Category Archives: Interview

FROM THE ARCHIVES: MARTIN STEPHENSON

THE DAINTEES’ 1990 SINGLE LEFT US TO BURN WAS MARTIN STEPHENSON’S MOST EXPLICITLY POLITICAL SONG TO DATE, REFLECTING ON THE DESTRUCTION OF INDUSTRY IN THE NORTH-EAST BY PRIME MINISTER MARGARET THATCHER’S CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT. BRITAIN HAD SIX MONTHS TO GO UNTIL HER SURPRISE OUSTING FROM DOWNING STREET, AND THE DAINTEES WERE ON TOUR TO PROMOTE NEW ALBUM SALUTATION ROAD (FEATURING LEFT US TO BURN), WHEN THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW TOOK PLACE – 23 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK…
ONLY RECENTLY DISCOVERED IN THE MOUTH MAGAZINE’S ARCHIVES, THE CONVERSATION IS NOW COMPLEMENTED BY A NEW AND SPECIALLY RECORDED VIDEO SESSION 
(WATCH HERE) WHICH FEATURES STEPHENSON PERFORMING SONGS FROM SALUTATION ROAD.

MARTIN article blue

TELL ME ABOUT THE NORTH / SOUTH DIVIDE…
Well, really, so’s the East and so’s the West. And so’s the North-East and the North-West… and the South-East, and the South-West, you know?

BUT ARE YOUR EXPERIENCES OF PEOPLE DIFFERENT IN DIFFERENT AREAS?
Not really, no. It doesn’t matter where you go. There’s Yuppies in Newcastle, you know? There’s actually a lot of money in Newcastle. Yes, there is poverty there, but it’s not a completely poverty stricken place. It’s not all cloth caps and whippets. Alright, they’ve had shipbuilding closed down and the mining all closed down – and it was very bad the way that was done. It was unforgivable, in fact… but really there’s also a lot of inner Conservatism in the North-East. There’s actually a lot of people up there who voted Thatcher in, you know? There’s not this big North / South divide like that, it’s just not black and white like that. There’s good people in the South, too. Good people everywhere. And bad.

EVERYONE IS GOOD AND BAD…
Yes. Absolutely. We’re all capable of doing bad, and we’re all capable of doing good. Definitely. 

DO YOU THINK MUSIC IS IMPORTANT AS A FORCE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE?
Yeah! The thing about pop music is that it’s a very powerful medium. It gets across to young people who are the next generation. They’re the future, so if you can affect the young people you can affect the future. That’s what the politicians can’t actually handle. They’re all boring bastards who are losing their hair and the kids aren’t interested in them, and the only way they can actually get to the children is through the education system. Programming them, you know? Musicians can actually affect people naturally, you know? So politicians either programme the children, the young, through education or they try to manipulate artists and performers to get their message across. It’s all programming…

A LOT OF PERFORMERS HAVE BECOME LIKE POLITICIANS…
They have, yes. The thing is, I just believe in a higher right and wrong, you know? If someone comes along to me and says “this is happening” or “that is happening” I will probably sympathise with the situation they’re talking about, because I am a positive person, and I do care. But I don’t want to let the specific nuts and bolts of all those things affect my songs too often. I do not want to become an obsessive political protest songwriter…

Left Us To Burn… BILLY BRAGG…
... like Billy Bragg. Yes. The thing is, I really do like Billy Bragg. I think he’s great. I totally respect him. He does it so well – but doing what he does is just not my job. It’s not my mission in life to write those sort of songs.. I am political, though. But I’m political at a personal level. I deal with the more personal things: the self, the family, the community… so it is political, but it’s not nationally political. Having said that, every now and then I do write the odd song that has that edge. LEFT US TO BURN is political…

… ABOUT THE EFFECT THAT MRS THATCHER’S GOVERNMENT HAS HAD ON INDUSTRY IN THE NORTH EAST…
Oh aye! That’s it. Margaret Thatcher… That lovely lady… There’s no kindness there, is there? The things she’s done and the way she’s went about it. What she’s done to people – to communities – is evil. It’s unforgivable, really. Very damaging. I almost just have to laugh at her. She’s evil. She’s just… so… evil.

THE MUSIC PRESS HAVE RECENTLY DESCRIBED YOU AS A “FOLK HERO”…
Ha ha. It’s a mythical idea, that. I’m just lucky enough to write songs for a living, you know? I’ve got a few friends who help me put the songs across and we make a living out of it. That’s the reality of it. It’s nice if you can do your best and people appreciate it – you’re doing alright if you can get it to that level. But I’m just another songwriter, and that’s the reality of it. There’s plenty of people who write songs who are more talented than me, that don’t even get the chance to make a record. That’s the hardship of it. You’ve got to be lucky.

