le label CAPTURED TRACKS réédite THE CLEANERS FROM VENUS de l’immense Martin Newell,une beau coffret de trois cd comprenant les trois premiers albums du groupe paru entre 1981 et 1982

8 Mai

About Martin Newell…

Basically, he’s a pop poet and rock musician. But it’s a little more complicated than that. He’ll tell you that he doesn’t have a career though – just a series of jobs and engagements which taken together have added up to some sort of a living this past few decades. He plays various guitars, bass, keyboards, mandolin and he can sing. He makes rather English-sounding pop records, he writes poems and articles in national newspapers. He does spoken word performances and less-frequently, live music gigs. He occasionally presents TV programmes. He has been on national radio quite a bit over the years. He has a number of books and records out. He doesn’t have management, an agent or anyone ‘looking after’ him. Mostly, he works. Mostly, it’s writing, which he loves.

Born into a military family in 1953 the eldest of three boys. Schooled in the Far East, Cyprus and all over the UK.. Taught himself guitar, aged 14. . Left school aged fifteen. Worked in a London as an office boy and a window cleaner. A natural rebel he got into much trouble as a teenager but music, humour and books dominated his lfe throughout, probably saving his life.

Aged 19 joined an Essex glam-rock band The Mighty Plod as a singer and gigged in rough clubs, pubs and colleges for the next two years. In his early twenties he joined a hard rock /.prog band from Ispwich called Gypp and gigged in the UK as well as touring northern Germany several times. In 1979, he won his first record contract and shortly afterwards his first single Young Jobless / Sylvie In Toytown was released, first on an indie label and then with Liberty Records. Much Radio 1 airplay and the record briefly charted but then sank after trouble of various sorts.
In the 1980s he formed the anarchic and wacky Cleaners from Venus, who after much defiance of music biz convention, signed to a London record company and began making proper records which were well reviewed and well-received. He began co-writing songs with Captain Sensible in 1986, a relationship which endures to some extent to this day. In 1989 he and his friend Nelson, now of New Model Army formed The Brotherhood of Lizards, were signed to make an album and proceeded to promote it, touring the record by bicycle. This led to many TV appearances and some notoriety and amusement in the media. In 1993, with XTC’s Andy Partridge in the producer’s chair Martin made what was to become his most successful album The Greatest Living Englishman. This has been followed over the years by several other solo albums. Now in middle years, still held in some regard as a great English songwriter and sometimes compared to Syd Barrett and Ray Davies, it is said that he never got the commercial success he deserved. While this may or may not be true he continues to make and sell good pop records with a degree of international acclaim.

Poetry and Writing:
He ‘came out of the closet’ as a poet in 1990 and found almost immediate success, broadcasting on national radio shows and bringing out collections of rhyming, humorous and pastoral poetry, much of which echoed his dead heroes, Housman, Betjeman and Tennyson. It could be said that poetry was the making of Martin Newell because it brought him to a wider UK public than music ever had. He went on to write for The Independent, and The Independent on Sunday for over 15 years, sometimes producing as many as three pieces per week for them. In 2001, he published This Little Ziggy a funny, lewd and sometimes shocking memoir of his early years in music. He has continued to publish well-reviewed poetry collections. He is said to be the most published living English poet.

For a man who supposedly hates leaving his beloved East Anglia, Martin Newell has travelled a lot. He’s toured France, Germany, Japan and Iceland. Last year he went to The Falkland Islands by way of Ascension Island on a military flight, to write a feature for The Sunday Express.
This year he has been to Poole, Bath, Blackpool, Bilbao and a number of other places in order to perform music, poetry or both.

Now in his mid-50s, with an abiding suspicion of commercial convention and arts authorities he remains in north Essex, where he continues to write poems, songs and books at a rate which sometimes surprises even the people who know him. He’s been an artist with Cherry Red Records for many years now, producing new albums about once every two years. He writes lyrics and libretto for other composers on demand and occasionallly writes songs for other artists.
As a writer, he mostly deals with two publishers Jardine and Wivenbook, both based in his home-town. His Selected Poems which came out in 2008 was given an enthusiastic and detailed foreword by Professor Germaine Greer. This Little Ziggy his rock memoir is due to be re-published at time of writing. As poet-in-residence for The Sunday Express he writes a weekly pop-poem for the newspaper as well as occasional features for them. He is a columnist for The East Anglian Daily Times for whom he writes a page The Joy of Essex each week. Increasingly BBC TV use him as a guest presenter for their Inside Out documentary series. So he’s not really short of work.

What’s He Like?
Cheap booze and women of his own age mostly.
Seriously? Mostly cheerful. Obsessed with music and literature. Hard-working. Nowhere near as difficult as he was when he was younger and more interested in getting the job right than the pursuit of celebrity or money. Good evening. He’s from Essex. And he’s doing…very well.


