Martin Newell’s Jumble Sale

By Jason Barnard

Martin Newell, one of the great English songwriters, continues to produce material as incessantly catchy and witty as his now revered 1980s DIY material as The Cleaners From Venus. It’s testament to him that his new release, Martin Newell’s Jumble Sale, a collection of off cuts from his early years and recent times, maintains this high quality.

After guesting on a Strange Brew podcast and interview a few years ago, Martin kindly agreed to respond to my questions on this release and other current projects. We also get an exclusive preview of his forthcoming musical Star Cafe, with two classic Newell tracks to listen to for the very first time.

Martin Newell

To open, why have you decided to collect this material together and why you chose the tracks you did?

Originally, much of this ‘album’ was going to be a reward for high pledgers for a crowdfunded book which I was writing. It was just going to be a 50-copy run of about 10 unreleased demos and outtakes. I actually discovered far more than I thought I had.

A few weeks into the crowdfunding procedure, I decided I was really unhappy with getting people to give me money for something which I hadn’t yet done. I took my courage in my hands, pulled the plug on the scheme and got everyone refunded.

I didn’t abandon the book but put it on ice till I felt better. I got on with my d.i.y musical instead. People were by this time curious about the album. Two weeks ago, we got 17 of the tracks, Hilary Lazell designed a cover and with Johnny of Karakasa’s help and advice, we’ve put it out.

It seems to have had a lot of interest. Some of these demoes go back to the 70s!

It may yet surprise us. The tracks seemed to chose themselves. Okay, they’re my usual sloppy imperfect style..but some of them really do have something. I like this thing. It’s raw and strange but it has some charm I reckon.

Martin Newell's Jumble SaleJumble Sale seems to fill in the gaps not covered with the extra material in Captured Tracks. Do you have much more material in the Newell archives? If so are these your favourites of the rest? They sit really well alongside your other album tracks like A Bluebeat Kid.

I’m always finding stuff in the archives. It’s often quite lo-fi and unlike a lot of people I’m not particularly embarrassed by it. But I do like it to be entertaining. A Bluebeat Kid was one of my faves actually. That one only turned up earlier this year. It was a home demo done at a quite bad time for me. Luckily a recording engineer/ producer called Dave Hoser turned it up in his archives and sent it to me with a load of other stuff. I probably hadn’t heard it for over 30 years. I binned a load of my old demoes back in 86. Not sure it was the best thing to have done now.

A Bluebeat Kid – studio version:

How were the other early tracks unearthed, was it through Dave or demoes that made it through the 1986 cull?

Many of the tracks had been digitised; some from tapes, but most had been kept or stores somewhere: on an old hard-drive or on a memory stick at least. Sometimes, I barely remembered doing them..or didn’t know why I’d abandoned them.

Much of the other material dates from the past 15 years. Which songs are your favourites? 

That Kind Of A Day was written, though not used at the time, by the singer Richard Shelton. I wrote quite a number of songs for him. I really like this song for it cheery optimism. It’s not the kind of song that people write anymore.

Scarecrow Hair and Saucer-eyed, is an elaborate sketch of what it could be. It really needs a band to do it in rather more lush facilities than are at my disposal. At the risk of sounding arrogant, it also demonstrates to a lot of the clowns who are supposed to be good songwriters, that I leave better songs in my demo-heap than most of them can come up with as a best shot.

A Bluebeat Kid was always one of my favourites. I’d lost a girlfriend, a home and was just about to leave a band. I was starting from a personal ground zero. This was the first one of a new batch, post-disaster. You’d have to understand, how rejected, dumped and dismissed I felt at this time to have written this.

Cat Doo-wop – this is from my yearly Brian the Lion story which I used to make at Christmas for various children in my immediate family. There’s a character called Matt the Cat. He fancies himself as a singer. He forms a singing group with three other cats. This is one of their songs. Years later, it still makes me laugh. Such fun to make these things!

Despite the songs coming from different times and periods are there any themes/threads you can see now bringing the tracks together?

They really do come from such a wide range of eras within my own life. I was 21 when I wrote “Somewhere in 1975…” If I was pushed I’d say there are the twin threads of comedy and melancholy running through the songs, like spring and autumn.

Martin Newell Germany 77-78A fair few of them were songs written for other artists, or with other people in mind. “My Rockin’ Days” was written in 1980 for a young rockabilly singer called Eddie. “Destiny” was actually a tongue-in-cheek effort at a Eurovision song. Someone said that the middle bit sounded a bit like Michael Nyman which I was mightily flattered by.

“Moonraking” was written for a female diva who shall remain nameless. “The Luxury of Misery.” was written for a MuleTV video and is a tribute to and pastiche of Queen Is Dead-period Morrissey, because much as he sometimes lets me down, I still really love that stuff.

After clearing the decks with Jumble Sale what are your plans for future releases?

Well (deep breath)

Captured Tracks will re-release the Greatest Living Englishman (which if not my best album is certainly my most commercial one) early next year. This is on vinyl and it’s been speculated, possibly on cassette. Meanwhile, on the runway, ready to go is my lo-fi, d.i.y musical Star Cafe. It is basically a sort of lo-fi Cinderella and they may release that.

Are you looking for community groups to approach you to put on the musical or is there a local group you will be working with?

There is no local group working on the musical, anyone (more or less) is welcome to do it. It needs ‘the book’ (that’s a script written for it). I’m not expecting anyone to bite my hand off. But maybe when it’s out it might arouse some interest. The main thing is that I hope it will be a popular album. It’s a fairly solid collection of songs.

Exclusive! Listen to two tracks from Star Cafe:

Provincial Town

Wild Flowers of England

However, before that there’s also Volume 2 of Teatime Assortment the pick of my last five albums. So I may, if it gets pushed down the queue, do a limited CD release of Star Cafe myself.

Because even now, at pre-release stage, there’s been such a lot of interest in Jumble Sale. And I don’t like stuff hanging around getting old. Besides which I’ve got new ideas which needs to be written and recorded, so if nothing else I may knock out an ‘instant’ album. Now my eye problems have been sorted out, it’s full steam ahead.

Thanks Martin, all the best for the release of Jumble Sale, Teatime Assortment Volume 2 and of course, Star Cafe. Thanks so much for giving us a preview of it.

Martin Newell’s Jumble Sale is available to purchase as a CD or download via: thecleanersfromvenus.bandcamp.com

All things Newell can be found at: martinnewell.co.uk

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