There is rarely a dull moment with Stephenson, but that’s exactly what you’d hope from someone who’s never stood still during over 35 years in love with music. For him, it’s not a career, it’s a lifetime calling, and his restless troubadour spirit has now amassed an extraordinary catalogue of 40 albums.
“There’s lots of different dimensions in music,” he muses, addressing how he survives and thrives 40 records down the line. “Sometimes, no matter how open rock ‘n’ roll people think they are, they can have a blinkered view of how the scene and the universe shift. You’ve got to redefine yourself. It just depends whether you’re connected to it or not.”
He’s connected alright, now as ever.
“My teacher was like a cross between Allen Ginsberg and Jim Morrison, he was like this Vietnam hippie,” remembers Stephenson. “He had this massive cosmic perception, and he taught loads of young lads from rough backgrounds how to get rid of the competitive spirit that brought a lot of unhappiness. He taught us how to teach and how to encourage, so I got all these gifts from the age of 11 to 15, and a great musical education. I was listening to Frank Zappa, Santana, Patti Smith, I was really spoilt.”
Before he was anything else, Stephenson was a busker. It was the beginning of an instinct, a need, for live performance that continues to this day. “I used to see a sunny morning when I was 18 and thought ‘I’m just going to go on the street and play, nobody knows who I am anyway.’ The doo-wop singers used to do that, stand on street corners. That’s how I started off.”
Then, as for so many, along came the new wave to jam the door open. “When I went into music, it was punk that got us to try to play,” says Martin. “But when I went into the music industry, when I was like 19, I had a completely different perspective. It wasn’t something I wanted to conquer or be part of.”
The Daintees’ first single, ‘Roll On Summertime,’ appeared in 1984, and soon the big boys were taking notice. Stephenson’s richly detailed and nuanced songwriting was the perfect fit for Newcastle based Kitchenware Records.
‘Boat To Bolivia’ displayed an extraordinary maturity, from the country charm of ‘Candle In The Middle’ to the Cohenesque acoustics of ‘Rain,’ and sounds as fresh today as it did then. A degree of UK chart success followed with the top 40 albums ‘Gladsome, Humour & Blue’ in 1988 and ‘Salutation Road’ in 1990.
When they lost their deal after 1992’s less successful ‘The Boy’s Heart,’ Stephenson called time on the original Daintees, setting about a solo career and the prolific outpouring of quality material that shows no sign of slowing down. Right now, he’ll tell you, he could record fully five more albums from his current crop of songs.
Stephenson is happy to have taken the road less travelled and bring his old and new fans with him. When he’s not writing, recording or gigging, which isn’t often, he’s in his adopted home of Invergordon in the Scottish Highlands, much involved with his own label, Barbaraville. He describes it as “a raft, to try and help people.” There are the days he organises with that studio owner who puts the Dali in Darlington, in which Stephenson produces “awayday albums” for more artists he is championing.
“I have a song called ‘Home’ which I do a lot, which I wrote for my mother when she passed away,” says Stephenson. “People connect with it. There was a woman who asked me to sing it for her dad the other night, and to me that was the highest level in the gig, because someone wanted the song for their dad who’d passed away. That’s a really humbling thing.”
Wherever he is, even at home, the music bug never takes a day off. “Sometimes I go out on the street and play Chet Atkins stuff, or Merle Travis,” he says. “It’s lovely, because I don’t put a case out for money, I just do it because I love doing it.”