The final part of my exclusive interview with Martin Gordon is below.
If you missed Part one, you can view it here
In the 70s, being in the charts was a really big deal -- I don't think it is anymore -- how much difference did it make when you had a hit single?
Well, I discovered you can get people to go to bed with you much easier if you have a record in the charts.
You’ve had a few connections with Marc Bolan in your career, both direct and indirect. You worked extensively with Andy and Chris (who both worked with Bolan in John's Children), and the Radio Stars even appeared on Marc’s TV show, what was he like? Did you ever get a glimpse of him outside of his ‘larger than life’ character?
It was just post fat-period when we were on his show. He was kind of jolly and bouncy and I remember him being very nice, very articulate, but then if you're hosting a TV show that’s called by your name, I guess you can afford to be very gracious. Whether that was the real Marc I met or not I don't know, but he was very nice.
You can watch that Radio Stars performance on Marc Bolan's TV show here:
After you split with the Radio Stars, you went to Paris to work as a producer for Barclay Records. The story goes that the Rolling Stones were rehearsing/recording nearby so you wandered along to try and blag some free booze!!
Well. the guitarist from the band I was producing knew somebody on the Stones road crew, and we wandered along to see what might develop.
Well, the God of music must have been on your side, because your visit coincided with Bill Wyman doing a 'no show' and you got an instant promotion from freeloader to Rolling Stones bass player!
Well, not instant, no. There was a series of rooms that you had to go through -- something like an imperial court. You had the outer ring with the ‘hoi polloi’ and then once you were accepted there you moved one ring in, and slowly over the course of the evening, amazingly, we ended up sitting in the studio with the guys and they were moaning… and by that time of course I was rather buoyant and I said "you haven't got a bass player? I'm your man!". So Jagger showed me these chords and I remember sitting down and he said "it goes like this, got it?" And all of a sudden I'm playing bass for them.
How long did it last? Was it just for that day?
No, it was a few days. Amazingly, they asked me if I would go back, so I did. I remember at one point, listening to a Ronnie Wood solo from inside the control room, with Wood on one side of me and Jagger on the other. Jagger turned to me and said "what do you think of that?". In earlier times I might have been a little less diplomatic, but I said "Oh, it was great, great, fantastic".
Can you remember what songs you played with them?
No, there's a Stones web site which lists all the tunes they’ve ever recorded, day by day, location, engineer, additional overdubs etc and it appears on that.
But nothing you recorded with them ever got released I assume?
Not as far as I know. Apparently they have this thing of recording hours and hours of stuff and then they might go back and use something from two years ago and rework it into something else. So I don’t know, but I certainly don't recognise anything.
And what did Bill make of it?!
Oh, we never met.
When you came back from Paris, you started Blue Meanies. But there was only one release, a single 'Pop Sensibility'. How come it was also brief?
Well, it was more for pleasure really. We didn't really have a concept, it was just a thing that happened. But it could have been quite good, some of the tunes we did as Blue Meanies ended up on my first solo album and everybody said they were great, so we must have had something. If anybody had had the foresight to allow us to develop for a year or so, it might have been quite good.
Recently there's been an i-Tunes only release of 20 odd Blue Meanies tracks. What's the story with this material? Was it recorded for an unreleased album?
It's all mostly demos. High-quality ones, that ultimately would have gone to make up an album.
In recent years you've worked with some big artists as a musician and producer.. Blur, Primal Scream, even Kylie Minogue.
Yeah, different things with different people. For Blur it was as a keyboard player, for Primal Scream it was as remixer, for Kylie I was mimer of cheeseboards and hoister of Kylie onto a piano at the NME awards. It was a grand piano and I had to lift her up onto it, and then she crawled towards me as I was playing. She was wearing this red bustier thing, very low-cut too, it was a good job I was only miming really…
You can see Martin trying admirably to keep his eyes on the keyboard here!
You now live in Germany, what made you choose that location?
Sausages! I love sausages, and Germany is the home of the sausage, it could be wurst…
Do you see yourself ever returning to the UK?
No, I have a small boy, he is a Berliner, he speaks German.
What do you think of the UK now when you come back to visit?
It's nice to visit, but I couldn't bear to live here anymore -- it's so incredibly expensive. But it's multi-cultural, Germany isn't, it is absolutely mono-cultural. There are at least a lot of possibilities here, and while it may not be working very well, it's working better than it is in Germany. There you have houses being burned down, East German right-wing fascists killing people in the streets and chasing Indians.
Bizarrely, it wasn't until the turn of the 21st century that you finally got round to starting a solo career! How come it took so long?
