Martin Newell, The Greatest Living Englishman

Here’s my interview with Martin Newell

What do you know about the greatest living Englishman, Martin Newell? If your answer is nothing, or not much, then you need to put that right pronto. There’s never been a better time.

Soft Bodies Records have recently released the utterly splendid “Return to Bohemia“, which is the new Cleaners From Venus (aka Martin Newell) album.

Captured Tracks have recently released Volume 3 of their extensive Cleaners From Venus reissues.

And, on top of that, Martin Newell has also launched Mule TV, a new YouTube channel, in which he goes in search of a perfect pop song for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. Mule TV is a series of short, very entertaining videos that feature a host of diverse characters, all of whom look suspiciously like a certain Mr Newell.

Once you’ve embraced that little lot, there are books, poems, a website, and an enormous discography to explore. In summary, the man’s a national treasure, and our man nigeyb recently caught up with him…

Hello Martin.  You were ill in 2013.  How are you doing now? 

In most ways, I’m better than I was. The eyesight in one eye is still dodgy, but the surgeons saved the sight and we’re still working on it.

The collapse, a non epileptic brain seizure briefly killed me, I’m told, last May. It was a one-off we think… an electrical fault caused by temporary potassium deficiency, general exhaustion, lack of sleep and a bit of a drinking… quite a lot actually.

I listened to what the neurologist said… “More sleep and less wine… try to remember that you’re sixty now and not thirty..”

I said, “Okay Mr Shiraz.”

There was a pause.

“That’s Mr Sharif.” he said quietly.

So, that’s one death, two eye operations, then my mum died, a week after I got out of hospital. I got on with my album and tried not to take it all personally.

Congratulations on “Return to Bohemia”, the latest Cleaners From Venus album. It’s another wonderful collection that harks back to the golden age of classic pop. Even by your own high standards, this album seems to exude quality. What were your aims at the outset? How pleased are you with it?  Where does it fit with your other work?

I do have this ability to bury myself in music and writing when things are going badly. I wanted to write a cheerful album. After the brain seizure, last summer, all my senses were heightened… for a while this was quite intense. In case it was the last thing which I ever did, I thought that I’d better concentrate. I think it’s as good an album as ever I’ve made. It’s kind of ‘everything I’ve learned about pop so far; distilled into 12 songs. I do feel absolutely at the top of my game at the moment. I seem to have recaptured all my old DIY recording enthusiasm.

Tell us about your splendid new Mule TV YouTube project, including more about your quest to find an appropriate song for Eurovision 2015.  

This is at least half-serious. Whether I’ll get to enter the competition or not, I have doubts. The BBC, for the past few years choose our songs by a mysterious process called “internal selection.” Since I have one or two friends in high places, I asked a few questions yet have still not found out what ‘internal selection’ involves or who does it. I do know, however, that it’s very difficult to find out how to enter a song. For the past few years too, the public are not consulted or asked to vote upon the matter. The result? A number of absolute three-legged donkeys. This country is capable of writing the best songs in the world. Why are the “Auntie Knows Best” BBC hunched over the entry process? Is it, as some think, that if we actually won, we’d then have to pay to host it? I really do think it’s very strange. And I’m going to sit there on Mule TV mercilessly lampooning them, until I flush them from their cover.  Oh and it is terrific fun, too!

You seem to be having a ball on Mule TV, in addition to creating some marvellous comic characters. How much are you enjoying it?  Where have the characters emerged from?  How many are alter-egos?

The characters on Mule are probably all aspects of me to some degree. Mossy the ’80s miserablist singer is of course quite obvious. I believe that The Smiths and XTC between them just about covered the job in the ’80s that the Beatles did in the ’60s. I loved the Smiths.

What does Eurovision mean to you? Why has the UK fared so badly over the years?

I think of the Eurovision as this warm cuddly thing. It’s a shining example of a genuine entente cordiale — one which businessmen, politicians and sports majordomos can only bullshit about. Here is a chance for people of many nations and cultures to share each other’s music, humour and quirks. It’s been a bit hi-jacked by gender politics at present, but there are worse things to be hijacked by. I don’t wish to enter it as a performer, but I’d love to enter a song for it to represent my country, because I’m good at writing songs and I think that I may be able to write something which everyone would love. I’d like to see the contest redefined as a genuine song contest… not merely as a bit of high-camp. I know it’s fun… but I have to ask, “Where are the songs?”

