Music Critic 2003

Music-Critic Interviews:
Martin Gordon

Germain Bicycling and Gyrating Kylie: 21 Questions with Martin Gordon
by: matt cibula

Martin Gordon has been in the music business since before most of you were born and he knows where all the bodies are buried — hell, he might have buried most of them himself. He started out with Sparks back before those two creepy brothers booted him from the band; he led John’s Children, Jet, and Radio Stars in the 1970s; he’s done session work with everyone from Kylie Minogue and the Rolling Stones (details below) to Primal Scream, Blur, and Boy George. And now he’s released his first record as a solo artist, a completely mental thing called The Baboon in the Basement, which will definitely end up in my year-end Top Five as it’s ACE and GEAR and FAB. (I think it’s a cross between early solo Brian Eno, and mid-period Cheap Trick, and a world-music sampler; the editor of Music-critic.com has been quoted as saying “I wouldn’t even know what to call this kind of music…but I like it!”)

We did this interview via email, so any mistakes are Gordon’s fault. Blame him, not me. You can do so (and buy the album too) by checking out his hilarious website, www.martingordon.de. But don’t do that yet, because you have to read this interview first. Here we go, y’all….

1. What does the phrase “The Baboon in the Basement” mean? I have my theories, of course….

Not to get too medical about it, it’s my way of describing something that has been ignored for a long time but which thrives nevertheless. The Baboon in my case is pop music, the Basement is…well, where it is. I thought I’d invented this expression but I lately discovered that Jung had beaten me to it. But he couldn’t get a record deal anywhere, so in a spirit of mutual understanding and openness I shall continue to claim to have invented it. Most people wouldn’t know what a Jung was if it bit them in the bottom, which is fairly unlikely, of course, what with him being dead and all.

2. Did you know that this is the way your band would sound, or did it come together through collaboration?

Collaboration? Moi? Actually, I chose the people because of how they play or sing, so it could only have come out in this way. The sound of a fridge falling down the stairs? It’s got to be Chris Townson on drums. Flambe vocals and don’t mention the word Zander? Pelle Almgren springs to mind. Guitars chosen a la carte? Andy Reimer. That was the recipe, and then it was all down to the preparation and cooking. For loud pop music with guitars, there really IS only one recipe… use the best ingredients, record well and then agonise for months over the mix. But I think it all came out rather pleasantly al dente, I must say.

3. Tell me a story that sums up the way you feel about Germany. Aren’t you a little harsh in “Only One Dream Per Person”?

How cruel you are, that you restrict me to one story. The Germans have a saying ‘there must be order’. It has a mantra-like quality – if you repeat it for long enough, you turn into a traffic warden. The average German (for this is the only kind of German that there is), holds authority in enormous reverence; unlike other European countries, who put up signs telling you that you are not allowed to do something or other, the Germans put up signs telling you that you ARE allowed – in other words everything is normally forbidden. And if there’s a rule, it will be unquestioningly followed, which drives me, as an English person, completely bonkers. You find great flocks of Germans standing around aimlessly by the side of totally deserted roads late at night in the rain, with no cars visible to the edge of the horizon, waiting for the little red man to turn green so that pedestrians can cross over.


I demonstrate the terrifying respect the Germans have for order and authority with a bicycle example. You are only allowed to cycle in one direction on the German cycle paths; supposedly, if you want to go in the other direction you have to cross the road. Well, this is clearly nonsense, so I ignore it. Elderly women stop their cars on main roads and hurl abuse at me for “going in the wrong direction”. Pedestrians step into my way, didactically willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Drivers try to knock me off in an attempt to get me to see the error of my ways. So far, I have survived. Frankly I think ‘Only One Dream’ lets them off lightly…

4. What’s your biggest triumph in your music career?

Artistically, it’s the Baboon, of course! Honourable mentions to Sezen Aksu’s latest CD Sarki Soylemek Lazim and the Tiger Lillies’ Bad Blood & Blasphemy, both of which I fiddled with as producer/mixer and contributor. As a bassist I was very happy to (a) play with the Stones when Bill didn’t show up at the studio in Paris and (b) to manage to learn 25 songs in 2 days for the 2002 Sezen Aksu tour. They helpfully faxed me the music but unfortunately it was all in the wrong key and there was no time for rehearsal. The tour went down a storm, so credit where it’s due. (To me.)