YOU’RE REPUTED TO HAVE BEEN OFFERED YOUR RECORDING CONTRACT ON THE STRENGTH OF BUSKING OUTSIDE A RECORD SHOP…
We used to go busking a lot, actually. We didn’t do gigs because it wasn’t worth it. The first time I ever played a gig, we did this pub in Durham – we must have been about 18 I suppose – and we hired a big truck, with about five or six amps in the back, and all our friends and everything. We turned up three hours early for the soundcheck, we played the gig and there was about two people turned up. So that was what gigging was. It wasn’t even worth doing a gig. So what we’d do is, we’d just go busk on street corners. There, at least, you could get across to some people. Busking teaches you to perform, and it teaches you to play your music and how to put it across genuinely. People aren’t really impressed when you’re busking, so you have to work hard to put your music across well. I’ve had someone come up and piss in my guitar case, I’ve had someone come up and punch me… It’s not really a captive audience! You don’t get on stage with your shades on, and everyone thinking you’re God. 

YOU HAVE A GOOD ‘REAL’ RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR AUDIENCE…
Aye, yes… It’s like, when you play folk clubs or wherever, you go in, you set your guitar up and then you stand at the bar with a pint and talk to people, you know? Then maybe have another pint and then it’s time to get up and play…

… BUT NOW THAT YOU’VE HAD SOME ‘SUCCESS’ DON’T YOU PREFER PLAYING TO AUDIENCES WHO KNOW YOUR SONGS?
It depends on what you want to be, you know? Some people actually want to be alienated, they want to be different, or they want to be a star and all that. I don’t. Some people want to be a God. I don’t. I’m aware of who I am – and it’s not that, you know? So I don’t want to present that, pretend, try to put that across. I don’t wanna wear them shades, ha ha ha…

THE DAINTEES PLAY LIVE QUITE A LOT…
Yeah! We tour as much as possible. We have a great bunch of people, now, so we’re looking to go out on the road as much as we possibly can. There’s a strong nucleus in the band: me, Ant, Gary, Mickey Watson, the keyboard player. And we have a lad called Malcolm Dick at the moment, who plays the drums. He’s a bit of a wally, really. He fancies hisself. Ha ha ha. Terrible chess player. There are other people who come in and out. There’s a bloke called Dave Smith who just turns up when his fridge is empty and he fancies a free drink of beer, ha. There’s just lots and lots of characters who we’ve got to know over the years. There’s always a place for them in The Daintees, if they want it. In fact anybody’s welcome!

WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO?
When I was about 18 or 19… I’m 28 now, like…

WHAT FIRED YOU UP TO DO IT?
Punk… A lot of punk stuff… The Clash and all that type of thing, you know? I was in a punk band, like… I think every village had its own punk band. New wave and all that was great. Actually, before that my musical interests were, like, Sixties stuff… Fifties… Forties… Errrr… Any form of music, actually. Anything. Finger-pick guitar. Ragtime guitar…

… AND WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO AT THE MOMENT?
At the minute I’ve got a video on the telly by Tommy Tedesco. He’s an old Los Angeles session guitarist who’s been at the top of his trade for, like, 35 years. He’s a big fat fella with a beard – and he’s really funny, ‘cos he’s telling you ‘how to be a professional guitarist’… and what he means is: blag a living! This bloke’s worked with Frank Sinatra, the whole lot. People say to him “can you play classical guitar?” and he says “Yeah! Sure! I know classical guitar!” but he’s only got about three tricks. But he still gets the work, ha ha! So that’s what I’ve been listening to at the minute. I’ve just been out for a walk round, I’ve just been up the shops, and I stood listening to a busker. I just like to be open and take everything in and enjoy it…

YOU’RE OUT ON TOUR FOR SALUTATION ROAD… HOW’S THAT GOING?
Playing live and touring has never been a problem. Everybody enjoys it… 

Salutation Road… AND NOW THE ALBUM IS OUT.
Ideally, I’d like to do an album every year, if it’s possible. But it just doesn’t work out like that. People have plans, ideas for you, they want you to go a certain way. They want hit singles out of you. It’s hard to maintain and just be able to say “Look, I’m just thinking about an LP. We want to make a full picture”. It should be a full thing, you know? Not just a thing full of hit singles. But record companies want money, to make money, and they want to turn things over. They want to put as much commercial stuff out as possible, you know?

IT IS QUITE COMMERCIAL, THOUGH. A BIT EARLY STYLE COUNCIL IN PLACES?
Well, I certainly don’t dislike The Style Council. I think Paul Weller is good. I think he’s worked really really hard in his time, and he’s done a lot of different types of music, and done some great songs… But, everyone’s got their opinions… Everyone has preconceptions about music. It’s just how they hear, or how they might want you to sound. So, how you hear things is just how you’re hung up, you know? 