The UK has fared badly, partly because of the Beeb’s arrogance and stupidity and partly because the whole art of songwriting is being buried under hyperbole and technology. Nobody wants to admit that we no longer produce songs of the quality and standard raised during the mid 20th century.

I notice your bicycle features from time to time on Mule TV, and in a recent episode you appeared to be watching the Tour de France when it visited Essex. What does cycling mean to you?

After a guitar, I think a bicycle is my favourite shape. I have never driven. For a while last year, the doctors told me not to cycle for a few weeks, while my operation scars formed. When I finally got back on the bike in late September, I was full of joy, like a pit pony let out into the meadows after a long winter.

I recently read (and loved) your 2001 memoir “This Little Ziggy” that covered your eventful life from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. You have published other books (poetry, newspaper columns, Wivenhoe). I read elsewhere you were planning another memoir, is that still the case? When might we be able to read it?  What are you writing about at the moment?

There are odd chapters and essays of my life after Ziggy all over the place. I think one memoir is enough for now. Ziggy was very raw and very honest. A little too much information perhaps and that wasn’t even the whole story. At present I write a 900 word feature each week for the East Anglian Daily Times about some aspect of my life or other and I write poems every week for the arts section of the Sunday Express. I’ve written a chapter for someone’s else’s book recently about the psycho-geography of East Anglia. I’m more absorbed in music and Mule TV right now.

Because I generally won’t deal with literary agents or London publishers (I’m sure the feeling is mutual) I don’t get hassled to write coffee-table garbage or pointless stuff for In-Flight mags or Waitrose Weekend… which is what lit agents make you do… so I only ever do the work which I like… I wait for someone to ask me to do stuff. If I like the idea I do it. So far as I’m concerned, if I have enough of everything: food in the cupboard, money for some wine, and work to do in the morning, then that’s enough. Why go rubbing shoulders with international twats and corpulent piggies? Anyway, my passport’s expired and I may not renew it.

Captured tracks, the Brooklyn-based independent record label, have – over the last few years – lovingly reissued three box sets of your back catalogue. Given that many of the original releases were DIY efforts, done independently, some cassette-only, and which presumably felt quite ephemeral even at the time, how does it feel to see all this work being reissued?  Will there be any more reissues?

I think nearly all the Cap Tracks releases were DIY things. I should feel somehow artistically vindicated that all these things have been so popular 30 years after I did them.

But hardly any were heard at the time by anyone who might have influenced their fate. I was after all, trying to set up an alternative to the music biz. Those things which were heard by music biz people… their attitude was nearly always “This needs a big studio and producer.” My own reaction to this, even in the face of being offered money was usually a two word answer rhyming with ‘truck’ and ‘cough’. On the few occasions I gave them a chance, tracks were usually ruined… or promises turned out to be lies. I eventually realised that I was dealing with people who didn’t know as much as I did. But to be fair I am an awkward and slightly damaged bastard and I do think that I know best. I’m not at war with them anymore, I just realise that my music has about as much in common with the music industry as say a French ballerina does with a small light engineering firm in the West Midlands.

Here’s some quick fire questions…

What’s your favourite track, or album, to…

…dance to?    

“Soul Makossa” by Manu Dibango

…feel nostalgic to?

“On a Saturday” by Keith West

…cry to? 

“Kentucky Avenue” by Tom Waits

…relax with?

“But Beautiful” by Stan Getz (with Kenny Barron /live at Umbrian Jazz festival)

…ponder life’s complexities? 

“Esprit D Armenie” by Jordi Savall

Which artist, or artists, you respect or admire?  

Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Keef

Things that make life worth living?

Music, books, and German wine

If you couldn’t live in Wivenhoe (God forbid) where would you choose to live? 

Frinton…maybe Dedham

Thanks Martin

My pleasure

“Return to Bohemia” by Cleaners From Venus is out now.


nigeyb is, amongst other things, a chameleon, a Corinthian, a cyclist, a writer, a photographer, a DJ, an aspiring good egg, a slow lane dweller, a musical evangelist, an introvert, a dancer, and a wine enthusiast.


