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Martin Newell

Special Guest for October 2007

Interview by Bucks Burnett

"You can't have everything - where would you keep it?"

BB: Let's begin with the present. You've just released a rather splendid album, A Summer Tamarind. It's just a burst of sunshine to the ears. Were you unusually happy when you wrote it?

MN: I wanted to make a sunny album. I was so sick of hearing miserable bedwetting bands. After the jazz stuff, I just got back to doing what I do best. Cheerful English pop. It went unusually smoothly. The whole thing only took 20 (short) days, Many performances are first or second-take stuff. We just left it. I didn't become a rock musician so I could have somebody tell me what to do.

BB: In my opinion, it's as good as The Greatest Living Englishman, although in a much different way. Englishman is considered by most to be the best album you've made. Do you get tired of people always focusing on that album in particular?

MN: Well, that's only in America, I think. The Germans for instance always preferred The Cleaners From Venus stuff. But no, I don't get tired of people likeing stuff. I'm pleased they like anything really. But it's good to know that many people who DID think GLE was the best, have now found something else that they like.

BB: Englishman was recorded in Andy Partridge's garden shed. Is the shed analogue or digital? Is the wheel barrow HiDef?

MN: The shed was literally a shed. Looked like a Scandinavian municipal shed actually. My only small innovation, was to persuade Andy to wire an old kitchen radio into the monitoring system, so that we could give all the tracks 'the kitchen radio test' after we'd listened to it on the Big Ones.

BB: Do you think you and Andy will ever make another album together?

MN: Well, I certainly wouldn't mind, Up until recently, I thought he was cross with me for signing to Cherry Red instead of to Idea Records (his was the first offer) . Recently though I read that he thought I was cross with HIM for something or other. I occasioanlly ring him, but he never picks up the phone. I don't know his e-mail, if he has one, so we're both getting older, with nothing happening. I last saw him about 3 years back, when he and Erica took me out for an Indian meal. Be great to hear from him. Perhaps I'll write.

BB: You're a devoted gardener. Do flowers gossip?

MN: Only to the bees.

BB: Your music is hooky enough to replace a pirate's hand. Some of your all time favorite pop bands would be...

MN: The Beatles, The Who , The Kinks, The Beach Boys The Move, The Stones, The Small Faces etc and etc.

BB: Any close encounters with any of The Beatles? Did you ever see them live?

MN: No I've never been near any Beatles or close to anyone who was ever close to them.

BB: What were the first LP and 45 you ever bought?

MN: With my own paper-round money? "Pictures Of Lily" by The Who. And a few months later "The Who Sell Out."

BB: What was your first job?

MN: 40 column punchcard operator for the General Post Office in Farringdon Road, London . I started it on 6th January 1969. I was 15 years old. I left in July and became an office boy for Swedish Lloyd in London EC3

BB: People always complain you're not famous enough. I see it the other way around; you seem to eek out a living doing what you like, singing, writing, gardening. Any complaints?

MN: I've not done much gardening for years now. I've mostly worked as a poet and writer since the early 90s. Hardly any complaints really. I'm free. I have about enough fame. About enough money. I feel that my karma is good.

BB: Any advice to younger musicians regarding proper tophat storage or rental?

MN: Always rely on a small wardrobe or perhaps a bathtub.( Never a full one though)

BB: Ever walked across Abbey Road?

MN: Yes, I have. Two years ago, I walked into Abbey Rd, through the front door and watched, in Studio 1, Mr Peter Long conducting a 60 piece orchestra who were working on five of my songs for a jazz singer called Richard Shelton. When they'd finished one particular piece, I was invited into the cavernous room to meet the ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra.

They were told by the conductor that it was I, whose songs they had been working on for the past two days. To my astonishment, they put their bows and instruments down and applauded me. For once I was completely tongue tied. I almost cried.

BB: Your Abbey Road experience is beyond belief. I would think that for any songwriter to hear their songs orchestrated would be a less-than- once-a-lifetime experience, something to not even to be hoped for. I'm really glad you witnessed that. In a train stop, it would be sublime...but Abbey Road? Good god, man, you've beat the odds AGAIN. Tell me more about the project so we can all rush out and buy the CD.

