We start with a very popular question that
came from many, many people, many, many times....
Why doesn't Martin go to America? Well, Martin actually doesn't like travel much, won't ever get on a plane (this decision made five years ago by the way). If I could get on a train and do it, I might consider it but still have this morbid fear of dying while not on English soil. I don't transplant well. At present, I'm more kindly disposed towards our American cousins than at any time before. Events in September almost kindled a defiance in me which made me think that I ought to go -if only to annoy Osama Bintherdunthat. It sort of made me realise that however much I occasionally get irked by American cultural incursions, that America is a good idea. That America is broker of the world's dreams. That America gave us Monroe, Rock and Roll, Jazz, Blues, any number of inventions and for many years took the dripping poverty-stricken hand of the world's refugees and said: "Come in. You're an American now." This open-ness, generosity of spirit and "let's-do-it" attitude is to be cherished and applauded and I would hate to think that America's psyche has been damaged by recent events.
So don't rule out that I'd ever come. I imagine myself arriving like Oscar Wilde, on an ocean liner, in a broad-brimmed hat and saying something witty like: "Now, where can I obtain strong drink and meet naughty ladies?" I suppose that if I had a rock-solid proposition from a good promoter/publisher/company and that I knew I'd come back paid for my work and be treated like the nervous old dog that I really am underneath, I'd probably come. I'd be a churl not to. Perhaps I'd better get a bit better known as a writer/songwriter first. It might make everything possible.
Is there any way you could make it easier for people in the USA to get hold of your pre GLE stuff?
The only thing I can recommend is that they write or e-mail Cherry Red or lobby a local suppliers or small record companies to re-issue/distribute/re-license stuff. I can do nothing from this end. (Jarmusic also have a U.S.A. address now.)
If you didn't live in England, where would you like to live?
I didn't live in England? Hmm. Maybe Wales. I like the Welsh. They're dead friendly, musical, poetic and witty. Apart from that, possibly Normandy. Maybe Hamburg in Germany. Ostend in Belgium -it was good enough for Marvin Gaye.
What is the charm of Wivenhoe?
What is the charm of Wivenhoe? Undoubtedly the goats of Autumn. And the woods and the river and the fact that I can walk around the place saying hello to almost everybody in the place and have them say hello back. Oh and there's a woman around the corner and sometimes she comes round here at night and then we… (continued next letters page of Hot Limey Housewife's Magazine.) As an example of how friendly this place is, I was recently out cycling on a country road and a tourist stopped me and asked: "Do you know the Wivenhoe turn-off?"
I said: "I should do mate, I was married to her for seven years."
What is your favorite vegetable, from a gardening perspective?
Fave vegetable? Not allowed to say Cliff Richard, I suppose. So… the Jerusalem Artichoke or the Helianthus Tuberosus.
What would you like to see named after you? A guitar? A bridge? A breed of dog? A bicycle?
Well, it would be nice to have a bicycle named after me but I suspect what will happen is that some sort of sex aid for the elderly will end up bearing my name. Some creaking denture-colored contraption kept in a bedroom drawer next to the pile ointment and elastic stockings will be given the title: The Martin Newell Patent Wonka Pump . It will consist of bulbs, tubes, spatulas, rubber straps and a moisture extraction pipe. After pensions have been collected and spent, cracked voices behind drawn curtains will be heard saying: "It's no good Daphne -it won't go up. I'll have to get the Martin Newell out of the drawer."
What ales have currently caught your favour? Do you still brew your own?
I'm currently big on Weston's Cider. I do occasionally still brew my own beer. Newell's Liquid Therapy -"Counseling in a glass."
I also have a demi-john of Blackberry wine on the go at the moment.
Who is your favorite Python?
Possibly Eric Idle. But it's sort of like asking… What's my favorite leg? They're all necessary.
(At which point the typist wonders: How many legs does this man have?!)
If there was one person you could delete from history, who would it be?
At the moment? Osama Bin Liner.
If you could trade places with one person from history, who would it be and why?
Maybe Keith Richards in London in 1968 or Paul McCartney in London in 1966. Why? Well read a few books about the time. But to have been either of those young men at that creative peak, during that period. It must have been intoxicating.
Have you ever heard a Lennon bootleg and wondered what the hell was actually in the Beatles fairy dust they were sprinkling (apart from the drugs)?
Nope. Can't say that I have. But I know what you mean. I just think that the Beatles in that place, at that time were exactly the right thing. It was a bit of almost cosmic good timing which the four individuals were smart enough and talented enough to lock on to.
What are your favorite tunes of all time?
