Martin Stephenson & Friends Washington Old Hall.

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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…… 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.



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Ian Felice
Loose Records

“One of my best friends Steven K Driver, from Pop Beat Combo The Agency has spent the last four years or so trying to convert me into becoming a Felice Brothers fan…….so far without success; so it was only fair for me to ask him (nay….demand!) he listen to the debut album from singer Ian Felice and pass on his thoughts.”

Fans of the Felice Brothers have long marvelled at Ian Felice’s thin but soothing vocal delivery, pathos drenched, but rich in character. His first solo album ‘In the Kingdom of Dreams’ is the perfect vehicle for the front man to explore the softer elements of his song writing. The lyrics are as majestic and at times as obscure as Felice’s output with the band, but this feels more introspective rather than cinematic, if signs of the latter are evident.
The eponymous opening track sets the tone with its sparse balladry and apocalyptic imagery. It turns out that ‘The Kingdom of Dreams’ is part critique of the American Dream past and present and part escape for Felice himself. There is something more reminiscent of the tenderness and fragility of Simone Felice’s (on production duties, as well as drums and keys on the album) solo work than the raw energy of the Felice Brothers here.
‘21st Century’ is one of the stand out tracks on account of its wilful lyrical obfuscation ‘well, the aliens landed on election day and stole your Mother’s lingerie’. Sonically it is perhaps the track most reminiscent of the early Felice Brothers catalogue. As is so often the case it is clear that Felice’s tongue is firmly in his cheek; the instrumentation, including a saw, at odds with the postmodern hyperbole.
Much of the record seems personal; ‘In Memoriam’, ‘Signs of Spring’ and ‘Mt. Despair’ are heartfelt in their delivery and phrasing, but retain a sense of good humour. Ian Felice is a song writer in the Bob Dylan mould; enamoured with life’s contradictions and absurdities, provoking the listener to reconsider the world they take for granted. The most personal of all is ‘Water Street’, beautifully finger picked like ‘In the Kingdom of Dreams’ and ‘In Memoriam’, which deals with Felice’s fears as a husband and new father, starkly and poetically observed.
‘Road to America’ is a fun stomper but is not without its lyrical menace; in the breakdown section the ‘empire of Donald Duck’ finds itself juxtaposed against the ‘slaughterhouse of flies that fly in the skies’. But it is ok because everyone can sing-a-long with the catchy chorus ‘this must be the road that leads to America’.
Another stand out track is ‘Ten to One’, once again this is as superior lyrical work, but there is just a feeling that it might fly better with the full band in tow rather than as an acoustic number. Let’s hope the Felice Brothers get a shot at this one too. Nevertheless, it is easy to recognise that this is American folk song-writing at its cleverest.
‘In the Final Reckoning’ is a fitting end to the album with its minimalist instrumentation backing Felice’s poetic rambling. It is going to be fascinating to see how these songs translate live on Ian’s upcoming tour. As an album this stands up as a serious piece of work and important entry into the Felice canon. Felice Brothers fans will love this album, but will miss some of the band’s energy, even if the original line-up do feature throughout.

Those less familiar or taken with the band will discover a unique and talented folk singer-songwriter in Ian Felice.

Guest reviewer Steven K Driver.

Released 25th August 2017

John Murry – A Short History of Decay

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John Murry
A Short History of Decay

John Murry got a lot of mileage out of his last album by playing the ex-junkie card, doing his damnedest to ruin his life, with that hint of a hope for redemption thrown in for good measure. It’s the same thing this time around, but at least he’s sincere about it. For me what makes him significant is more his unwillingness to compromise, his fearless drive, his talent for writing the kind of songs that make you think and feel at the same time. He delivers emotional performances that are rooted in realness, not fake histrionics masquerading as “emotive performance.” He takes chances. He doesn’t do anything unless he’s 100% into it. John Murry is a bit of a throwback and I mean that in a good way. His latest album, A Short History of Decay, isn’t as majestic, nor as noisy as Murry’s previous album, The Graceless Age, but is consistent throughout with a deep, dark throb and has a more pronounced dark country-western bent to the music. Murry is still writing with his heart—and often his gut—on his sleeve.

