This is the tale of a Northern soul.
From humdrum streets where the rain fell hard.
Looking to find his way in the world.
His heart is his compass.
Lost, lonesome, gladsome, humourous and, sometimes, a little blue.
A crocodile cryer, happy to look down.
A wholly humble heart.
Rock but only with roll.
Punk attitude delivered without sneer or snot.
Indie without the schmindie.
Delicate but never fey.
By the time “Salutation Road” arrived in 1990 Martin Stephenson was already the sort of artist who had disciples, followers and acolytes…never just “fans”. The people who knew…believed. Believed in him. Believed in the songs. Believed that through the music they could be healed of whatever it was that troubled their souls…and they were right.
Of course that sort of devotion rarely brings mass appeal or the rewards that things that are less worthy of them garner. There would be no number one spot in the charts for “Their Comes a Time” even though everyone who hears it knows that’s exactly what it deserves. No platinum discs to hang on the walls of his home in the Scottish highlands.
It’s a funny old world they sometimes say.
As ever “they” are wrong.
What this world is, is cruel and, so often, wicked.
That’s the only way to make sense of “Angels” by Robbie Williams selling over a million copies.
I apologise for nothing.
“Salutation Road” was originally recorded in Los Angeles and should have been the album that propelled Martin and his Daintees into the mainstream…and while it was well recevied and positively reviewed the big time remained just out of reach.
It’s a sin.
But the past is the past and we cannot change it.
Now though, thirty years on, a chance presents itself to right one of the wrongs of history. Martin has re-recorded the album and, in the process, has achieved something bordering on the miraculous…he has created a new album entirely. The same songs, the same words, the same feeling…but an entirely new thing.
“We’d always vowed to record this album more how we’d originally heard it. This is it, no brass, only a four piece band and an additional fiddle.”
More from less?
What “Salutation Road” offers is the chance to revel in, to relish, the sound of a writer, a singer, an artist reconnecting with his own work. Looking backwards and giving birth to something absolutely rooted in the now. That takes real craft.
It would have been very easy to simply re-issue the album and add a second disc of acoustic demos, live versions and a cover version or two…maybe throw in a tacky badge…and send the faithful home happy with nothing more than the knowledge that they had remained, well, faithful.
That isn’t the way of the Daintee.
While it is difficult to place Martin into a genre…their are moments of raw folk, pop, jazz, funk, soul and goodness knows what else scattered throughout his career and running all through this album…the one thing that is constant is that he is moved by a desire to write openly and honestly.
What more can you want from a stranger than that?
From that openness and honesty we connect…strangers no more.
“We are flawed, we are bound down, see us, careless corpse see us…steal the dawn”
Isn’t that it?
We are flawed.
We are bound down.
Music like this helps us to steal the dawn, become the storm, instead of being tempest tossed by the storm.
It may well be a terrible cliche to talk about the spirit of Northerners and I know that people from the South think it is all desperately sad but when you are Northern, not only are you Northern for life, you see the world constantly through Northern lights. Brighter than New York light, kinder than neon light and warmer than any London light. From the North of England and his roots in Durham to his current home in the Highlands of Scotland Stephenson has always been a Northerner. There are certain things that run through the soul of the Northerner and they are all over this album…
Strength in the face of adversity.
I know, I know…Cockneys and mockneys all say the same things about their communities and, maybe, they are right. Maybe these things are not specific to the likes of Scousers, Mancs, Geordies and Jocks…maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe not.
No matter where you are from if you prize those same qualities then there are songs here on “Salutation Road” that will make your heart swell, that will draw the tears you were taught not to cry from your eyes and that will ignite a flame to help heal you in the night.
In times of trouble we need a troubadour and, in Martin Stephenson, we might just have the right man. A composer and performer of grace, guile, guts and verve.
“Salutation Road 30th Anniversary” is available now from Bandcamp.