Fave tunes? They change all the time. Pictures Of Lily by The Who is a strong contender.
Do you listen to anything non-pop, such as jazz or classical, or even show tunes?
Yes, all the time. I love show tunes. So much so that I occasionally think I must be gay and trapped in a heterosexual sexuality. I love Carousel, Cabaret and… should I admit this? The Sound Of Music. I get in conversations with old queens down the pub about who sang what in which show. I also listen to Jazz -Charlie Mingus/Chet Baker/Jimmy Smith. A French baroque composer called Marin Marais, John Barry, loads of Vaughan Williams, Breton Chantes. Lots of English light music from the Forties and Fifties, Japanese koto music. I'm a cultural dustbin for the world's myriad music. What I can't listen to is straight opera like Wagner, Puccini, or Mozart. And I hate blary big band jazz and epic rock…
Have you ever considered writing (and starring in) a rock musical?
I've written a rock musical with Captain sensible. I've done a children's opera with Colin Towns. I'm actually in an opera in February with Francois Ribac. I'd love to write another one especially the lyrics. I think I have a natural ability to do that sort of thing. I don't really want to star in one.
We know your feelings about producers, but other than Louis P and Andy P is there another person you would like to work with, could bear to work with?
Producers? Hmm. Maybe Sean O'Hagan from The High Llamas. Definitely John Leckie. Possibly Paul McCartney. Oh and Roger Eno, Brian's smarter brother, who I've been in touch with recently.
Would you like to work with Elvis Costello?
I'd like to have a drink and a yarn with Elvis Costello, yes, since you ask. He's one of the smartest songsmiths I can think of. He's the same age as me (about). We might find much in common. I have a feeling he'd know a few jokes I haven't heard.
You combined music and poetry in Grays, obviously we appreciated that very much, but what did you think of it? And will you do it again? Maybe even add a sketch or something.
If I thought the demand was there -like a big audience, I'd do it. If enough children clap their hands, Tinkerbell lives. If they don't she dies.
In your poem about the nation of bass guitarists, well, did you really mean it or is there one person in particular you were thinking of?
Well, when I wrote the poem, I was in The Greyhound Pub and absolutely everybody and their girlfriend seemed to be a bass guitarist. Even me! I briefly played bass for a Doors tribute band who were short of a player. When I went down to Brighton, everybody seemed to be a bass player. I remember thinking: Is this what we've come to? A nation of bass-players? I do remember in particular one silly student (female) going on about how she was in this band now -a bass player- and telling me as I sat tiredly with my pint, what it was like in a band these days and how the music biz ran. I just sat there saying: "Yeah… right."
Do you like Dylan? Bob and Thomas?
Dylan? Thomas and Bob. Hmm. Loved him. Hated him. Big fan of Dylan Thomas. Always thought that Bob Dylan was an incomprehensible rambler whose songs were better when covered by Manfred Mann. Endless rows with Dylan fans as a result. Though he was pretentious, wretchedly miserable, no good at all after about 1966 (bit like the England team) crap singer and harmonica player and entirely unimportant in the pop scheme of things. I hated The Band even more. Dreadful bearded ghastliness which only encouraged more gullible people of my age to wax cosmic and stop listening to perfectly good pop songs.
Bob Dylan? Just say no, kids. Dylan Thomas on the other hand…
…I'm not fit to sharpen this fellow's quills. There's more poetry in the first three pages of Under Milk Wood than most poets muster in their lifetimes.
What do you think of Britain's other great singing poet, Ivor Cutler?
I've heard Ivor Cutler. Yes, he's good. I've known about him for many years. But don't forget the other great singing poet, Attila The Stockbroker… who's brilliant.
I spotted Ogden's Nut Gone Flake in a photo on Golden Cleaners. What albums or songs influenced your music making the most?
Influences? Rubber Soul, The Who Sell Out, Ogden's Nut Gone, Waterloo Sunset, Best Of The Move, Golden Hour Of The Kinks everything you'd expect as far as albums are concerned.
What would you consider your top 10 or 15 "desert island records", the ones you couldn't live without?
Tough question. Since I've Been Loving You -Led Zeppelin. Let's get lost -Chet Baker, Over The River -High Llamas, See Emily Play -Pink Floyd, I'm Not In Love -10CC, Bus Stop -The Hollies, Coronation Scot -Vivian Ellis, Dam Busters Theme -Eric Coates, Surfer Girl -Beach Boys. Can I stop now?
Will we ever get to hear the final studio sessions of The Mighty Plod?