IT DOES HAVE A DIFFERENT SOUND TO THE PREVIOUS TWO ALBUMS, THOUGH…
It does, yeah. It does sound a bit different. The first one, BOAT TO BOLIVIA, that was recorded in Liverpool, and the second… Erm… Well, actually, what happened this time is… Every time we do a new record, I just pick the 12 or 13 songs that I think are the best ones at the time to make a good LP. It’s actually like picking a football team – you pick your best players at that moment, the ones that you reckon will win for you. Then after you’ve done that it’s a case of “this one’ll sound good after that one” and all that sort of thing  – it’s a very simple thing, you know?

SALUTATION ROAD WAS RECORDED IN LOS ANGELES…
You know, America’s quite a weird place. It’s not the same as here. But we didn’t go over there to have a load of parties or something, we went over there just to work on the record. The reason we went to America was that the producer lived there. He has his own studio, not a particularly big studio, but it’s where he does his thing… So we went over there to do it with him – but I suppose we could have done it anywhere, really…

I GET THE IMPRESSION SONGWRITING IS NOT DIFFICULT FOR YOU?
You know, it can be! It can be really difficult sometimes. At other times it can be real easy. Sometimes it’s the best songs you write that were the easiest, and the worst ones are the ones that you’ve put the most work into. I’ve definitely found that! I’m not a very analytical person, so I can’t store up a lot of information. The way I tend to work is instinctive. It comes from my inner voice. It comes from my heart, you know? Sometimes it’s later on when I realise what it is that I’ve been trying to put across in a song. I tend to write the songs very quickly… and then work out later on what’s actually going on, ha ha…

… SO WHAT ARE YOU PUTTING ACROSS ON SALUTATION ROAD..?
There’s no big concept to it. There was no concept in mind before the album was made or anything like that. We toured earlier in the year, February time, and it’s good that we did that. At the time we were desperate to get the LP out – it’d been recorded for about seven months, at that point, but the record company were sitting on it. Really frustrating. They’d just keep saying things like “there’s no singles on there”… They just wanted a hit single, you know? They weren’t sure what to do with things, with the whole LP, and we just got to the point where we said “Okay, you just get on with it, we’re going out on tour now… You do what the hell you like with it”… We went away and did six weeks of gigs, playing all sorts of places we wouldn’t normally play. That, sort of, forced them to put something out…

HAVE YOU GOT A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR RECORD LABEL?
Well, it’s alright. Most people who work there are great, but there is one character who causes us a lot of trouble. I’m not going to name names. He’s very negative. I can’t deal with him, ‘cos his job is basically just to stop things. He’s always going to be in that position, wanting that power to shut things down, you know? It’s because of frustration at not being a very creative person, I suppose. I really think that’s why some of these people do those kind of controlling jobs… Saying that, I’m definitely not slagging everybody who works for the record label. There are people, some people, who genuinely want to help – in fact, the majority of me record company are like that.

IS THE NEW RECORD DOING WELL?
I think it’s doing better than the last one… but it hasn’t gone gold or nothing!

HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF IT DID? DOES IT BOTHER YOU, I MEAN – SEEING, I DON’T KNOW, KYLIE AND JASON IN THE CHARTS AND NOT YOURSELF?
The thing is, lad, I see the positive side of Kylie Minogue… I do! She’s quite a bonny lass, eh? And she’s young… And she’s not doing or saying anything that’s negative, is she? I mean, musically, yes, of course, she’s not doing something that’s particularly brilliant or anything – and I really do not like the sound of the records she’s making at all… But the actual message she’s putting across to the young kids who are buying her stuff? It’s positive, you know? She’s not telling people to go out and stab people or slash people with razor blades or anything like that… Her stuff is just for kids, I suppose. And I don’t mind that…

… BUT WOULD YOU BE HAPPY TO BE ALONGSIDE HER IN THE CHARTS?
No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. I’m really happy with the way things are. At the minute, I can go walk along to the pub with my mates and I can have a drink and no-one bothers us, you know? At the moment, people are real. Sometimes, when you’ve been on the telly too much or you’ve been on the radio too much… people can’t be real with you. That’s what actually changes. The people around you change towards you. It’s not yourself that changes. It’s them…

… THAT MUST HAVE AN EFFECT, THOUGH?
Yes, that’s probably the point when you think you have to do things different. But you start making it difficult – unreal – for yourself if you start cutting yourself off. There’s no need, really. It doesn’t have to be like that. You shouldn’t isolate yourself. You end up becoming cocooned… and that’s got to be a bad thing, you know? So you’ve got to fight against that sort of thing, you know? You can mix with people!

The original edition of SALUTATION ROAD – plus Stephenson’s solo re-recorded version (released 2011) – are amongst approximately 30 albums available to download from his Bandcamp page, here.