“Silver or Lead” starts out the album with understated guitar and a disjointed rhythm. Murry’s voice is all low growl and hopelessness. “Under a Darker Moon” is the closest we get to pop on this album, albeit Murry’s version of shattered pop with over-squeezed guitar and actually humorous lyrics as if Murry is openly mocking his own back story. The beautiful piano line on “Miss Magdalene” contrasted with the sizzling organ is a gorgeous counterpoint that needs no words to get its point across. The strongest tracks are where Murry’s sound and fury can barely be contained. Timidness, nor understatement aren’t his strong suits, but he does his best with them. “Defacing Sunday Bulletins” is a glorious, rolling noise-fest. Shattered cymbals and relentless, knife slice guitars. “Wrong Man” sounds like a lost Springsteen song from the Nebraska era, but with more contempt and acid. Murry’s previous, The Graceless Age, ended with a cover of “Thorn Tree in the Garden” by Bobby Whitlock and Murry keeps things consistent this time around by ending with a cover of the Afghan Whigs “What Jail is Like.” Murry has an ear for picking covers that work well with his other material, this one would even work on The Graceless Age, as it matches the sentiments on that album very nicely. And for a cover, this one song seems more personal and affords a deeper intimacy to the listener than the rest of the album, such is Murry’s power as a performer to bring out the smallest detail of a song and wring it full of personal meaning.

The choice of producer here, Michael Timmins, of the Cowboy Junkies, may seem at odds to Murry’s revved up dark soul searchings and primal therapy performances and, yeah, they kind of are. Murry’s darknesses are a fuzzy lot and require shadows from which to reveal themselves. A number of critics are praising the darkness and turmoil on this album, yet in my opinion, it pales considerably in comparison to Murry’s earlier output. He’s somewhat sleepwalking through this one, as if he’s too numb to do anything but feel his way down the hall with eyes shut, afraid to fall, where on The Graceless Age the entire album was like a headlong leap off a cliff and who cares or knows what’s at the bottom, but let’s find out. And if you want dark, it doesn’t get any darker than 2006’s World Without End, an entire album of true life murder ballads which Murry recorded with songwriter Bob Frank. THAT album can induce nightmares aplenty. And listen, if you’re brave enough, to “The Murder of Dylan Hartsfeld” from Murry’s earlier EP, Califorlornia, which is eight gruelling minutes of a terrible story made all the more sadder and darker when you find out it’s a TRUE story. Murry knows how to dance with demons, often giving them their due and keeping them on the run. He’s on the trail of hellhounds, and shows no fear. Or at least he can when he wants to. So yeah, I’m a little torn on this one. A lot of good, a lot of “could have been better.” This is still a good album, Murry is still a talented songwriter and riveting performer, but I’m still holding out for the next one.

Review Courtesy Guest Reviewer Roy Peak esq.

Released July 24th 2017


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AJ Croce
Compass Records

Singer-Songwriter Bares His Tattered Soul To The World.

OK let’s get it out in the open now; AJ Croce is the son of the legendary Jim Croce. Does that make a difference to what you are about to read? In theory no; but in practice yes; as you; like I, will sadly compare and contrast this singer-songwriter’s NINTH album with the work of his father whom he barely knew; as he died when the child was but 2 years old.
Hey…let’s get into the music and leave the rest for the historians and pedants.
I do love a strong album opener and Gotta Get Outta My Head ticks every box. A slow burning Bluesy N’Orleans Voodoo pot-boiler straight from the dark pits of the singers heart. A very naughty rhythm and a punchy piano combine with Croce’s raspy voice to draw you in like a moth to a flame.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise; but it was to see track #2 The Heart That Makes Me Whole is a co-write with family friend Leon Russell; as it sounds like Joe Cocker should have sounded on the Mad Dogs album; which makes it a winner at RMHQ.
When you check out the sleeve notes you find an array of household names make up AJ’s house-band (too many to name); and alongside the imperious production skills of the legendary Dan Penn their separate and combined qualities really shine on the tip o’ the hat to Randy Newman Full Up and the sultry Southern Soulful Hold You when Croce’s voice purrs and slurs like a Tom Cat on heat.
The track The Other Side of Love, with it’s rinky-dink almost Classical piano intro doesn’t just sound darkly beautiful but when you actually listen to the lyrics you know you are in the presence of a Master Craftsman.
To some degree Name of the Game is a song that this album hinges on; as it is the last complete song that Jim Croce completed, but never released. In my humble opinion it’s a brave decision for AJ Croce to include it here, as it casts a shadow over his own musings.
Without knowing the heritage the song fits in very well; but it’s actually Vince Gill’s sweet, sweet guitar playing that makes it stand out.
Our favourite song here though, is the beautiful title track Cures Just Like Medicine; touches spots I never expected to touch and showcases not just Croce’s writing skills but the full gamut of his vocal ministrations and a band so hot they actually sizzle in the background.
All in all this is the type of album I dream of buying; and just perfect for those warm Summer and Autumn nights when you just want the world to drift by on a haze of Mint Juleps and pine on the breeze.

