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Martin Newell - Interview

  by Spencer Robertshaw

published: 13 / 1 / 2010

Martin Newell - Interview


Poet, journalist, writer and singer-songwriter Martin Newell has released music with both the bands Cleaners from Venus and the Stray Trolleys and also as a solo artist. He speaks to Spencer Robertshaw about his career and why he prefers to remain just under the radar of commercial fame

Martin Newell is a talented man. When John Cooper Clarke said about Martin that “he’s got muscles in his piss” and also commented on whether or not Martin found time to sleep, his musings were well founded. Martin’s musical career seems to have started when he had the strength to pick up a guitar. It also seems to have been the same with his prolific writing and in both his talent for lyrics and prose/poetry are supremely evident. I am not trying to get on his Christmas card list when I say this, but, like Ray Davies with his lyrical works, Martin simply just gets on with it. Ask him what he does and Martin, who lives in Wivenhoe in Essex, doesn’t really admit to having a job, just a series of things that have kept him going. One day he might be in Westminster Cathedral doing something and then the next releasing a book and an album before writing a poem for ‘The Sunday Express’ or another newspaper. I believe that he, however, takes nothing for granted. It’s interesting to know that Martin thinks if it wasn’t for his musical exploits he might have ended up on the wrong side of the tracks. In Martin Newell we have a/ Poet Journalist Writer Singer Songwriter Musician Martin has released music with both the bands Cleaners from Venus and the Stray Trolleys and also as a solo artist. He remains just under the radar of commercial ‘fame’ but I think that’s the way he likes it. One thing that immediately striking about Martin is how modest he is and takes nothing for granted. He has the kind of outlook that a lot of other musicians and artists nowadays would be wise to adopt, but then again they don’t. Sir Martin Newell, “The Wild Man of Wivenhoe”, spoke to Pennyblackmusic. PB: If you look at your website, it seems that cycling is your major form of transport. MN: Yes, I don’t cycle as much but it is still my main type of transport apart from the train. I have a woman who takes me out and I take her to lunch depending on the woman (Laughs). PB: Was it an interest in language that got you into the prose and poetry? MN: I’ve always loved language. I think I always had a gift for words, but only I didn’t see it. I say to young children today just because you have a talent it doesn’t mean that you don’t have another talent that you are equally good at if not better. My one regret is that I didn’t come out of the closet earlier as a writer because it’s made me a living. PB: But you’ve been prolific. The amount of stuff you have done is incredible. MN: Well, I just worked and worked and worked at it because I had such fun doing so. I left school when I was fifteen and I know what hard work is. I’ve been a gardener, a labourer, a kitchen porter, stuff like that and writing is so much easier and more fun. I wish I had started doing it sooner. My bones ache a bit from going out in the cold now and it is kind of good that when I am working that I don’t have to do that anymore, that my writing keeps me now. I’m still hyperactive though. PB: Yes, I realised that from the poem. ‘Martin Newell’, that John Cooper Clarke wrote about you. MN: When John first met me I was still working as a gardener. It’s true that back then if I was working doing say Mr B’s lawn if I could get it done for four and then get on a train at five I could be in Lancaster for seven for a gig. Then if I got back early enough I could do a garden (Laughs). PB: You’ve been likened to Ray Davies in the way that you write lyrics MN: People often mention Ray Davies. I really liked the Kinks. I liked the way they wrote about things in great detail. I liked the Kinks and the Beatles but the Who were much more of an influence on me. I used to listen to them religiously. They were really meaty. I thought the Kinks were more jangly but I have got to like them more now. I suppose I am mining the same seam as Ray Davies but I haven’t written ‘Waterloo Sunset’ yet PB: There's still time though. It will happen MN: Yes (Laughs), but I think Ray Davies and I are very different personalities. I am quite a cheerful positive person. When I was with the Cleaners from Venus, Steve, our sound engineer, was also helping to set up a studio for Ray Davies and I said I would really like to meet Ray but Steve said, “Well, no, I don’t think you would. You’re a really cheerful sod and sometimes Ray isn’t (Laughs).” I was quite young then and I don’t think that Ray would have wanted a waggy tailed upstart jumping about. I hold him in very high esteem. You have to think just because you like someone’s work it doesn’t mean you will get on with them. I think the person I am most alike is Keith Moon. I have read a lot about him and obviously know a lot of people that knew him. Crazy fucker (Laughs)! Captain Sensible is very mush the same, I know him very well having worked with him and lived with him. It used to be if you were on tour then you might as well do something a bit crazy as long as it is safe and no one gets hurt. Just crazy fun! Not smashing anything up. If it was funny