February 2003
interview Ian C Stewart

Since the mid 1970s, homepop maestro Martin Newell has gone from getting his Robert Plant on with Gypp to becoming the most-printed poet in England, along the way racking up collaborations with Andy Partridge of XTC and Captain Sensible of the Damned. Newell had one of the first Portastudios in the early 1980s and was able to make pop albums in his dining room with the Cleaners from Venus. His next group the Brotherhood Of Lizards undertook a UK tour on bicycle. Additionally, he could be the most underrated songwriter of our time. Ladies and gentlemen, The Greatest Living Englishman! Martin! Newelllllll!!!!!

Who or what made you want to make music in the early days?
These have been well-documented but here we go: Beatles, Who, Kinks, Small Faces, Move, Syd Barrett, Bonzo Dog Band, Beach Boys, Bowie, Pink Fairies, Stray and if I'm really honest all those musicals my mum used to play like Carousel, Oliver and Sound of Music etc. I couldn't not do music. Since the age of five or six I'd been making up little tunes in my head, except back then I didn't think they were mine. I thought they must be someone else's. As soon as I knew three chords (May '67 aged 14) I tried to make them into a song. A scant ten months later in about Feb 68, I actually managed to do one. All through my teens, I wrote about a two songs every month. They just seemed to come out. I don't know how it happened. I don't really understand the burning urge which I had and to an extent still do have to do it.

How is your current label situation working out for you?
The current label situation? It's about as good as it's ever been. The main body of my new stuff and most of my old solo stuff is handled by Cherry Red who are a perfect Indie record label. Their distribution is good, their principles are sound. They don't interfere with me or push me to tour. They're courteous, polite and pay me fairly and on time. This is pretty good for a record company. The other label I deal with is of course Jarmusic of Germany. Here Joachim Reinbold acts as curator of all my old DIY and Cleaners from Venus stuff. He also takes care of all one-off and oddball projects. We've been dealing together for twenty years. Between Cherry Red and Jarmusic all angles are covered and I don't need to deal with any other stupid bastards.

Are there any music people you want to work with?
A strange thing about my music history, is that whenever I've really really wanted to work with anyone, fate seems to throw me together with them, without me even doing anything. This happened with Captain Sensible, Andy Partridge, John Cooper Clarke and now it looks like I'm going to be meeting Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas, rather a favourite band of mine. It's not so much who I'd like to work with but there are a number of people I'd like to write for. I'd like to write something for Colin Blunstone (ex-Zombies). I've always admired his voice and much of his work. Occasionally I'll see or hear someone and TV or radio and think "You could do with a Martin Newell song." Mostly, I can't be bothered wading through the management, record company people, so I usually wait till fate puts them in my way.

How has your website affected things?
Paul Wilkinson does the website. And a bloody good job he does too. It's changed my life in some ways. When Paul first proposed doing a website, I don't think I quite understood what it was for ages. Now I do though. Isn't it like, rather small with very soft fur, then it's got two quite long ears and quite sharp sticky-out teeth? No hang on that might be rabbit I think. Sorry, I get mixed up sometimes.

Is there talk of a Martin Newell DVD?
There might be talk of a DVD somewhere but it's not me who's talking it. That's a virus isn't it? Digital Venereal Disease. We had a lecture about that the other day.You can't be too careful these days can you? So always wash your hands after using the internet, that's what I say.

What's your favorite place to play live?
I don't play live really. That would only be playing into their hands. However, I'm toying with the following idea: For my birthday next year I might record a live album in someone's living room. All new songs and a small invited audience with tea and cakes and stuff.

What's the biggest audience you've played to?
The biggest audience? That would have been an Air Force Base in Germany back in the 70s. Being Americans and Germans they were nearly all over six feet four tall. And I shouldn't wonder if two or three were even taller. Seriously? I've played to six thousand a few times. That's big enough. I reckon fifteen hundred is about as big as it ought to get. You don't wanna get people too excited do you?

Obsessive fans - are they a pain in the ass or is it not that big of a deal?
All of our listeners - I prefer not to call them fans - seem to be rather thoughtful, considerate people. Many of them seem to be as at-odds with the world as I am. The few who do get in touch are solicitous of my privacy to the point of being apologetic for disturbing me. I occasionally get the impression that there are several more who don't get in touch at all. I did however once put out a message saying "right: do you guys want me to do loads of songs, albums, books and poems or would you rather I answered all your letters and questions, because much as I love it, I don't have time to do both?" Back came the answer: books and records. But I do still answer letters and I like getting them. I'm very lucky to make a living from writing and playing. I don't waste a second. There's always something happening. I love it.

What do you think of the current state of music - is it better, worse, the same as it always was?
The official music, the stuff in the media is mostly ghastly. Perfectly and irredeemably ghastly. Shallow, coarse, formularized, empty. Even the indie rock, or most of it, seems to my ears to be wretchedly miserable, over-worked, self-conscious, fashion-driven and most importantly, uninteresting. I mostly pay no attention to it. Why would I? Sometimes I think it's hilarious, although I'm sure it's not intended to be. The music biz finally got its own way. The beast learned from its mistakes. The result? Shit music. Collapsing sales. Ha haaaaaa...Brilliant!

What's next for Mr Newell?
Next for me? Er, write new songs. Try and do enjoyable recordings. Find out what's going to be popular and don't do it. Get more songs covered. Make more good little discs like Songs from the Station Hotel. Actually, there's one idea I've had. There's these brilliant comedy shows on telly at the moment. They're called things like Pop Stars, Fame Academy and stuff like that. They get all normal people, you know, bank clerks telephonists or computer-studies graduates, stuff like that. And they try and make them into pop stars. Then what they do, is get them up really early and tell them off for things and they wheel all these people in -real hacks to teach them dancing and singing and everything . The participants, who are total androids have to do exactly what they're told and astonishingly, they do! Then they get this panel of people, usually about three of them to come and judge the participants-one of the judges is often dressed like a businessman and another is a woman and looks like MD of a secretarial school ...oh yeah and there's one who's really really old and can't speak English properly or something. It gets better. Then the judges humiliate the androids week by week. Sometimes the androids cry and get upset. Then one of them wins. So they give him or her a sort of song. It's sort of like a real song but you can see it's a pretend one. Then they get the pretend pop singer with the pretend song and put them on Top of the Pops for a laugh. Then they show shots of the pretend pop star's mum feeding the Corgi in the kitchen in Swansea or wherever. It's incredibly cruel but so funny! Then they clear the board, recruit more androids and start again. The reason I approve of it is because no musicians are involved, which in the bad old days, they might have been. This is totally sound and very very funny. So yeah, I'd like to be involved in an alternative comedy show like that. Maybe I could be one of the judges or something. Or pretend to be a dance teacher or image-maker or something. I'd be quite good at that, because I know nothing about it. So if anyone at BBC Comedy is reading this, please consider me as choreographer or judge on Fame Academy.

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