Released August 11th 2017

Graham Stone – UNTIL THE DAY

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Graham Stone

Gorgeous, Heartfelt Everyman Songs for Every Man and Woman.

As RMHQ is a ‘vanity project’ for me, I love receiving albums and gig invites from Musical Household Names; but first and foremost I still love the thrill of discovering a brand new artist and screaming their name from the Internet Rooftop.
Such is the case with Graham Stone from Richmond Virginia who first got in touch earlier in 2017 when he planned to  release a 5 track EP which never materialised; instead Graham managed to finance the recording of this full size album of 10 songs…..and it has turned my head 360 degrees, upside down and inside out!
The gritty intro to Canyonlands which starts the album piqued my interest; and when Graham’s ‘worn leather’ and world weary voice oozed from the speakers; I instinctively leaned over and turned the volume up to get the best benefits from this delicious slice of Americana Pie.
Even today, a full week after first listening to UNTIL THE DAY I still can’t think of anyone else that Stone’s distinctive voice actually sounds like……and that’s a positive around these here parts.
His songwriting is flawless with the title track Until The Day and the brooding Flowers in Montana being both being highly articulate yet easily accessible too.
Stone’s eye for detail comes to the fore in that latter song as well as the Cowboy song, Free and Homeward which could have been schmaltzy in lesser hands; becomes a wonderful tragic Country song in the hands of Graham Stone and band.
While most songs here are beautifully intense ballads, Stone threatens to ‘rock out’ in true Alt. Country style a couple of times; but always pulls back from the brink until On The Run which closes the disc……and in true Tom Petty or Eagles style he lulls you in with a stark and almost Gothic melody then……WHAM! The band let loose and I accidentally found myself punching the air the first time I heard the chorus!!!
Aha… say; but what is your ‘favourite song’? Well; dear reader it’s a tie between two songs which follow each other and sort of blend one into the other. Oddly enough they are both about very strong women in the songwriter’s life; but two very different characters. Strong Constitution is about a woman from, ‘old Caroline’ with a “Strong Constitution and steel in her spine/with a spirit more precious than jewels/she won’t take shit from a fool.” At times Stone’s description of this beautiful woman; his sister echoed my memories of my own Mother; as it probably will you with yours.
The other is a more up-tempo and rockier song, full of fuzzy guitars and punchy bass n drums; Kathleen Jean (from Virginny-i-a!).
Another exceptionally descriptive story of a woman once married to a ‘black haired guitar man’ who ‘left her with seven kids’. Stone’s Mother; for it is she sounds quite a gal….and a woman I’d loved to have met.
These two songs; and the rest of the album sound a bit like The Eagles or such singing a Tom Russell or Slaid Cleaves song……..possibly……I think.
Please, please, please buy this album…….it deserves a huge audience and Graham Stone deserves to bring this gorgeous and eloquent Alt. Country Music to the world at large!

Released July 28th 2017

Video of the Week…. Grainne Duffy – Where I Belong

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Grainne Duffy
Where I Belong

After seeing her blowing the roof off the Jumping Hot Club Stage at SummerTyne in 2012, Irish Blues-Rocker Grainne Duffy is ‘the one that got away’ for RMHQ.
She didn’t have any albums with her that day; and even though we follow her every move on Social Media no recent albums have arrived on our desk; nor have we bought any 😦
But…….this wonderful acoustic driven single Where I Belong arrived today via the medium of the E-Mail system and we have fallen in love all over again.
A lot more mellow than I’d expected, but Grainne’s exquisite voice shines like never before on this lovely mellow Blues song. Just like our mutual hero Mr Rory Gallagher, as without her trusty electric guitar by her side Grainne shows she ain’t no one trick pony and can sing a love song with the best of them.
All I can say is WHERE I BELONG has certainly whetted my appetite for the album when it comes; and a live show which will certainly go in the diary.

released 31st July 2017



Benjamin Folke Thomas – ACOUSTIC CLASSICS.