It’s Friiiiiday.  

I’d like to take her home, that’s understood….

Kraftwerk - The Model

Does life get any better…?

Haircut 100 - Love Plus One
Perhaps just a bit…

Captain Sensible - Wot!
There’s so many pathways that lead to the heart…

Josef K - Radio Drill Time
And does it get any more beautiful…?

The Go-Betweens - Quiet Heart
Have a wonderful weekend.

Mark Farrelly in "The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton"

I had the great pleasure of watching a preview of “The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton” on Tuesday 22 July 2014 at The Drayton Arms in South Kensington.  It’s magnificent.  In a one hour, one man show, Mark Farrelly gives a passionate and credible performance as the English novelist Patrick Hamilton.

Patrick Hamilton, who died of drink in 1962 at the age of 58, was one of the finest English novelists of the 20th century.  He was also a successful playwright.  His two best known plays, Rope (1929) and Gaslight (1938), were huge hits and were both later adapted for the cinema.  Patrick was a rich man by his mid-twenties.  However, great novels, successful plays, and material success were only half the story.  Patrick came from a dysfunctional family: his father was a delusional, alcoholic, feckless, bullying failed novelist; whilst his mother was protective and maintained an overly close, smothering co-dependent relationship with her favourite son.  No surprise then that Patrick had issues, which were further exacerbated after a disfiguring road accident in 1932.  Like his father, and his sister, Patrick sought solace in alcohol and, by the end of his life, he was consuming three bottles of whiskey a day.

All of this autobiographical drama finds its way into ”The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton”, along with an exploration of Patrick’s best known plays, Rope and Gaslight, and novels (Craven House (1926), The Midnight Bell (1929), Hangover Square (1941), and The Slaves of Solitude (1947)).  Mark Farrelly is a compelling performer who perfectly evokes the desperation, absurdity and black humour of Patrick’s world, and indeed of life in general.

"The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton" is on as part of the Edinburgh Festival 2014, and will then be on in London during the Autumn.  Even if you know nothing about Patrick Hamilton, there’s much to enjoy in this show.  If, like me, you’re an enthusiastic admirer of his work, then you’ll appreciate the skill of the performance and the extraordinary achievement of packing so much about Patrick’s life and work into just one hour.  Highly recommended.

Mark Farrelly in "The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton"


It’s Friiiiiday…

Who’s up for some Sex Beat?

The Gun Club - Sex Beat

I played this at Dreams Never End, after someone requested it, and was reminded again that it is one of the best songs ever written…

The Only Ones - Another Girl Another Planet

This was another request at Dreams Never End.  Always a pleasure to play Patti…

Patti Smith Group - Because The Night

Another of those gravest hits from The Cramps…

The Cramps - Domino

A post-Clash Mick Jones classic that still sounds great, and any film that’s about Performance has got to be a good thing…

Big Audio Dynamite - E=MC2

Happy weekend.


Another week of World Cup, literature, music and dancing comes towards its end and so it’s time to celebrate the weekend with some fine, fine music….

I am loving this, the opening track to the new Mungo’s Hi Fi album of the same name…

Mungo’s Hi Fi – Serious Time

Here’s one that always sound brilliant, and like they used to say about Martini, anytime anyplace anywhere…

Classics IV – Spooky

Now then, I want you to spell for me New York..

Dillinger – Cokane in My Brain

Another 2014 release that I keep coming back to…

The War on Drugs – Suffering

And finally, one of the greatest songs of all time…

Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side

Have a great weekend.

Enjoy the World Cup final.


This week, to celebrate the weekend, it’s five songs that I will be playing at Dreams Never End on Saturday night…

Ian Dury and the Blockheads - Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Cabaret Voltaire - Nag, Nag, Nag

Blondie - Heart Of Glass

The Stranglers - Go Buddy Go

Siouxsie and the Banshees - Israel

Have a great weekend


Flipping heck Moe Tucker, it’s Friday again….

