The second and final part of my exclusive interview with Martin Gordon, where we are talking about his latest album 'Time Gentlemen Please'. Part one concentrated on the whole 'Mammals' trilogy, and the making of the new album, this time round I wanted to learn something about each and every track….
Don't feel this isn't for you if you've not heard the album, as with his previous albums, Martins' songs are all comments on society and real-life happenings in the 21st Century, and his insights are very interesting (oh and of course down right hilarious too!)
Elephantasy – What on earth inspired this one? Do you really ‘like em like that’??
Oh yes. The Fatherland is the land of sausages and potatoes, as you know. A friend had to be craned out of bed recently; he was so enormous that the ambulance couldn’t get him down the stairs. Wassup, you don’t like fat people? Gotta love’em, really. And, as noted somewhere else, they can always watch your things on the beach, cos they ain’t going anywhere, are they… A friend of mine from an earlier time, who used to play bass for the Records, would only ever shag fat girls. But then he married a dwarf, I believe – there’s probably a salutary lesson in there somewhere.
(NOTE: You can have a listen to Elephantasy in all its glory in our 4th Podcast - 'Animals')
Houston We’ve Got a Drinking Problem – I googled it, and it really did happen! A couple of years back the crew of the Challenger were found to be drunk in charge of a Space Shuttle!! What was it that made you pick it for the subject of one of your songs?
Sweetie, it all happened, I don’t make any of this stuff up, do I! Every single thing on this record (and, by the way, on all the others as well) can be found out there in the ‘real’ world, if you choose to look.
I keep a notebook in which I note down interesting stories that I come across, in green ink using a quill pen, and this was one of them. I heard it on the BBC World Service. I think I came up with the title first, and then expanded the song around it. Can you believe that the flight controller who made that announcement was so out of it?
On and On – Who did you have in mind when you wrote this song about a woman with verbal diarrea??!
Oh, it’s generic, isn’t it? There is indeed a local focus to this one, but it’s pathological. Sometimes they never stop, and at all other times they just go on and on and on and on. I quote myself – ‘it’s got to stop soon, we need Ban Ki-Moon to stem this verbal tsunami’.
On a related note, my good pal Tee ‘Trevor’ White, once with the Sharks band, imagined that the name of the newly elected leader of the free world was ‘Wanky Woo’. He was most put out when I disabused him, and disabused me right back.
21st Century Blues – This slower number finally allows us to draw breath. It’s a thought-provoking song, and the first use of the ukulele on the album too, which really adds to the sound. What are your thoughts on this one?
One of my best compositions, I would say if asked. It’s a calling card. If someone asked for an example of my tune-smithery, I would play them this. And then run away.
I’m a big fan of ukulele, and of double bass. In fact, I used a double bass sample on the demo of this tune, and then tried bass guitar and then acoustic bass guitar on the recording, but neither worked as well. So I got myself an upright bass, learned how to play it again (after not having touched one for about 30 years) and then recorded it. We did this live recently in Berlin, to an audience of three storm troopers and a Rottweiler, and it seemed to go down quite well. The recording also has a brass section – mainly trombone, but so what – and this is a new colour in the sonic palette. It’s even got a flute solo, fer Chrissakes.
The sentiments are… well, germane, I feel. That’s germane, by the way, not German. For German sentiments, or perhaps more accurately anti-German, you will have to check out ‘Only One Dream Per Person’ from Der Baboon in Der Basement.
Come Out Come Out Whoever You Are – A rather scathing song about God. It’s funny, but makes you think too.... Not a fan then??!
Not a big fan, no. But I am a big fan of Senator Ernie Chambers, who attempted to sue God in the Californian court as a terrorist, due to His threats of plagues, storms, floods, pestilence, famine, war, disco and such. A key point was the debate over whether the writ had actually been served on the defendant (namely, God).
Senator Chambers noted that he had on a number of occasions shouted out ‘Come out, come out, wherever You are’ and, as God is both omniscient and omnipotent, that should have done the trick, assuming He exists. The court accepted his reasoning, but the defendant didn’t bother showing up. Probably off somewhere smiting unbelievers.
