Berlin’s legendary night life offers everything for everybody. In the city’s clubs and bars, the party never stops. One might note that this vibin’ city has a stunning landscape with its sparkling waterways, vast lakes, and endless stretches of forest and parkland that inspires artists to create; perhaps the city’s dark and turbulent history provides inspiration or maybe it’s Berlin’s liberal sense of hedonism that contributes most to its status as a creative hot-spot. Whatever the circumstances that forged ‘New Berlin’, the fact remains that, more than any other capital city you care to mention, it is a place ruled by bohemian values and saturated with art in all its forms – from majestic opera to base graffiti.
One thing is certain: Martin Gordon’s presence there has every bit to do with the vibrant dynamic, and Berlin never had it so good!! Martin Gordon is a highly-masterful songwriter, brilliant bassist, composer/arranger/studio engineer with a notorious reputation from the get-go of knowing what he wants and going after it, even it means pissing off a record company or two. I like that kind of bodacious verve. Pitch in a scathing, biting, wit and ragingly clever musicianship with the ability to match up a stunningly palpable chemistry in his project line-ups, and the results are a successful formula of pop brilliance. Did I mention eloquence? He’s loaded with it.
Hitting the music scene in Britain in 1973, with SPARKS, maintaining to this day a cult status in many parts of the world, they spewed out a couple of UK hits, ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both of Us’ and ‘Amateur Hour’- it was a rather touchy and short-lived situation. Hits from the “Kimono My House” album like “Amateur Hour” put Martin Gordon on the map of genuine pop/glam approbation. Dismissed rudely from his band mates over a bass guitar preference, and infused with a bit of most necessary British ethos, Martin formed Jet (albeit briefly) and eventually Radio Stars, in 1977, achieving a modicum of success.
Never one to stand still, Martin was off to Paris for Barclay Records as house producer, playing a few dates for the Rolling Stones on studio dates, offering up mostly-stoned bass chores, Martin eventually returned to the UK, working with Boy George, Blur, Primal Scream, Kylie Minogue, and naughty bathroom boy George Michael to name a subtle few.
The brilliant “Baboon in the Basement” was a triumph for Martin in 2003; 2004 brought on ‘The Joy of More Hogwash’, with the whimsical “Daddy Lost His Head”, followed by 2005 release of “God’s on His Lunchbreak” featuring “Miracle Baby”, “Fags” and “Terrible Mess”, to name a lusty few. Whimsical lyrics woven into high-energy pop melodies with ‘I got nothing to lose mama/except for my shoes, mama/they saw right through my ruse, mama/and now I can’t find the fuse, mama’ bring on gales of euphoria and the motivation to dance all round the room with your knickers at half-mast. 2006 produced a ‘best of’ entitled “How Am I Doing So Far?” and the three CDs were released as a box set entitled ‘The Mammal Trilogy’. Either way, with the release of “The World Is Your Lobster”, in May 2007, the fourth segment of the Trilogy, Martin Gordon is proving once again that he revolves in his own orbit…. So take your attention deficit meds and SLOW down, to miss this scintillating interview would deprive you of a delightful and memorable experience!! . In this two-part interview he and various of his band members reveal their innermost secrets with gay abandon.
Q The droll qualities in the music you create today are cleverly woven into superb pop melodies, with excess charm. You have a wicked and alarming sense of humor, as revealed in your body of work, in massive interviews and in getting to know you! Who in your family would you say, if anyone, had some role in passing this on to you, and/or what early incidents such as perhaps an ‘accidental drop on the floor as a toddler’ might offer new listeners some insight into Martin’s universe ?
All aspects of popular culture, such as radio, TV, golf and cocaine, were forbidden during my early years of living at home with my parents, and so the entire thing seems to have been self-invented. I do recall my father listening to Gilbert & Sullivan, however, and my last CD (‘God’s on His Lunchbreak’ etc…) included one G&S tune. On the new release (my fourth) there will be two G&S tunes and on the fifth, should we all live so long, there will be three. Eventually I hope to be able to give up this business of having to write songs entirely in order to exclusively record G&S covers. Despite the fact that ‘no man is an island’, as the popular saying goes, I do often feel the waves lapping around my ankles. Exactly what this has to do with your question, though, I am not entirely sure.