I’ve been enjoying Martin Newell’s Mule TV.  Here’s part two, where from two minutes in, you can hear “The Days Of May”, the song that would propel the UK to Eurovision glory were it ever to get sung by a modern day equivalent of Matt Monroe…

Cleaners From Venus – The Days Of May

I’ve finally got round to giving the new Real Estate album Atlas” a proper listen. Blimmin’ lovely it is too if you dig West Coast dreamy guitar pop.  Here’s my current favourite tune from “Atlas”…

Real Estate – Past Lives

Another new album that has been getting a serious listen this week is the Teleman album “Breakfast” - another record chock full of top notch tuneage.  Here’s a low key gem from ”Breakfast”…

Teleman – Lady Low

Every now and again I go on a little Louis Prima binge, and this week has seen one of those periodic Prima binges.  Is there anything more life reaffirming that Louis Prima?  I adore it all.  I’d love to have seen him live.  Here’s a somewhat restrained performance from the great man of the wonderful “Buona Sera”…

Louis Prima – Buona Sera

Finally, another band who - on the back of a current tour - have been getting a few spins are the Violent Femmes.  Does it get any better than Blister In The Sun?

Violent Femmes – Blister In The Sun

Have a wonderful weekend whatever you happen to be doing.  I hope to get in plenty of Glastonbury and World Cup action on TV accompanied by beer.  Mmmmm beer.


I rewatched Swingers a few days ago.  I hadn’t seen it for years.  Would it still be as wonderful?  The verdict…

Still wonderful.  Still a great film….


Flipping heck Tucker, it’s Friday….

Last Friday I had the good fortune to see the wonderful Ruts DC and that inspired me to revisit their back catalogue including the wonderful “Rhythm Collision” their collaboration with Mad Professor from 1982.  Whatever you do, check out Whatever We Do…

Ruts DC – Whatever We Do

For reasons I cannot explain I’ve also been delving into the wonderful world of the Electric Light Orchestra and their Strange Magic…

Electric Light Orchestra – Strange Magic

And, if you’re going to wallow in perfect pop music you gots to be spending some time with The Zombies…

The Zombies – Maybe After He’s Gone

Stanley Spencer had a vision of the holy land, he saw Jesus everywhere preaching to the common man…

Luke Haines - English Southern Man

I’m back in God’s own country again.

Roy’s running scared…

Roy Orbison – Running Scared

Here’s to a joyous weekend.


Ruts DC supported by Prince Fatty @ Concorde 2, Brighton on Friday 13 June 2014

Despite the rival attractions of Rod Stewart playing up the road at Brighton and Hove Albion FC’s Amex Stadium; and Spain versus Netherlands in the World Cup; anyone with any taste and sense was down at the Concorde 2 for Ruts DC ably supported by Brighton’s own Prince Fatty and Horseman (Prince Fatty also produced the superb 2013 Ruts DC album “Rhythm Collision Volume 2” which, if you don’t own, you need to put that right ASAP).

If you’re reading you probably don’t need me to tell you that Ruts DC were formed in 1980 from the ashes of The Ruts and following the untimely death of Malcolm Owen by guitarist Paul Fox, bassist John ‘Segs’ Jennings and drummer Dave Ruffy, before splitting up in 1983. 

In 2007, Ruts DC reformed to play a benefit gig for Paul Fox, and in 2008 Segs and Ruffy started recorded the aforementioned “Rhythm Collision Volume 2” and, so far as I know, have been active ever since. 

So, on Friday 13 June 2013, there was only one place to be in Brighton. 

Prince Fatty and Horseman were a wonderful, bass-tastic way to kick off the evening and despite the lovely weather which meant quite a few of the crowd stayed outside, they got plenty of people dancing and grins aplenty.

Along with Segs and Ruffy, Ruts DC are now guitarist Leigh Heggarty and the splendidly charismatic Molara providing additional vocals and percussion. What a night! I see a fair amount of live music and this is right up there with the best gigs I’ve seen in a long time. Segs makes a great front man - passionate and humorous.

Ruts DC played plenty of old favourites, including West One, It Was Cold, Jah War (with Horseman helping out), In A Rut, Babylon’s Burning, SUS, Staring At The Rude Boys, and Something That I Said, and this was augmented by plenty of Ruts DC tunes. 

Part of what makes Ruts DC so great is that they are still producing vital new music that is every bit as good as the classic punk era songs. 

The audience seemed to be loving every minute - I know I was. 

If you get the chance to see Ruts DC grab it with both hands.