We went to see Martha at The Garage on Tuesday 17th April 2019.
It is safe to say that County Durham’s Martha are a band on the up. Even before tonight’s sold out show at The Garage, the North-East twee-punks are already booked to play Heaven in November, an indication that the band expect big things from the next six months.
Over the past five years, the quartet of J.C. Cairns (guitar/vocals), Daniel Ellis (guitar/vocals), Naomi Griffin (bass/vocals), and Nathan Stephens-Griffin (drums/vocals) have gone from strength-to-strength as one of the UK’s beloved DIY indie-punk bands, to the point that they now threaten to bother the mainstream consciousness. The growing critical success of Martha’s three full-lengths has been parallelled by their presence as a premier live act filled to the brim with punk energy and passionate sing-a-longs.
Tonight sees the group hailing from Pity Me, Durham as a potentially crucial point in their careers: they enter the stage as a cohesive unit of “awkward ones” on the cusp of becoming something altogether more socially accepted. For such a deceivingly sweet sound, Martha still packs a political punch, self-identifying as a “queer, straight-edge, vegan and anarchist” group. As a result, Martha are a “modern” band, reflecting the weird and wonderful ways once-called “alternative” lifestyles are now rightfully considered normal.
“Given their third and best album so far, Love Keeps Kicking, was unleashed on us just last week, tonight’s packed-yet-passionate crowd haven’t quite yet got to grips with Martha’s more developed sound”
Set-opener ‘WrestleMania VIII’ is, therefore, a pretty excellent introduction to the band, should anyone in the room not be familiar with them. It is a song that reflects on social outcasts, and as a result, signifies what the band are all about in a song. It is also perhaps the band’s catchiest song yet, which given this is a night full of big sing-a-longs, that is quite an achievement.
The band move across their three full-lengths and all four members’ vocal-lead tracks throughout the hour-long set tonight, with ‘Chekov’s Hangnail’ and ‘1997, Passing in the Hallway’ following shortly after. Given their third and best album so far, Love Keeps Kicking, was unleashed on us just last week, tonight’s packed-yet-passionate crowd haven’t quite yet got to grips with Martha’s more developed sound, favouring, for now, tracks from breakout record Blisters in the Pit of My Heart and debut Courting Strong.
Similarly, the Durham four-piece choose not to concentrate on their most recent release as many live acts tend to do, electing to perform the choice cuts for now, such as ‘Into This’, ‘Heart is Healing’ and ‘Love Keeps Kicking’ intermingling with older and much-loved material. Nothing here sounds out of place or devoids the set of the relentless energy Martha exerts, however, in fact, the band’s newer material seems to elevate their older tracks onto a higher plane. While it’s a slight surprise that the excellent, album-defining ‘Orange Juice’ isn’t performed tonight, they do close the main set with the excellent ‘The Void’ proving the pride the band possess in their latest record.
Either way, the crowd’s adoration does not let up along with the energy in the room at any point in the night, making for a delightful show. Towards the closing stages of the night, the big hitters of ‘Goldman’s Detective Agency’, ‘Ice Cream and Sunscreen’ and ‘Bubble in my Bloodstream’ get deployed to maximum, joyous effect. Greater success may well be on the horizon for Martha, but one expects the band’s dedication will keep their heads above water.