I have somewhere, a very bad copy, of a copy of a copy of two of those songs from that session. They weren't world beating or anything but they still sound alright if a little frantic. No I don't think they will ever see the light of day. But someone, somewhere has the masters… (update on this in 2002 is Martin now has the masters.... watch this space as they say!)
Will we ever get to hear your early (lo-fi recorded) Cleaners songs re-recorded with the arrangements and the sound quality that they deserve? Or do you consider the actual recordings to be what they deserve?
You want the tunes done better? So do I. But I can't be arsed. Get Phil Collins to do it or something. Hopefully one of you young shining things will do it. I always was a cack-handed shoddy workman.
Will we ever get a book about the Cleaners and BOL period?
We might get a book about the Cleaners and The Lizards but not just yet. I've already written two books and an album this year. How much of a maniac d'you want me to be?
What was it like to play for an audience that absolutely did NOT understand a word you were saying?
I never found out. They were clapping in Japanese.
Do you ever think about rounding up and re recording some of your best orphan songs and giving them a good home? I'm thinking Boadeciea Jones, George Best, Popular girl, Stay Lit, Bag Of Dust, Red Guitars and Silver Tambourines and Alien Nation. That's almost a fantastic album.
All of those songs mentioned I'd like to re-do properly. They're all rather faulty -oh apart from Popular girl and Android Nation. No, you're right: there's room for an album of those songs at some point. Perhaps I'll call it A Night At The Orphanage.
Why don't you write songs about nuclear bombs and missing people in developing countries?
I used to write songs about nuclear bombs, oppressive regimes and the world's atrocities all during the early eighties. I felt I was in danger of becoming obsessive and strident. And I wasn't saying anything that a lot of considerably more engaged artists weren't saying better. What I was good at was light whimsy and melancholic pop. This gown was far more becoming on me than the hair shirt I wore for three or four years. Occasionally now, a bit of politics creeps out of my lyrics but I won't force it. And anyway, it's easier to write a 'down' song than to whip up a nice pop souffle. I just think I'm a better court jester than a ranting priest.
Could you talk a bit about your songwriting methods and processes. Are you a writer who comes up with the lyrics first or chords or melodies, or does it vary? Do you worry over your songs a lot or do they seem to happen all as a piece? Do you have ways to work out of when you're stuck (if you get stuck) or do you just let it all go for the next time you feel like writing? When do your songs seem like they happen most often… do you work late at night, for instance?
I always come up with music first. Then I ask myself: What is the mood of this. What season of the year does this tune suggest? Now I begin to chip away at the lyrics. Unless of course I had a great title first. Sometimes I can get an entire song out of a good title. Usually I've got several things on the go at once, so if I get stuck, I stick it on the back burner and get on with something else. A fresh day and a new approach sometimes makes the answer clearer. I play a lot at night and in the afternoon. I scribble ideas down so I don't lose them, but I always assemble things early in the day when I seem to work best.
Has working with Nelson brought any New Model Army influence to your music?
No. In a word. Nelson has a strong identity of his own and very quietly and subtly encourages the best out of me while restraining my worst excesses. This is why he'll be getting a full production credit on the new album. Even though he maintains he doesn't do much.
Tell us about the current set up you use for the recording?
Oh no. It's boring. Okay, we use a couple of computers.
Cakewalk software and an awful lot of real instruments. But I do actually
like what computers have done for the recording process. Half the time
I don't even look at the names of things, not even guitars. If they sound
good and they're at hand, I use them.
How come you can stand drum machines?
I just hear sounds. All sounds are legitimate. I do like a bit of cheapness. It annoys the professionals and the technocrats. I adore the imperfect. I strive for the happy accident and the wilfully amateur. Slap it down and go for lunch. Leave perfection to the real men. You know how a lot of artists say: "I'm a difficult perfectionist"? Well, I ain't. I'm an imperfectionist. I'm a great believer in the "That'll do" mentality. Or: "Crikey! Is that the time? Anyone fancy a pint?" I'd like to say it was something arty, like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa. But it's not. It's sheer impatience, rushing and botched workmanship.
I couldn't give a bugger, me. It's only fun if I can have it instantly. And anyway, it's the spirit of pop. Having said that, I do seem to have done more than the usual amount of work on what will be the new album so check it out.
For God's sake man. Will you please go and buy yourself a more expensive drum machine. The one on the Spirit Cage sounds like something the Human League used in the early '80s. At the very least borrow Dave Gregory's one that he used for the tribute CD. Better still, bring back the bloke that played drums on the Off White Album. No further questions m'lud.
There were some real drums on Spirit cage you cheeky sod. And anyway, I'm supposed to be the godfather of Lo-fi. I'm allowed to sound ersatz.
