Up close and personal suits Martin just fine

Martin Stephenson
Martin Stephenson
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A week’s a long time in music.

Last weekend Martin Stephenson and the Daintees were at Glastonbury performing in front of 5,000 people in the Acoustic Tent.

Next Tuesday he’s at Sheffield Lantern Theatre appearing in front of about 100.

And the North-east-born 51-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Sounds like just my kind of night,” he grinned. “Sometimes I play gigs in the Scottish Highlands in front of 10 people. And half of them want to kill me!”

Some of you may remember Stephenson and the Daintees the first time round. One of the best live acts around, they were loved by the university set and at their best in intimate venues where their impish humour shone through.

They brought Northern bite to beautiful folky tunes; rousing and uplifting one minute, lovely and soft the next. Wholly Humble Heart, We Are Storm, Crocodile Cryer, Salutation Road. Classic songs of any era.

The big commercial success they deserved – but, I suspect, didn’t particularly crave – eluded them. That just made it better for those of us in the know. The fewer the people in on a secret, the more it’s worth knowing.

Tired of being told what to do by record-label bigwigs and with his marriage breaking up, Stephenson gave it all up in the mid-90s to find peace and contentment in the Scottish Highlands – “40 miles up from Inverness”, to be not quite exact.

“I used to go up there to perform once a year and just loved the vibe of the place,” he said, his voice still laced with that appealing Geordie burr. “I managed to find a little cottage to rent for £185 a month and I’ve been up there ever since.

He’s done his own thing – making the albums he’s wanted to, with the people he’s wanted to be with, and gigging first to raise money to help support his two daughters and later just because he loves to communicate with people.

And, despite his dad being a passionate Newcastle supporter, he’s found himself a new club to support. Go on, Ross County.

Nearly 30 years after being part of the explosion of talent on the Kitchenware record label in the 1980s, Stephenson has reunited with some of the original Daintees. There’s a new album, California Star, set for a major launch and plans are afoot to re-release the entire back catalogue.

But Tuesday’s gig is very much a solo affair. Just him, his audience and an intimate setting. Just how he likes it.

2013 finds him with the same wit and sense of fun of old but with a deeper, more sober outlook on life – apt in that’s he’s been off the booze now for 17 years.

“I live a very simple life,” he says. “I hate that shallow drinking culture of old. Give me a room of blue rinses and the Mr Kipling brigade over a crowded pub any day.

“Sometimes I head to the coffee shop in the village and spend my time just chatting to the old guys in there. They’ve no idea who I am or what I do. It’s great, man. There’s a lot to be said for becoming middle-aged.”

Nowadays, he hits the road when the feeling and his pocket calls.

“I’m like a hunter,” he says. “I head off for a while, make what I need to survive on and then head home. When it runs out, off I go again.”

Happily, his trail this time includes a stop-off at the Lantern, where, at the last count, just 11 tickets remained unsold.

And so this charming little venue in Sheffield finds itself privy to one of the greatest hunting spectacles of the natural world.

Wholly Humble Heart, sung by a wholly humble man.

Martin Stephenson, Lantern Theatre, Tuesday. Doors open 7pm.

Tickets: www.wegottickets