Q No matter, your musings are forever charming and interesting. A question for Chris – I’m in terrific and notorious company once again.! You met Andy Ellison while pitching paint on a set for Hansel and Gretel at boarding school, and went on to form John’s Children.. Aside from your significant dalliances as drummer said band, you’ve filled in for Keith Moon twice and upstaged The Who in Germany – do share about that lovely night in the slammer with Martin (the broken-leg event).
Chris: As you note, I met Andy Ellison when he was auditioning for the role of Gretel in Ibsen’s ‘Uniped’. He didn’t get it, and still doesn’t. I believe that Mr. Gordon has detailed the night in jail (British boobies are the best, aren’t they?), so I will say no more about it.
Q Fortunately, I have lots and lots and lots of British friends to aid my American mind when it comes to hidden agendas and double entendres. We totally deserve it. We butcher the English language, our entire continent is overweight, over-medicated and addicted to the knife (self not included). So enlighten our audience here, what’s the story behind “FAGS”, really? Really.
I suspect that the minute and a half of disgusting, phlem-drenched coughing at the end of the song might give the game away, to a degree. As I note, I hate fags, I hate them worse than dogs. Fags are a drag. If I was to let you in on a secret, however, it might be that many Americans use the term to refer to a Form of Abominable Behaviour roundly condemned by All Right-Thinking Peeble, whereas we (Brits) use it to refer to an oily rag (ciggies). So that’s cleared that one up, at any rate. But it you wanted to do fat as a topic, then there is always the rather overlooked ‘Food’, from ‘God’s On His Lunchbreak,” etc….’, which would probably annoy anyone who felt that their size was entirely the fault of hamburger manufacturers.
Q A question to Pelle: It’s so very tiresome to be asked the same questions over and over again, so I’ll simply rephrase it and perhaps get away with it! You’re quite a rock star in your own right-and now an estate agent. Aside from your affection for Jet and Radio Stars, what do you love most about working with Martin?
Pelle: I don’t, it (and he) are horrible. I spend my time dreaming of the world of real-estate and scheming to get back to it as soon as possible. I usually sing everything twice as fast as necessary just to get the thing over with, and then he slows it down later when I am long gone.
Q Oh, I know, he must be tedious and unbearable. Martin, you were once asked what your best memory of ‘Jet’ was, mentioning a splash into the River Thames after a long night’s revels.
Well, Chris once said that HIS best memory of the band was the free sandwiches in the studio while we were recording the album. The entire Jet story probably has overtones of Stanley Milgram’s experiments, for those who care to speculate. Jet was a terrible group to be in, as were all the others. None of the groups that I have ever been in have ever convincingly done The Rock’n’Roll Thing, no coincidence, perhaps. During a brief moment of respite in Radio Stars, when I managed to inveigle like-minded souls into the entourage, we would always be terribly amused by stealing the Welcome notice board in hotels and rearranging the letters to read ‘Bugger Off All You Dumb Germans’, and ‘Atom Bomb At Ten O’clock’. Perhaps you had to be there. I was. But as to whether this qualifies as full-blooded rock’n’roll debauchery, the jury is still out.
Q Humor is often derived from pain. Would you say that your music, although pleasing to the ear, and highly entertaining, has deep-seated personal issues, I know, left myself wide open for that one, and if so, who/what is your muse, albeit ever-changing?
I have never had a permanent muse. I am in fact permanently un-amused, so to speak. My temporary muse is lobsters but whether they are the source (or indeed sauce) of pain is not clear at the present time. Perhaps this will be revealed to me in the future. Or, of course, perhaps it will not. Perhaps I will just stop becoming aware of the Axis of Lobster, and then it will be plain sailing from there on in. Or maybe the metaphors will become so mixed that I will end up not having a clue about what I am talking. These are the kinds of existential uncertainties that, quite frankly, make the whole thing worth enduring.
Q You’ve worked with endless heavy-hitters in the music industry, including the ever-colourful Andy Ellison, whose misadventures include being intravenously injected by an audience member, the roof collapsing on you during a gig, his fault apparently; his falling OFF a nun, (please elaborate, that’s a bright one) with later woes involving ostensible transvestitism and rodents; 25 pieces of broken luggage upon your UK departure to San Diego; Chris Townson ‘s broken leg and a night in the slammer; sessions yourself with the Rolling Stones, ongoing grief with John’s Children bassist John Hewlett – drop us a couple of bombs!