Benjamin Folke Thomas
ACOUSTIC CLASSICS (Live For Your Listening Pleasure)
Louvaio Productions

A Genuine One Man Show With Articulate Folk Songs and Lots of Laughs Too.

Everything about this release makes it a winner at RMHQ; as if I’d been browsing the racks in a record shop I’m 99% sure the cover would have attracted my attention even if I’d not heard and loved Ben Folk Thomas’s previous release COPENHAGEN; but primarily his wicked sense of humour in recording this Live album in his living room only with only himself and numerous overdubs of him cheering, laughing and even heckling himself as the singer is way beyond a brilliant concept!!
Let’s start at the beginning (a very good place to start!) I’m Alive; a rather brittle and beautiful love song that is brought to life by Ben’s rich singing voice and compelling guitar strumming.
Then we get the first story/introduction and it……sounds so…..’real’ as he explains the background to Good Friend Again from COPENHAGEN; and the song itself has gained a lot more gravitas sung ‘live’ as does the song named after his Grandfather Finn and the title track Copenhagen from that wonderful album.
Just as in his ‘real’ concerts, there are songs both old and new with jokes a ‘plenty in his introductions……corny jokes, but absolutely hilarious when you know the gag about the audience who howl with laughter.
The songs though are what we are here for and existing fans will thrill at hearing the darkly fragile Nothing Next To You and Woman I Love which juxtapose each other; and Folk music never sounded more interesting.
While I really, really love this album from start to finish; but two songs chiselled their way into my head the first time I heard them; partly because of their introductions; with the silver-tongued Sex , which closes the concert just losing out to Married which also is another good song; but made ‘great’ by the monologue which leads into a truly tremendous modern Folk song.
I’m normally not a lover of Live Albums, but ACOUSTIC CLASSICS, like the classic Compleat Tom Paxton from 1970 works on so many different levels and bares repeated listening; or at least it does in the RMHQ office and I think it will in your house too.

Released UK July 10th 2017

Peter Himmelman – THERE IS NO CALAMITY

Peter Himmelman
There is No Calamity


Peter Himmelman is an interesting cat. His voice may remind you of Declan
McManus channelling an amped up Randy Newman, his band sounds like a pub-funk E Street Band with a touch of Mink DeVille, and the man can seriously
write a song like nobody’s business. Add to this his compositions for film and
television, his series of children’s albums, his paintings—and the fact that he owns a company called Big Muse, that helps organisations to bring out the potential of their people with innovative thinking, team building, and leadership ability through the learning of songwriting—and you may have a true Renaissance Man.
A Renaissance Man who rocks, by the way.
THERE IS NO CALAMITY is Himmelman’s umpteenth album. Seriously, the man has
released a too many albums, compilations, soundtracks to easily keep track of,
and he’s been at this game since the 1970s, working with several bands as well as numerous solo projects. So to say that he knows what he’s doing, would be an
understatement. Produced by Steve Berlin, the sounds on this album are thick,
yet quick footed, the bass by Matt Thompson is snaky, fluid, thumping in a way
that makes this bass player want to practice a bit more than I already do, the
guitars are melodic and nasty, and the drums pound deliciously throughout.
Several of these tunes feature the kind of banging piano and lush keyboard
textures that you don’t hear enough of these days, and the background vocalists
are tight enough to do their job, yet loose enough to let go when required. Does
this sound like a host of contradictions? Yes, it does. The contradictions of rock ‘n’roll abound all over these songs. Hope and punishment, fear and dreams, the arcane and the profound, all played with near abandon, yet restrained just enough. Good car chase music. You ever see that movie Timerider? A motorcyclist is transported through time to America’s Old West. The soundtrack plays cowboy saddle ‘em ups for the modern day motorcycle shots and then shifts to contrasting hard rock when the dirty and bedraggled lowlife outlaws come on screen.
Himmelman and his band are somewhere in between, but smarter, no—make
that craftier. On the opening track “245th Peace Song” (which by the title alone
tells me Himmelman has a fine sense of humour, even on a song that has such a
serious subject matter) we get spit in your face vocals, thrilling harmonies (the
background vocalists must have had a blast putting these down) kick down your
door snare and some driving lead bass where you can nearly near the strings
digging into the neck the way I like. “Fear and Undoing” and “Rich Men Rule the
World” are deep piano burners, a bit of Ian Hunter in the choruses, some playful
Warren Zevon on the verses, and “Sacrificial” is a floor tom and distorted bass
throbfest where Himmelman lets it all out and pleads for answers, knowing the
world doesn’t work that way:
“How angry is too angry, how sweet is just too sweet?
How do you call out for love, when love feels like defeat?”
I know that Himmelman sounds nothing like Steve Earle, but I hear in these songs
the same kind of focused energy, a similar sense of responsibility of—not just to the music, but also the subject matter, and most importantly—the end result of the music. Which is to say creating art that hits you like a fist when you first hear it, and that also leaves a handhold on your heart. These are soulful tunes, full of wit and honesty, pluck and heart.