5. What’s your biggest regret about your music career?

Not that I dwell on the matter, but it would be believing Sparks’ manager John Hewlett when he ‘explained’ to me how royalty payments worked. It was my first band and I was rather ill-informed about royalties. This was while the Sparks album Kimono My House was in the top ten in the UK. Where did all my royalties go, for ever? Three guesses…

Another minor matter would be that, when the engineer told me after the last Stones session that the singer ‘wanted to talk to me’, I dallied so long that by the time I got there he was non compos mentis…

6. Best 10 albums of the 1970s off the top of your head: GO!

Stand Up, Jethro Tull (actually 69, but I think it counts)
A Wizard, A True Star, Todd Rundgren
Psi-Fi, Seventh Wave
Turn It Over, Tony Williams Lifetime
White Noise, White Noise
Hot Rats, Frank Zappa
Red, King Crimson
Kimono My House, Sparks (sorry about that)
Live at the Budokan, Cheap Trick
Harmony Row, Jack Bruce

7. Does your girlfriend get pissed off when you write a song about her? Flattered?

My girlfriend, or wife I should say, as we got married in May, comes from Indonesia. We communicate mainly in sign language and semaphore, with a little mime occasionally thrown in. So I think she misses the fine detail, shall we say and, with a little circumspection, we manage to avoid the matter of lyrics almost completely.

8. Who is the Single Most Important Musical Figure in your life?

I appoint a new one every week. Last week it was Todd Rundgren, this week it’s Adrian Belew, next week it’s time for Steve Reich again. Then it’s Jagjit and Chitra Singh…

9. In a car, do you listen to the radio? A CD? A cassette? Anything? Nothing?

Mainly I listen to the sound of Germans telling me that my car is dirty and needs to be cleaned Very Urgently. For light relief I tune to the local MultiKulti radio (www.multikulti.de) who play world music, and for even lighter relief to Voice of America, where I can find simultaneous CIA propaganda and loud guitars, a heady combination.

10. How many bands are you CURRENTLY in? Why?

None, actually. But not by choice! John’s Children play a yearly retirement gig in the UK, so there’s not much activity there; I do draw the line at donning leather shorts and performing in the local bars, however. It would be great to have the Baboon line-up perform and that’s what I’m currently working on. If someone offers to pay us, instead of the other way round, the Baboon will be performing in a Basement near YOU! But I’m always open to interesting offers, I must say…

11. If you could only pick 10 great pop singles, what would they be?

In order:
1: Bike / Pink Floyd
2: Valley Girls / Frank & Moon Unit Zappa
3: Rainbow Chaser / Nirvana
4: Oh Well Parts I & II / Fleetwood Mac
5: Lady Madonna / Beatles
6: Pink / Aerosmith
7: The Race / Yello
8: MacArthur Park / Richard Harris
9: Heartbeat / King Crimson
10: Firestarter / The Prodigy

12. Beatles: overrated? underrated? just-right-rated?

They invented pop music… before them was nothing, after them came the deluge. Exactly-right rated, although it’s impossible to be objective. Outstanding in their field, to quote an early Todd Rundgren album sleeve that showed his band doing just that.

13. Who is your Unsung Musical Hero?

About two years ago, I would have said Martyn Jacques of the Tiger Lillies, but I note that they’re now becoming inordinately famous and working with the Kronos Quartet, so it will have to be Jack Bruce. Fantastic singer, composer, musician, experimentalist – he’s recognised in some areas but unfortunately he qualifies in this category. And Andy Fraser, if I can have two.

14. Do you have a favourite football team? (Of course I mean this in the ‘soccer’ sense.) If so, what team and why?

I don’t. After complaining about the tedium of football for many years, I was persuaded to go to a game by Chris Townson, Baboon drummer. He led me to see Tottenham Hotspur in London but, when the only goal was scored, I was looking the wrong way. But at least I tried, and now I can complain about how dull I find it with some first-hand experience.

15. Who was the biggest asshole you ever met in the music industry?

No, no, the music industry is filled with wonderful people – sympathetic, honest, engaged, understanding, intelligent, informed… You must be talking about a different music industry.

16. The best concert you’ve ever seen was ________ in the year ____ and here’s why:

It was Todd Rundgren in the UK in (about) 1996. Just him standing in a triangular open-sided tent affair being TRI (Todd Rundgren Interactive). He opened with what was then a new song — after about a minute and a half it became one of my favourite Todd songs of all time (‘Worldwide Epiphany’). Lots of lights, video monitors, head-cams, dancers, banks of Macs so that he could respond to audience requests and mood…. he is, as has been noted, Godd-like. The whole of London’s pop elite turned out to pay tribute.

17. Monkees: overrated? underrated? just-right-rated?

‘Daydream Believer’ is a great piece of work, but thanks mainly to the song rather than the performance, I think. I never heard ‘Head’ but I would have to identify myself as a member of the ