Martin reminds us “Nice is the new nasty!”
Next is a flurry of crowd-pleasing classics, The Daintees anti-Thatcher song Left Us To Burn contains a humorous musical answer & response between Martin and Niles and a really funked up version of The Lilac Tree, complete with a rousing harmonica solo by Rupert, gets me trying to perfect my “sitting down but still trying to dance” technique.
The highlights of the evening?
Home, a moving tribute to Martin’s late Mother, is always one to get emotions running high but tonight with Niles’s contribution, the fiddle adds even more nostalgic layers to the song.
The Little Red Bottle is always up there for me too but tonight I was really moved by the wondrously serene Map Of The World, Martin’s soulful vocals accompanied with a shimmering fingerpicking solo from Rupert.
Almost at the finish line and the Goodwill feeling ripples even more from the stage to the audience with singing participation duties on Time for Jesus and an off-piste walkabout to Cannonball Rag.
By this point in the evening, Martin has transformed the room into one full of old friends, such is his gift of connectivity.
To close the show, his partner singer-songwriter Anna Lavigne is invited to join them on stage.
Her last album Roses For The Ride was much loved by The Rocking Magpie and tonight they sing Signposts To Heaven, an exceptional, reflective song from the album Thomasina.
It brings the whole band together, the fiddle, guitars and the two vocals blended gorgeously singing “The heart is where the wisdom can be found.”
Yes, before you ask me, it was worth every mile……knowing that Rupert and Niles are also busy with their folk & bluegrass group The Often Herd; and Martin with the much loved Daintees, all I can advise is that if The Goodwill Trio happen to pop up at a venue nearby, catch them whilst you can.
Review by Anita Joyce