Film Review: The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story

“Those alternative types who complain so fervently about the stridently of so called “straight society” are only too happy to carpet bomb you with their own advertising. In every café and pub, pounding music roars at you, while posters of upcoming events scream at your eyes. Windows displays visually mug you. And if you feel hungover, delicate, or, dare I say, “poetic”, there is an alternative to staying in bed or closeting yourself in a sensory deprivation tank, should you be lucky enough to have access to such a thing…”

Martin Newell, comparing Brighton to the South Downs (The Line (a weekly regional magazine TV programme), 1990s)

Martin Newell is an eccentric musical wordsmith from Wivenhoe, Essex. Officially starting his music career in 1973, when he replaced Steve Greenfield as lead singer in glam rock cover band Plod, he later joined the Prog Rock band Gypp in 1976. … just as Punk was beginning to take over the music scene. Gypp was a modestly successful band, and with that success came behind-the-scenes incidents that raise eye brows today, including an “incident with the German girl, the skunk, and a sink plunger.” After a bad review, Martin got demoralized and left the band, becoming a “musical recluse.” It’s here when his true legacy begins – as “the original independent artist before it was a phrase.” He decided to set up his own recording studio and started “making [The Beatles album] Revolver in a garden shed.” He didn’t like record companies (plenty of bad experience with them) and released music on cassettes. Real DIY stuff.

In 1980 he collaborated with Lawrence “Lol” Elliot, creating The Cleaners from Venus. Then, in 1988, he formed a duo with Peter Nice – The Brotherhood of Lizards. In 1993 he worked with Andy Partridge of XTC fame) to create the album the Greatest Living Englishman, his most successful album. More albums followed and a found a new path as a poet, via gardening. He is still going making music and writing verse as of the time of this writing. He doesn’t like to perform live these days, as he doesn’t want to be “one of these terrible old bison, lumbering amnesicily around a stage.”

Honestly, until I saw this film, The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story, directed and filmed by James Sharp, I didn’t know who Martin Newell was. Watching this film was the first time I heard his music … and I liked it. The music and the man himself. How come I never knew his existence until now? His work is Earthy and organic, made better by the fact a lot of it was released (and still sound like it is) first released on audio cassettes. His work, been outside of music treads of their day, still sound fresh. I am still shocked that I have never head of him until now … and I am in my mid-30s and regularly listen to Radio 6 Music. It’s like discovering a gap in your knowledge and suddenly having it filled with gravel.

Why am I so wax-lyrical about him after just watching one film about him? It’s because I see myself in him. He discovered later in life that he has Asperger’s, which places him in the same Venn diagram as me – Autistic, and creative. Seeing him playing instruments and talking to the camera in his home made me picture my future 25 years from now – living in a quiet place somewhere outside a city creating things.

Review by Professor Gordon Wallace

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