MN: The CD was called Top Cat. It was on the SANDS LABEL (SANDS CD1) It had five of my songs on it. I went to a couple of really posh functions and was handshaken to jelly, schmoozed ( in front of Ms B.) by a leggy CNN journalist in a very tight dress (Wouldn't it have been great if it had actually been a woman?) And for a while I thought 'I was all that.' Luckily, in the end, I wasn't.

BB: I've turned most of my friends into Martin Newell fanatics, and we all consider you a master of the vocal harmony and melody. Who inspired you the most in your harmonic development? Yer really, really, really, (more reallys go here) good at it. And would you ever record a few accapella numbers?

MN: There are one or two snatches of accapella things dotted around the catalogue. Songs From The Station Hotel, has one. The Light Programme has a fragment called Little Trinity. And of course The Cleaners did Andy Partridge's 'Pearl' on our Living With Vicky Grey Cassette. I do love harmonies. There are two guys in New York who sometimes,( they tell me) play a game which involves figuring out which of my songs could also make great Anglican hymns. I seriously consider now, though that many of those rollicking English hymns which I sang in primary school, leaked into my subconscious and are now leaking out again in my bass lines and harmonic sensibilities.

BB: Cherry Red seem to be treating you well, and it's nice to have so many of your records all under the same umbrella. Do you see it as a continuing long term thing? How did you hook up with them? Kind of unusual since they're primarily a punk label.

MN: Cherry Red are great on the freedom front. They're not too sharp of the promotional front, and they're not ruthlessly developmental or adventurist as capitalists. But you can't have everything (Where would you you keep it?) They do, it's true have a lot of punk, But Punk itself also harbours a lot of genuine oddballs and people who simply don't fit on the global music supermarket shelf. Cherry Red are a great institution.Long may they exist.

BB: Speaking of punk, those adorable Pistols are playing London November 8th. How did the original punk movement affect you, and did you see any of the old bands live?

MN: The Stranglers and best of all The Damned, who should be up there with the Clash and The Pistols because for me they were the real thing and the best. I am exactly punk rock age. I was busy playing a heavy space-rock band at the time. But I bought all the punk records and wore the skinny jeans etc etc. It was a wonderful time. So much energy. And so many misfits who came through on the coat-tails of the movement. John Cooper Clarke, Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, XTC etc etc. It was Pop 'refreshing itself.'

BB: What are some of the very best gigs you've ever seen?

MN: Believe it or not, I've never been a great one for going to gigs but Ian Dury and The Blockheads, were always pretty good.
The First Stiff Records tour (Autumn 77?) Essex University.
Family ( my fave prog band) Dunstable Civic spring 1971.
Rolling Stones, Hyde Park July 1969.
And best of all when I was 11, a band called The Deacons at the school dance in Chester, north of England.

BB: I have often said that you are more English than England. We've never really talked about it, but what are a few of your favorite things about England, and perhaps a few things that ruffle your feathers?

MN: Likes...All the little things, the small politenesses( increasingly disappearing) the countryside (ditto) the changing seasons and the women, whose voices chime like bells and who walk slightly bent forward as if walking into a strong wind.
Dislikes: Cars, drunk and drugged teenagers, bad manners, litter, increasing ignorance and illiteracy, enslavement to sportswear. Why do they all want to look like fitness intructors?

BB: I would imagine that you were into the glam movement in the 70's. Any favorites? Mott The Hoople got lumped in with all that, which leads me to my obligatory question about Ian Hunter. I would pay to hear a drunken conversation between you and him. Are reservations required?

MN: Ian Hunter was great. Wrote a wonderful book too. I liked The Sweet, Bowie, Bolan, Mott, Alice the whole lot. It was MY time, more than punk, I was one of those young dudes, that came along after the hippies.

BB: Are you a good kisser?

MN: Ask Ms B, when you meet her.

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