But as I say – God… has He ever had a hit record? You see?
I Feel Fine – Is a fabulous cover version, and you’ve somehow managed to remove the Beatles feel and replace it with the Martin Gordon ‘stamp’. It must be hard to completely redesign a classic song that everyone knows?
Yes, I would like to stamp out the Beatles completely, forever. As Adrian Belew remarked to me when I interviewed him for my Zappa all-nighter on the local radio station, the Beatles completely spoiled it for everyone by being better than anyone else, either before or after. Bastards. Bastard selfish bastard Beatle bastards, if you ask me, and you did.
I tried to create an antithetical version of the tune, and I think I achieved it, in that it is completely miserable. That will teach the protagonist to piss about with females.
Oh yes, I meant to say – don’t get me confused with the protagonist in all this stuff. Just because the singer declares that he likes fat girls, it doesn’t mean that I like fat girls, in fact far from it. I just write the stuff, dear.
You’ve put at least one cover version on all of your solo albums. What others were in contention for Time Gentlemen Please?
Well, there was ‘Something in the Air’ by Thunderclap Newman, and ‘Ascension Day’ by Third World War. This last we tried, actually, but it fell at the first nuclear onslaught. I also played about a bit with ‘Walk On By’, but will say no more about it.
Did you ever hear ‘Every Little Thing She Does’ by Yes? Well groovy, daddy-o. The reasons for doing a cover, as far as I see it, is to stamp heavily upon the identity of the original artist with your own artistic boot, preferably on the throat, and then twist and grind down with the heel with a simultaneous rotating movement.
Have you ever considered a whole album of ‘Gordon-ified’ covers at all??!
If I was to imagine for a single second that anyone would be remotely interested, I might well do such a thing. But I don’t kid myself.
If Boys Could Talk and Girls Could Think – Is this your own theory on how to crack the battle of the sexes?
It’s actually more a critique of self-help books and gender stereotypes than a timely plea for peace to break out in the battle of the sexes. Frankly I couldn’t care less whether they slaughtered each other or not, to be honest, so long as they leave me out of it.
It was originally inspired by a discussion which pointed out that if people said the inane things about women that they are allowed to say about men, at least in the context of crapulous popular literature, some women would get rather upset. It seems to be acceptable to say things like ‘oh, if only men could talk’, but the reverse is a bit more difficult. Hence the title. Personally, I don’t care either way, as I said. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke, and that applies to both sides of the gender debate.
It has a small upright bass solo at the end, for those who care for this sort of thing. (It is the solo that is small, not the upright bass, which is 3/4 size, should you be concerned).
Talulah Does The Hula From Hawaii – I think this one is the most insanely catchy track on the album. Is that a guest spot from your son at the beginning? How did that come about? Is Talulah anyone in particular?
As before, this is a true story, and you can find the details in the Guardian. My efforts are commentary rather than invention.
Talulah is from New Zealand, of Hawaiian extraction. She sounds like a brave and forthright little girl. Maybe there is some German in her heritage. She took her parents to court and won, just as the chorus tells you. I heard the story on the BBC, jotted down some notes and left the apartment. By the time I got to the end of the street, the whole thing had sprung fully-formed into my brain, so I turned round and went back home and captured it.
The Small Boy Chesta Gordon introduces the tune, and gives his comment at the end. I used to sing this to him before it was recorded, while trudging up and down the cliff at Frinton-on-Sea in Essex with him on my back, and he approved it for inclusion in the album.
Shoot the Women First – I’m hoping this isn’t a follow up if track 7 doesn’t work?! Quite a confrontational title this one!
Once again – I believe you might begin to see a bit of a picture here – this is based on a book of the same title, by the British writer Eileen MacDonald. She interviewed female terrorists about what made them tick, so to speak, and the title is quoted from the standing orders issued to governmental security services, namely their instructions to shoot female terrorists before their male counterparts. It’s a good read – she spoke to Leila Khaled, to the very spooky Astrid Proll and more.