What a wide-ranging question… I shall interpret it as I see fit. Rolling Stones – a brief narcotic-fuelled moment while living in Paris (that’s France) which I recall with pleasure; Hewlett – the former Sparks manager stole all my royalties from the Kimono My House album with the connivance and knowledge of the Mole twins and the record company which, in human terms, demonstrates the moral turpitude of these individuals – there can be (and usually is) an enormous gap between a person’s skills and his values ; luggage – this was invented by Chris as a (successful) insurance scam: transvestite-ism and rodents – better ask Trevor about this, one doesn’t want to pry; the night in the slammer – Chris and I were nicked for the rather rock’n’roll offence of picking flowers. Well, I had a plastic carrier bag, and I filled it with tulips when we emerged from a boat. I rather wanted to take them home, you see. One thing led to another, and we were arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Chris, who had his leg in plaster, shouted at the cops ‘Assault a cripple, would you?!?!’ and hit out at them with his crotch. This, to be frank, was like a red rag to a bull and, after a long night in the cells, we were up before the beak on the morrow. We developed a system of sending messages by tapping on the water pipes in Morse code, before we gave it up as a bad job and just spoke to each other, it was much less effort, plus you didn’t have to count. The penalty was five pounds each and deportation, but suspended on the basis that Jet never made another album. We went along with it, we had no choice.
Q Toymakers Mattel offer up a rock n’ roll ‘Barbie’ with tour bus and hot tub. If you were on the road with her would she be your ‘roadie’ or your ‘bitch’, and what exactly would she endure?
It would depend upon her nationality. If she was German, she would have to measure everything to make sure that it all fitted into everything else, under pain of death. This is called the Deutsche Industrie Norm, and it must be so. If she was English, she would have to hold my kebab while I busied myself. If she was French, she would have to learn how to make coffee, at the very least. If she was Indonesian – but no, good taste and regulations preventing cruelty to animals stop me going further. As for the hot-tub-tour-party-bus, I’m a great believer in horses for courses. Naturally, all this would be entirely voluntary, if rather unsanitary. You can lead them to the water but you can’t make ’em think.
Q Sparks’ song “Waterproof” has a gorgeous string section. How on earth did you manage to pay chamber musicians from your budget?
I am wondering whether I should construct a convincing answer to this question or merely point out that my last recording with the group you refer to was made 33 years ago. OK, here’s the answer. I said, in a very high-pitched voice, to the string players that I needed the funds for a hi-tech Japanese noh theatre wig that was essential to my well-being, and that the health insurance wasn’t going to pay so could they please play the date very cheaply. Well, they all said yes and the answer is history, as you know. OK; the wig’s not that great, but it does the job, you know….
Q Crudest thing you’ve ever yelled to an audience member during a gig, and share with us the most despicable thing you’ve ever done in or ‘to’ a hotel on the road? Pelle?
Pelle: I once shouted ‘gera reiðan þú feitur tík”, which was pushing it a bit, I suppose. Well, I was in London at the time. Fortunately I got away with it.
During a John’s Children gig in Gijon, Spain in 2002, the audience asked me to speak in Spanish. I used my entire Spanish vocabulary: ‘Ole! Ariba! Burro! Cerveza! Mantequila! Gracias! in more or less that order, but the Portuguese weren’t happy, and so they stole Chris’s mobile phone after the gig as a sign of their displeasure. They clearly hadn’t discovered multiculturalism.
The morning after, we were wandering around the town and we found a rather appealing-looking garden bar. We went in, and tried to attract the attention of the waiter. Despite wearing the traditional white coat, he seemed strangely reluctant to come over and serve us. I went over to him , and remonstrated. ‘We are customers, why do you not wish to take our orders?’ (you always speak in this kind of stilted English in these encounters). He was baffled, and summoned assistance. Faced by a large group of apparent bodybuilders, we discovered our error. It was not a bar but an old-peoples home. Alright for some, I said, as we flounced out. Andy left as well. We posed for pictures on the street next to the sign.
Q I find it fascinating, amusing, and have a great sympathy for various odd jobs musicians endure in their early quest for fame or infamy. That stint, however brief , as jam-jar technician (translation to those outside UK, “auto mechanic), you performed pyrotechnics on a client’s car… any scars worth noting?