Rock on.

Released 11th August 2017

Guest reviewer The legendary Mr. Roy Peak

(Martin Stephenson and) The Daintees – BAYSWATER ROAD


(Martin Stephenson and) The Daintees
Lilac Tree Records.

The Bard of Brady Square Blows The Boat to Bolivia Out of the Water!

I’m sure Martin G Stephenson, of this parish has some weird form of Musical Tourrettes; as the ideas just spring forth from his over active imagination and he can’t stop himself recording them. Over the past few years he has hardly finished recording one album when his is back in a studio recording something completely different, but just as relevant and of an equally high quality as when he was a young poppet singing on Top of the Pops.
Don’t let the next few paragraphs put you off buying this wonderful disc; as what I’m going to say doesn’t necessarily make sense when written down; but fans of Martin already know that in advance, don’t you?
BAYSWATER ROAD is a quintessential Martin Stephenson record, with a toe-tapping old school Rock n Roller called The Whisky opening proceedings; and Martin’s clever way with words not only extols the virtues of the amber nectar but as he so eloquently puts it;

“The Whisky, will surely beat you
Take away your heart and steal your home
Make you raise your voice to women and children

Turn you a Hydish creature left to roam
For the Whisky is a whore she’s a deep dark medicine”

Ain’t that the truth brothers and sisters?
The title track Bayswater Road; a love song to that once Bohemian centre of London Town follows in quirky pub sing-along style with John Trier providing some lovely barrel-house piano in the background.
As I alluded to earlier, music of all varieties must spin around in that head of his; how else could you explain the groovy Bossa Nova beat to High Sierra Snow? But Bossa Nova it undoubtedly is and somehow this head mix of Bert Kampfaert, The Surfaris and Cliff Richard couldn’t sound any-more up to date and Classic Daintees if it tried!!
Just as your head is coming to terms with that lovely song it leads into…….a Gospel Song; honestly and it’s wonderful. If I’m not mistaken Martin Stephenson has slipped in a sneaky subversive ‘political’ song of ‘hope’ in a way that will have us singing along and raising our arms to Heaven without realising what Lord Lead Us is actually about….or I could be wrong and it is just a glorious Sunday Morning song after all.
This in turn bleeds into Every Kind of Heaven which is pure 60’s Folk innocence and alongside the jingle-jangle guitars of Shoot are the only songs that sound like the original Daintees did way back when.
There have been a lot of strong women in Martin’s life and many are heralded in song; and in this case Elaine, the sadly departed wife of bass player Chris Mordey is beautifully celebrated in song and will not only stop you in your tracks but quite possibly stop you breathing for a moment or two when you hear it the first time. The story and intimate detail provided is pure dead brilliant; if I may say so.
Just like every other Martin Stephenson and/or The Daintees album I own there are surprises around every corner and each one is a delight; especially the poetic She Rides Horses which closes the record; but my ears keep being drawn back to two special ones over and over again.
So the title of ‘favourite’ is a tie between two lovely love songs; Secret Crush sweeps us back in time to the early to mid sixties with the band sounding uncommonly like the Shadows (take a bow Mr. Steel) and tonight………Martin is …..Billy Fury!
The other just might…..and I don’t say this lightly just might be one of the finest songs Martin has ever recorded. Thorn For a Rose is a beautiful, raw tearjerker of the highest quality; with harmonies and Neil Morrison’s bittersweet fiddle playing would bring a tear to a glass eye; even without the poignancy of the lyrics. 10/10 young man.
That gloriously perky and lived in voice of Martin Stephenson is more than complimented throughout by the rock solid bass playing of Christopher Mordey, sizzling guitar from John Steel esq. and tip-top drumming from the delightful Ms Kate Stephenson.