The female of the species is more deadly than the male, suggested the Victorian DJ/rapper Rudyard Kipling. Perhaps he was not entirely wrong. I think, on the whole and after due consideration, I tend to agree with the sentiments of this song. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I.
On a personal note, the Small Boy Chesta and I were recently travelling in the UK. Sitting on a train, and rocking out to my mp3 player, he suddenly burst into a loud acappella chorus of ‘Shoot the women first, shoot the women first, shoot shoot shoot bang bang!’ much to the bemusement of our fellow travellers. ‘He’s German’, I offered feebly in explanation, moving to the other side of the carriage.
Panama – This is about ‘canoe man’ John Darwin right? Great idea for a song. What’s your take on this bizarre story?
This is one of those ‘glorious failure’ things that the British are so good at (I speak as one of them). Imagine faking your own death but forgetting that changing your name would obviously be part of the bigger picture. Your name, John, you’ve got to change your name as well! And then he put a picture of himself and his wife on the Internet identified with real names and their location. Clearly he hadn’t really thought it through.
But at least Mr Darwin was consistent – he went into a British police station at the end of this disastrous adventure and asked them if they had seen his memory, as he had lost it somewhere. They weren’t having any of it, of course.
He concealed himself in his wife’s house for a number of years before setting off to Panama. Evidently, during these ‘Hiding Years’, he would get into a cupboard whenever his children came round to see their mother. There is certainly a dark side to this silly tale. I can feel a Part II coming on…
Incognito Ergo Sum – Right up there as one of my favourite tracks you’ve ever done. Once again the tempo slows for another thought provoking song. This is all about the ‘dumbed down’ celebrity culture we have these days (certainly here in the UK). Is it like that in Germany too now? There was a time when you needed some sort of talent to become famous, but it’s really not a requirement any more… almost a hindrance. Were you thinking of anyone in particular in this song?
I think it’s the same all over the world, not that I have been everywhere in the world but the Afghani version of ‘Pop Idol’ gives you the general feeling that the clock is ticking. Karaoke for the masses disguised as real life – it’s acting, of course, but the manner in which both the contestants and the consumers willingly suspend their disbelief makes me wonder if there is any point in carrying on the Campaign for Real Reality, as most people clearly prefer the pretend version.
The song’s not aimed at anyone in particular but at everyone in general – how many pico-celebrities does the world need, for crying out loud? I’m a bit of a post-theist on this issue, in that I believe the human race can now support itself perfectly well without the need for celebrities, but I realise I am in a moribund minority.
As for the title –Latin hasn’t had much of a look in lately, so I thought I’d chuck a bit in. The tune also quotes Julia Phillips – if you’re stuck for something to read, you could try her indictment of celebrity which she called ‘You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us Again’, or something along those lines.
What does intrigue about celebrity is the way in which the currency is domain-transferable, at least here in Germany. Thus you find winners of non-talent shows turning up as celebrity cooks, you find leading reality-TV house-decorators delivering their opinions about forthcoming elections on prime-time chat-shows, you see celebrity dentists interviewing American film stars. The domain is irrelevant, the currency retains its value regardless of location.
I Have A Chav – Possibly the most ‘Music Hall’ influences on this album, and again a very British subject. As someone who has lived in Berlin for a number of years, you obviously manage to keep abreast of the changes in British culture? I’m assuming there are no Burberry clad oiks in Berlin??
No, they wear different clothes here, but here they certainly are. In Berlin there are a few varieties – often Turkish, often East German. But here the oiks tend to be of all ages, rather than strictly a youth movement. The average Berliner would last about 15 minutes on an average British high street before being smashed to the floor and kicked to death, such is the level of his rudeness and hostility.
Yes, music hall indeed. Music hall was chock full of social commentary disguised as a knees-up, and I find this double level of meaning rather interesting, personally. Who knows, perhaps I even attain it in my work, or egg.