I didn't want to rush it! Didn't want to overdo it. Well, really the reason is singing. It's always a problem finding a singer, and it wasn't until I found Pelle Almgren that the solo work took shape. Pelle was a Jet fan, he sent me an e-mail -- he told me he was a songwriter, he didn't tell me he was a singer. So we met up in Stockholm, and we wrote some songs, and then he said "okay, shall I sing them now?" And I said "Oh, you can sing as well?". And he just had this incredible voice, and I thought “fuck”. Instantly I started thinking about the stuff I’d been designing for my solo album and I said "I'll come back in three months, with a pile of songs. Book a studio!", and he said "oh yeah, great".
You've done four solo albums to date -- all part of the Mammal Trilogy (!). Intelligent, catchy guitar pop. I hear so many different things in your solo work, and there's definitely a nod to English musical hall in there. Blur dabbled with that sound a lot around the time of Modern Life Is Rubbish….
Yeah, music hall is a common source, I think. I researched it, bought lots of CDs and it's great. Actually it’s not too far away from what I do -- populist music that you can listen to and sing along with even if you don't quite 'get' it.
Ever been to Wilton's music hall?
I used to live round the corner from there. I went to a party there once, but I've never seen a performance. I have a notion to do a modern Gilbert and Sullivan piece, and I keep saying that Wilton’s would be the ideal place to do it. In fact, tonight we are doing what could be the germ of that idea.
You have included some well-chosen cover versions on your solo albums, putting your own stamp on them in the process. How do you go about choosing the right cover, are they songs you feel would suit the album or just songs you like?
I think it has to be a song that I like, but also a song that will do the job, showing what you do in the context of a familiar piece of music. There are certainly songs that I like that wouldn't be suitable covers. I've tried covers that haven't been finished because they didn't work.
Any future covers lined up?
Well, every album will have some, but I haven't decided yet. At one point, I was trying ‘Tiny Demons’ by Todd Rundgren, and I think I might revisit that.
So you're working on the fifth part of the trilogy then?!
Yes, I’ve just started it. Trying lots and lots of things, and throwing half of them away. I think the more you can throw away the better -- for the last album I had about 25 tunes, so I'm beginning that whole process again, it will go on for some time.
Finally, a quick fire round… Had you ever considered writing an autobiography?
Check the website.
Proudest moment of your career?
Making my solo debut in Boston last August. Outside the venue was "Martin Gordon", and somebody had climbed up on top, and in chalk had written "(!!!)", which I thought was very ambiguous. But then I thought, fuck, it's me, finally!
Lowest point of your career?
Probably being fired from Sparks actually. It was 4 o’clock in the morning, I’d come home from celebrating my new-found celebrity, and was phoned up by some minion, that late: "Hello Martin, how are you? Oh good. You're not in the group anymore, anyway goodbye". That abruptly, it was quite shocking, really.
What's your most rock 'n' roll moment?
I don't really do rock ‘n’ roll moments. We were talking about this the other day. Steve the drummer has come over from Boston, and I think he was expecting us all to be like members of Aerosmith or that kind of thing. And we're all well-brought up middle-class English people, we don't really do rock ‘n’ roll moments. Chris Townson and I once pulled up a flower bed when we were pissed, and we got arrested and locked up in Bow Street, and had to appear in front of a magistrate… not very rock ‘n’ roll though, is it?
Who do you admire in music?
Todd Rundgren -- Todd is God! He's very consistent, his last stuff is as good as his first, he's a real hero.
Any current bands that excite you?
Yes, Niacin. They are an American prog jazz rock trio with Billy Sheehan on bass, Dennis Chambers on drums and John Novello on keyboards.
How about Silvery?
Yes, very nice. We were going to do something together, I did some mixes for them but it didn't work out. It's a bit difficult communicating e-wise, it’s much easier if you're sitting in the same room as somebody, and we were doing everything by e-mail. But no hard feelings, they have some very nice songs, very funny, similar in a way to the stuff I'm doing -- quite poppy. I mean, there are a lot of grown-ups about, and they need pop music, let's face it.
Who would you most like to work with?
I’d love to work with Todd Rundgren, but it would be completely fruitless because he does it all himself, and he’d just tell me what to do.
What one record would you take with you to a desert island?
The Mahavishnu Orchestra live in Munich 1972. I've just recently got a soundboard recording of it. It's two hours long and I've listened to it every day for two months and I still haven't tired of it.
So there you have it, the final piece of the interview, and that brings to a close what has fast become 'Martin Gordon March'! Once again, Many thanks Martin for your time earlier this month, it was much appreciated.
The Official Martin Gordon website
See the Rolling Stones 'Complete Works' database here - click on 1979 to view Martin's entry (ref: 790621A)
Back in the Saddle
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