Monday, 29 September 2008

Martin Stephenson and Helen McCookerybook

To Whitstable on Saturday night, to see Martin Stephenson and Helen McCookerybook.

It was a beautiful, mild evening. We parked on Middle Wall and crabbed through Squeeze Gut Alley to the Horsebridge. On the beach and the sea wall near the Pearson's and the Royal Oyster Stores there were clusters of people standing with drinks and cameras, watching the sunset over the estuary, as if it was the tropics. We bought a drink and it was almost perfect and to complete the moment, to the SS's chagrin, I blagged a rare cigarette off a couple standing nearby. They wouldn't take anything for it, but wound up next to us at the gig, our new best friends (thanks Michelle; here's to Limerick and original sin!).

Helen opened, quickly winning over the audience. For Freight Train she pulled the promoter/sound man on stage to accompany her; he looked thrilled and terrified in equal measure, clutching a guitar as if it was a fig leaf and singing rather well. Martin Stephenson joined her for several songs too. It was the first time we'd seen Helen perform, beyond parties and people's sitting-rooms; she was confident and relaxed, and her set was flawless.

In the break we visited the bar and looked down from the Horsebridge Centre's balcony at the fizz of laid-back provincial night-life below. (I once wrote a design brief for new development in Whitstable. It suggested weather-boarding, seaward-facing gables, balconies and external staircases, and maybe someone read it, because much of the newer stuff has these and the town has hung on to its quirky character).

Martin Stephenson gave a stunning performance and provided a masterclass in audience-connection. The stage had been erected between the two doors, so that any comings and goings couldn't easily be ignored. And there seemed to be many comings and goings, individual and group. No one escaped Martin's quick (but malice-free) wit. A smiley man with protruding teeth sitting near the front had a magic phone which leapt repeatedly out of his pocket and clattered on the floor like a spawning salmon (we saw him later on an ancient bicycle, wobbling home down the High Street on the wrong side of the road, shedding things). In the front row a small boy slept on his mother's lap. When he woke near the end, tired and disoriented, Martin turned whatever song he was doing into Postman Pat and sang it right through in a magical little concert for one, and no child has ever smiled more widely (there is something strangely endearing in a rock musician knowing all the words to Postman Pat).

You can't pay an audience a bigger compliment than to give the impression that you are enjoying yourself and don't want to stop, and that's the impression Helen and Martin gave us.

Thanks guys.


  1. I saw Mr. Stephenson supporting someone else (can't remember who) some years ago and I'd agree that he gives it his all and appears to be having a great time on stage. You can't ask more of a performer.

    As for your description of the evening and location... sounds to me like you went back in time. Do evenings like that still exist in 21st Century Britain?

  2. Pictures - we want pictures BT.

    Get that SS to buy you a digicamera pronto!

  3. Thank you, cousin. I have told Tim to take a look at this for the comments about his voice- he's planning to start performing soon, he told me. Funny that Mr Clatterphone was disintegrating on the way home too!
    I was bragging about the size of my fan club all evening! I think we were all waiting to go to the loo and that's probably why you missed Rowen and Ludek.
    Might be back in Whitstable soon.
    Thank you so much for coming- I could see you all enjoying Martin's set. He's very funny and a blast to do gigs with.
    Lets' catch up and do a camden run soon

  4. Sounds like a fantastic evening, lucky you! I agree with your comments about a rock musician knowing the words to Postman Pat, sweet. And I bet he has given that young lad a memory that he won't forget, and will probably make him all the more keen to go to music events in the future and how cool a legacy is that eh? Cheers, A.

  5. Rol - He does throw himself into it. In the absence of percussion he has a nice line in head-butting the mike, and the stark lighting on Saturday found him absorbed at one point in singing a duet with his shadow.

    Laura - I have one and promise to next time. It was having a video camera that put me off; I found I was seeing all the important moments in life through a squitty little viewfinder instead of enjoying the reality, and stopped.

    Helen - Oh yes, please do Whitstable again (it'll be a case oif booking early, as word will have got around!). Camden sounds good too...if we are still solvent after Wall Street has finished self-destructing.

    Amanda (have I got that right, and may I call you it?) - I'm sure he'll never forget fact, no one who was there will.

  6. You may certainly call me that. Just don't call me late for breakfast (as my Dad used to say...)

  7. Sounds a great evening... and Postman Pat is a litmus test for any musician in my book. That and Fireman Sam.

  8. Martin S is sweet and funny, I wanna have his babeeez

  9. It was, Steve. Not a bad musical yardstick, that - especially Fireman Sam, which was apparently composed by Heneghan and Lawson, who are both serious composers. Listen to some of their work here:

    Anonymous - He'd be flattered to hear that (as long as you don't have a magic phone and ride a bicycle!) No doubt all the men in that audience would have been happy to have Helen's babeez too.