I manage to keep abreast of British culture, if that is the correct expression, via the BBC World Service. There’s nothing like a good shout at the radio on a Sunday morning to get the heart started, or indeed any other morning. Chav-dom is one of my favourite manifestations of British culture, and I dealt with the Boy Calum Best earlier on, in ‘He Was the Best’. Calum delivered a heartfelt self-composed ‘pome’ on the sad occasion of the death, or dearth, of his father the foot-balling alcoholic George of that ilk. It was one of the most memorable moments of televisual (for it was broadcast worldwide) history. There will, no doubt, be more, but they will not have the impact of the Boy Calum’s unforgettable moment. Not on me, at any rate.
Interesting Times – Another interesting take on society. Tell us more about what sparked this one?
When I commented apologetically to Pelle Almgren, who sings all this stuff, that here was a tune which was a bit of a rant about someone in particular, he said ‘What do you mean, they all are….’, which rather surprised me, until I realized that he was right. I do love those people who are always right, don’t you? They have no conception that anything outside their consciousness even exists. Stick it up yer Gantt Chart, I always say. Well, often. So whereas ‘Shoot the Women’ might be construed as generalisation, I don’t think there any risk of that happening here.
Passionate About Your Elevator – A guy in love with an elevator??! Where did that come from?? As an aside, have you notice how many lifts are made by the company Schindler? You don’t think they misheard when making that film do you???
Once again, a true story, although the love angle features someone who is in love with his own linguistic abilities rather than with a lift shaft. A good pal of mine, who had better remain nameless (although eagle-eared listeners will doubtless be able to unravel the mystery) told me the story. It features a leading and well-known lift company and it’s local German MD who decided that he was suddenly possessed of the ability to compose advertising slogans in English, along with all his other skills. This was the title of the (fortunately aborted) ad campaign. I kid you not.
But he was not named Schindler. Ron Vibbentrop, perhaps?
I’m Budgie – A rant about budget airlines. I’m assuming you’ve had your fair share of problems with them?!
Yes, I love the way you are bellowed at, treated as an imbecile, forced to stand, forced to pay to pee and all the rest of the ritual humiliation. It took Stan Budney a whole day to even begin to comprehend the experience when we flew from London to Berlin for the drum recordings. Poor boy – his nerves were shattered, and he went off to Los Angeles with a porn model, never to be heard of again.
You can hear I'm Budgie right here:
You Can’t See Me – Is an epic finale. Wonderfully moody and atmospheric (the guitar solo is very Pink Floyd-ish). It’s very different from anything on the album, and a great choice to finish with. Is it based on anyone in particular?
Well, you can hear the Small Boy Chesta at the beginning and end, once again, in a cameo appearance, and he is rather small, so that perhaps is a clue. I am reluctant to incur any more legal bills, so I will leave it at that. The children’s playground noises come from Stockholm, while we were doing the vocal in a house next to a school.
I am quite partial to a bit of Pink Floyd, meself, especially the combination of whimsy and grandeur, but they tend to do less of the former and more of the latter these days, or decades. So I thought I would attempt to create an idealised version.
Pelle made some very astute comments about the arrangement, and his views were noted. It follows his suggestions almost exactly, in fact. I’ve never done an epic, as you know – my stuff usually tends towards the short and succinct. But I crammed all the verses and choruses at the beginning, and then let the ‘epic-ness’ have it’s head. In fact, I agonised over whether the guitar solo should be acoustic or electric, after having recorded both. Eventually, I followed Chris Townson’s earlier advice – ‘it’s your record, you can do what you like!’, he wisely said - and so I used then both. But not at the same time.
So there you have it pop-pickers! I hope you enjoyed these two interview posts.... Many thanks to Martin for being such a good sport and taking considerable time out to answer all my inane questions!
If this interview has whetted your appitite for a bit more MG, then why not pop down to the legendary 100 club in London on 22nd January, where Martin is making a rare British appearence with his reformed 70's pop-punkers The Radio Stars... a few tunes from the Martin Gordon solo albums are also promised!
Listen to audio extract from ALL 5 of Martins albums here
The Official Martin Gordon website.
Martin Gordon on MySpace.
The 100 Club.
Buy Martin Gordon CDs at Amazon!
My 2008 interview with Martin on his 30+ year career is here and here.