and not hurting anyone we did it. PB: You have travelled a bit. What’s your favourite place? What has influenced your output mostly? MN: I really liked Germany but the place that’s had the biggest influence apart from England is France. There is something about it and Northern France in particular where all those wars were fought. I had a French girlfriend in my early twenties. I like French music. They have interesting ideas and are also really good at writing songs. PB: What usually inspires you to begin writing? MN: Usually a title. I will then work on the piano or the guitar. A lot of it is down to what season it is and what mood I am in. It’s harder to write a happy cheerful song than a slow moody one. PB: How would you describe your music? Is it passionate? MN: I can’t get away from my influences , the Who, the Move, the Small Faces and that great little flowering of English pop music between ‘64 and ‘68, but the French also they know how to write a song. They are really good at it. PB: Germaine Greer did an introduction to your last book (‘Selected Poems’, 2008-Ed). How did that come about? MN: I was just doing a show and Germaine was part of it. The guy organising the event gave her a copy of my latest book and she really liked it. She has lived here for about 30 years in Essex, but over on the other side of the county to me. The book, ‘Spoke N Word’, was about little corners of Essex. She looked at me and said, “Hey, these are good.” She is a really nice woman. She suggested me for the job of Essex Regional Poet Laureate. I really like her. PB: You’ve done some presenting for the BBC. How did that come about? MN: Sometimes they might call me and ask if I have any ideas but it isn’t my favourite medium, although a little television goes a long way. PB: If you could choose a job what would it be? MN: I would like to make more records in the studio, but carefully. I nearly went mad when I was doing it all the time before. I would be careful. I know how to handle the press and other things now. That’s why in a way I am glad of programmes like ‘The X Factor’ because they kind of leave artists like myself and John or Captain Sensible alone. If it wasn’t for them then the Simon Cowells of the world would be asking us to do things and that would stop the real work being done. I have opted for a life more ordinary. I write for ‘The East Anglian Times’ and I also do a bit of writing as for ‘The Times’ and ‘The Independent’ but now these little jobs all add up to a living without having to be in the spotlight as such much or being ‘famous’. PB: You have said on various occasions that I don’t really have a job, just a series of things that adds up to a living. MN: It has been a slow burn, but there has been steady accumulation of work and now people come up to me and ask me for things. I can ask what, when, how etc and it gets done. It is like a cottage industry with my name above my door-‘Martin Newell, Wordsmith, Tunesmith etc’ and people come round and I say, “Yes, of course. When would you like it etc ,etc?” like I am a bespoke cabinet maker or craftsman’. Things tick over and the work comes in, I worry about it sometimes thinking what if no work comes in, but it always seems to. I am reliable and the word travels. They know it will be done by a safe pair of hands. PB: So what is next for you? MN: Well I am just keeping going. It seems okay and the work is coming in. I am a slow burn really. There is also a limit to how famous I want to get because it will get in the way and limit me. I am aching to do another album now. I need the actual time and to get four weeks clear – about 20/30 days work to make an album but I am trying to think of a new way to sell it. I don’t think that many are buying albums now so maybe I’ll do it on download or something like that. PB: Thank you. The Last Of The Greasy Spoons In a low-slung shack along the coast Where men in vests wolf beans on toast Here's Jan, your waitress, Reg, your host In the last of the greasy spoons Where tea comes steaming from an urn A darker shade of tan we learn Its strength will be the main concern In the last of the greasy spoons The sugar's white, the sauce is brown Tomatoes tinned − then rendered down Low calorie? Get outta town. It's last of the greasy spoons For a fuller figure than Posh Spice We recommend the two fried slice Black pudding, chips −let's make that twice In the last of the greasy spoons Where smoking is a discipline Permitted everywhere within With ashtrays fashioned out of tin In the last of the greasy spoons. Unvisited by Tony Blair No Tuscan fragrance scents the air They'll never serve polenta there In the last of the greasy spoons. You won't find Wedgewood Blue or Spode Though Catering White is a la mode For blokes who turn in off the road To the last of the greasy spoons Where fearsome men with hams for hands Mouth asterisks and ampersands At knackered fops who play in bands In the last of the greasy spoons. That wholefood franchise shall not pass Neurotics nibbling blades of grass They'll never know the working class Like the last of the greasy spoons. Martin Newell 'The Last of the Greasy Spoons' has been reproduced by kind permission of Martin Newell. More information about Martin can be found at www.martinnewell.co.uk.

Martin Newell - Interview

Martin Newell - Interview

Martin Newell - Interview

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