Released 28th July 2017

Will Hoge at Jumping Hot Club, Newcastle.

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Will Hoge
Jumping Hot Club at Live Theatre.

11th July 2017

I’m still struggling to get to as many gigs as I should; and what with me being head over heels in love with Will Hoge’s new album ANCHORS (released August), it meant I was still a tad weary as I made my way along Newcastle Quayside following a 5.30 am start that morning.
The gig was originally meant to be in the upstairs 60 seat room as it Sold Out in 72 hours; so was transferred downstairs to the very much larger main theatre which was only a few ‘bums on seats’ short of capacity.
The dapperly dressed Hans Chew opened the show with Power of a Barren Fantasy (?); a powerfully intense and articulate song coupled with lots of jagged guitar.
As the loud applause died down Chew took a deep breath and then forced each word of You Have The Answer out through gritted teeth and the occasional howl!!
I’d not heard of Hans Chew prior to tonight; but when he took his place in the spotlight at the piano for a couple of songs I had visions of a young Randy Newman in New York City 40 years ago.
In my notes for the 30 minute set I have ‘challenging’ and ‘interesting’ written three times each; which probably sums up Hans’ very well received set; and I look forward to his album that is due out in the Autumn.
Oh dear…..when the lights went up the people to my left decided on a drinks/toilet run, and it was very apparent that drink had already been taken earlier in the evening from their giggling and stumbling as the men made their way past. A minute later the poshest women I’ve ever spoke to tapped my camera and asked ‘was I with a newspaper?’ I lied and said ‘yes’ as it was evident the truth would go right over her head; especially when she went to great lengths to explain that tonight was part of a week of ‘culture’ which basically meant they’d been to see Elbow and Billy Ocean at a local Festival as VIP guests the previous weekend but probably preferred Classical music…..cue me running to the safety of the toilets.
When I returned they were discussing the poor quality of the wine and didn’t notice me.
In the rest of the room there was a palpable frisson of excitement in the room as Will Hoge walked on stage in the darkness and with no intro and with the lights still off launched into a passionate story of teenage angst, Tail Light Town which was greeted with a huge roar when it ended.
As he retuned the guitar Hoge introduced himself and explained his wife and kids were accompanying him on this tour; but were already bored with his shows so were back in the hotel.
He then told the first of a series of very funny self-depreciating stories to introduce Daddy Was a Gambler……. “She counts her blessings/He counts his cards,” is 100% pure damn Country in my book.
During the third song, the blood-and-guts On The Outside Looking In with soul stirring harmonica interludes you could actually hear a pin drop as everyone hung on every single word.
It was apparent that the first six or seven songs were already well known to the majority of the Jumping Hot Club audience (but not me nor my posh neighbours) but such was the quality of Will Hoge’s writing; they still sounded like I’d known them all my life.
As a consummate professional Hoge didn’t introduce songs from ANCHORS until 7 in; when we were informed that the ruggedly beautiful Missing You was brought about via his wife seeing something on You Tube that had been posted and subsequently misinterpreting. It’s a very funny story that I won’t spoil by repeating here.
After an hour or so I found myself smiling as in the half light, the singer in ‘double denim’ crouched over the microphone and looked a lot like Deacon from the Nashville TV series! Another note; which I can’t quantify was that there a magic to this performance that had hints of Asbury Park era Bruce.
Highlights were many from start to finish; with the story leading up to and the actual tongue-in-cheek Jesus Came to Tennessee which had the posh woman next to me snorting like a stuck pig; so much so the turn even mentioned her at the end.
One of my favourite songs on ANCHORS; 17 was a stand out tonight too; with the back story of his kids starting a Garage Band kick starting his own career a year or so ago. Check it out; especially if there’s a You Tube clip with the ‘story’.
I wasn’t aware of it; but the rest of the audience were but Will Hoge wrote a hit song for the Lady Antebellums! Who knew? Kept to the back end of the concert Better When You’re Gone really, really is quite the doozy.
The showman in Will Hoge really came to the fore when he explained why he wouldn’t be doing an ‘encore’ but the next song would be the ‘encore’ without him actually going through the charade oif leaving the stage….top man!