Swinging London
A Blue Wave
Union Lads
Winter In The Country
Modern TV
The Trevor Rutter Experience
A Personal Issue
Marathon (2)
Urban Jungle
A Minimal Animal
I Fell In Love With A Cleaner
So This Is Modern Jazz, Is It?
Marilyn On A Train (1981 version)
A Weekend In Subordia
Wivenhoe Bells (1980 version)
University Challenge
At Home With Myself
The Artichoke That Loved Me

This Rainy Decade
Time In Vain
Only A Shadow
Corridor of Dreams
Wivenhoe Bells (II)
Midnight Cleaners
Factory Boy
A Wretched Street
Don’t Worry About The Ads

This Rainy Decade
Time In Vain
Only A Shadow
Corridor of Dreams
Wivenhoe Bells (II)
Midnight Cleaners
Factory Boy
A Wretched Street
Don’t Worry About The Ads

The album art for these rereleases by UK stalwarts the Cleaners from Venus reproduces the covers of the first three early 1980s cassette-only efforts released by core figure Martin Newell and his sole bandmate during that time, Lol Elliott. They’re almost almost an inversion of the perceived Instagram model for photographs: instead of artificially aging the now, it’s the past blown up and made precise, the gaps in the ink strokes made readily apparent along with the clear signs of where further coloring stopped. For any cassette release from that time that’s received a retrospective celebration, whether via Messthetics, Minimal Wave, or something else again, that feeling always seems to hang heavy over the end result, at once strange and slightly humorous, like it snuck into something bigger by accident.
Doubtless Newell, long settled into a continuing career of poet, essayist, and musician as a kind of across-the-Thames cousin of the admittedly more scabrous Billy Childish, feels like that would be perfectly appropriate. As the liner notes describe, it wasn’t that Newell and Elliott didn’t want to keep their work hidden from the world but they probably didn’t expect that efforts initially dubbed at home a few at a time would ever have more than a fleeting attention paid to them by similarly minded souls. Considering how immediate so much on these three albums are, though– and, quite simply, how fun they often sound, regardless of lyrical intent at points– it’s almost hard to think they wouldn’t have found some wider audience one way or another.
In retrospect, though, what’s clear even from the start of Blow Away Your Troubles’ « Swinging London » is how perfectly positioned the Cleaners’ sound, or even more crucially their overall aesthetic was, in terms of a break between past and future. No measurable listening audience in 1981 beyond the DIY underground would have expected anything to sound like this did, with a mix of rough edges, distanced vocals, definite hooks, and unexpected mixing choices, plus interjections and diversions that harkened back to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and « The Goon Show » among other sources. (Not to mention songs that fully embrace those routes– « Alien », with its recurrent dialogues between human and outer-space visitor, is one of the most ridiculous things around.) It’s theoretically new wave if you squint, but not the major label or even most indie label kind.
Of course, as the double-vinyl Blow Away Your Troubles, originally released in 1981, rapidly establishes, it wasn’t about obscurantism for its own sake– it’s a stretch to say that it would be obvious in later years that Andy Partridge would end up producing Newell based on the evidence of songs like « A Blue Wave » or the piano-and-metronome-paced « Wivenhoe Bells » telling of small incidents in a small town. But in its weird way Newell arrived first where XTC would end up, an implied tension having relaxed to allow strange humor, political unease, and breezy rather than frenetic melodies and choruses to set a new course. A song like « Modern TV », a kind of relative-across-the-water of Black Flag’s « TV Party », is all about serenely catchy surf-derived choruses and distant keyboards, while a sense of something epic and mournful is all over « Marilyn on a Train », achieving a kind of casual grandeur on its verses in particular that any number of post-punk dreamers would probably have loved had they heard it. Even something like « A Minimal Animal », an attempt to tackle reggae via several kind of distances down to stretched-out and echoed vocals and the utter pisstake « So This is Modern Jazz, Is It? »– more like a bizarre scat-singing attempt from a long dead lounge– all works perfectly in context.
On Any Normal Monday, released in early 1982, found the Cleaners in slightly changed circumstances, its liner notes talking about Newell’s acquiring a four-track machine and Elliott’s increasing personal attention elsewhere. It’s not quite the Newell solo show yet (especially considering that he put out both a stand-alone tape and an archival one pre-Cleaners with the Stray Trolleys soon thereafter), but things are a little clearer, a touch crisper, and maybe inevitably a touch less frenetic, though a newer version of « Marilyn on a Train » retains its elegant sweep. Admittedly songs like « European War » aren’t meant to be giddy regardless, but the humor of « Be an Idiot Popstar » seems a touch less goony in all senses of the word.
By the time of Midnight Cleaners, which also came out in 1982, Elliott’s appearances were even more sporadic and the genteel TV-theme feeling of « This Rainy Decade » heralds something that was increasingly Newell’s own particular flag of convenience. Hearing a bit of winning guest saxophone as it first appears in the extended introduction to « Corridor of Dreams » seems strangely monumental in context, even if it was only a year since the duo’s debut effort. But if songs like « Only a Shadow » and « Time in Vain » are more polished and straightforward power-pop efforts with a crisp, slightly thin sound and steady drumming as opposed to the wiggier songs that helped inaugurate the band to start with, there’s always the slightly cryptic spoken word, sax, and beat mix of the title track and the shimmering rush of « Factory Boy » in contrast. Meanwhile, a new version of « Wivenhoe Bells », with bells, phone samples, and children’s voices added to the energetic flow of the arrangement, nicely squares not-too-distant past and present.
Newell’s later efforts as the Cleaners from Venus and in other ventures would continue to explore the possibilities of home pop/rock recording, much as other figures worldwide as Chris Knox and the stalwart R. Stevie Moore would, though the resultant flood that’s followed has almost overwhelmed that past to a large degree. It’s nice to see this tip of the hat back via these reissues, though, an acknowledgement that it came from somewhere and from someone who followed his own inspired logic toward an end result with the tools to hand.


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