I would have been quite happy as a lifelong wielder of blow torches, but you had to get up very early, so I was forced from an early age to seek out a career in the plastic arts. No visible scars were left, although a lifelong resistance to the status quo follows me to this day. It’s probably those chords, you know – dum de dum de dum de dum…. on and on, never bloody lets up. In fact, a fellow welder was the cousin of a former sacked Status Quo keyboard player (Roy Lynes, by name). I have a feeling this is what set me upon my lifelong quest for artistic expression.
Q As an accomplished songwriter, producer, arranger, studio engineer , bad-ass (translation: pretty much one of the best in the biz) bassist – describe a couple of things you find have been detrimental to the contemporary condition of the music biz, that really piss you off, and a few you find that have favourably changed the face of music’s marketing and scope today.
I’ll thank you to leave my bottom out of this. I might alert you to the fact that other people have found it entirely acceptable. But, since you invite me onto my hobby-horse: Bad things might include all pervasive lack of skill, Good things might include… hold on, I’m thinking… no, can’t come up with anything. An easy way out would be for me to refer you to my song ‘Stop The World, I Want To Get Off’ from my second solo CD ‘The Joy of More Hogwash’, in which I rail against all those aspects of modern musical life that make listening to the radio so much fun today. And when I say radio, I don’t mean necessarily just radio, but every form of mass media dissemination, it just sounds better to say radio. Well, not better, but it has more…. oh, I don’t know… je ne sais quoi.
Q I once shared an intimate story with you about ‘Miracle Baby’… many interpretations follow in past interviews, and I have a feeling they’re all way-off target, so do tell the rest of our charming readers what inspired this melodically sensible and dark-humoured tune, personally or otherwise, and which, is any, of your personal exploits in Ghana involved?!
No personal experiences of miracles babies, in this sense. The lowdown was as follows: some sharp Ghanaian bishop was disposing of unwanted babies to people (mostly from the UK) and explaining to the disbelieving husbands that the quick turnaround was due to a miracle, rather than to sharp practice. Inevitably, but not for a couple of years, someone blew the gaff and shopped him to the British equivalent of the Holy Ghost, Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise. His defense was that is was a miracle, but they were having none of it and he languishes until today in the custody of Her Majesty Queen Brian Mountbatterburg the Cake II (jnr).
Q Hmm, cheeky. How did the recording of the recent Lobster progress?
We did the guitars, bass and drums in April of 2006, struggled with vocals for a few months, and then were bailed out by Captain Pelle Almgren of the Royal Free Tendency-Towards-Real-Estate Brigade’ (Auxiliaries) in December. I usually mix at home but decided to do it somewhere else. I thought I’d bought a ticket for the fast train to Instant-Gratification-Through-Technology, but it was not the case. The station master informed me that the most cavalier thing one could possibly do was switch platforms midway through a musical project, and this is what we had done.
There seems to have been a virtual badger on the line at You Must Be Joking. In fact we were at one point on the slow train to Terminal Frustration, calling at Bafflement On Sea, Cursing Under Macintosh and Resentment by Time Delay Modulation, with a change of train at Try Again After A Few Days. Next time, I’m going to use a pointed stick, a piece of string and a couple of Coke cans.
Our work rate averaged 1 minute 45 seconds of mixed material per day. I expected to get the album finished shortly before the next Ice Age. In fact, it all turned out fine.
Q ‘Bad Light Stops Play’, from ‘God’s On His Lunchbreak’ – please interpret the title for metaphor-challenged American readers!
As you know, the English don’t like to be direct, and so we adopt sporting metaphors wherever possible. This make life rather tricky in the supermarket, for example, when trying to buy milk, but at other times it can be a very effective way of not answering the question. The title ‘Bad Light Stops Play’ refers to the baffling English game of cricket, which apparently has no time limit (and no action either). It’s played all day until the sun goes down, or until the umpire is blown up by a suicide bomber, and at that point, when nobody can see each other any more, the game is suspended until the morrow, because bad light has stopped play. This process goes on for about three years or the end of the game, whichever is sooner. The term is in popular use (in some quarters) and in my example, refers to the inevitability of the long slow walk back to the pavilion, currently being undertaken by various members of John’s Chickens.
Q Is there a tour in your future ?
No. Sod ’em if they can’t take a joke.