Where did Here She Crashes come from? (Sounds a bit Cutterish) You broke new ground there, any reason you didn't do more stuff like that?
I do remember doing Here She Crashes. It took me ages. I don't know what you mean by Cutterish. Paul says...For the record I meant Echo and The Bunnymen's "The Cutter". It's a very trippy sort of sound isn't it? It would really suit doing longer like one whole side of an album. But I don't have time.
What happened to the old Burns guitar that you are playing on the photo inside the "The Wayward Genius Of Martin Newell"? Was it a photo prop or did it really serve time in the Newell guitar arsenal?
That old guitar I have in photos is not a Burns. It's actually a 1958 Hofner. I believe it was Hofner's answer to the Fender Jaguar. It was my first electric guitar, bought for £19.00 that's nineteen pounds, in Guitar Village, Shaftesbury Ave. London in October of 1970. It did sterling service on all of the early Cleaners tapes and records and can be heard on some tracks of The Spirit Cage, most notably, A Smashing Bird Like Brenda. It's my most used guitar (electric) and looks it.
Who is Brenda?
Brenda is Everywoman, of a certain age, with a
bit of a past, with some crowsfeet, a few laughter lines and perhaps a
the hips. It's how a sensible chap of my age likes them. I can't be doing
with these wispy twenty-year olds. The campaign for Real Women starts here.
Phoowaarr! Brenda is a name you'd have found in woman of the Fifties and
Sixties -sort like Zelda or Wanda in America. I've noticed that Robyn Hitchcock
and Capt. Sensible also like using the name in song-titles. My own song-title
was originally an attempt to satirise the sort of title a sixties film
might have been given before political correctness.
A Smashing Bird
, starring Michael Caine, Billy Whitelaw, Carol White,
Terence Stamp, Rachel Roberts and David Hemmings. A classic American Brenda
might be that woman who played Al Bundy's wife Peggy, in
. I found her incredibly lovely. Never mind her awful bleached
blonde daughter, give me the mom anytime. I repeat: Phoowaarr!!
Where does the laughter come from on Spirit Cage?
The laughter is a woman unknown to me. We nicked it from the first Bonzo Dog l.p. It comes in just after Cool Britannia I think.
Who or what was the inspiration for the wickedly funny German impression at the end of "New Europeans"? It was the man from the record company in "Lost In Music"? Bestimmt?
A bloke called Thom Thom who helped to bugger up the 1995 German tour for me and indirectly caused me to have a row with Dave Gregory, is partly the inspiration for this German impression. It's actually quite an affectionate little vignette of the rockin' urban forty something German rock fan -of whom I've met many. "Hey Mardin! You're lookin' preddy old lately!"
I am disgusted with the current "teenage" status of the music industry and have decided to just get old. When will the Revolution Of Melodic Middle-aged Gents take place and will you be part of it?
Middle aged gents (and ladies) are the biggest demographic. If the capitalist overlords of the music biz are too stupid to spot that and start selling us things and tunes in a language that we understand, who am I to point it out to them? If they really want to keep aiming their filmsy pop arrows at a fickle and increasingly confused minority (i.e. Teenagers) instead of a more discerning but ultimately more loyal, affluent and melody-friendly mature majority then they deserve the sales figures and impoverished music which they harvest. Doesn't bother me. I'll just keep doing things.
'Til what age can a man (person) still be a popstar and not be a fool?
In my case, it's more a matter of: How long can a man be a fool and still not be a popstar?
Have you seen the Spanish surreal movie El Cabina about a bloke who gets trapped in a phone box?
No. I haven't seen this Spanish film. Haven't you got anything simple like The Titfield Thunderbolt? Or Mary Poppins?
What do you think of the way the Internet is being used (via MP3's, web sites etc) to bring notice to unsigned musicians, and what do you think about the way the Music Industry is trying to nip this in the bud?
I've answered this before. As long as musicians try to disseminate their work and make money from it, businessmen will seek ways of impeding them and taking money from them. The Internet/MP3 fiasco is merely a new scalpel on an old wound.
Why haven't you got a computer?
I haven't got a computer because, I've not ever really felt the need for one. I spend enough time with the word-processor as it is. I haven't got a car or a credit card either. Or a microwave. I've always just got along without them.
So here, I conclude this year's Quiz Of The Year Show.
Listeners 10. Artist Nil.
Thank you all for writing in. I hope these nice long answers make up for my reticence to answer many letters this past few months. In my defence, I will say that I've brought out two books and finished a brand new album. I don't believe in protracted endings, so goodbye.
Wivenhoe November 2001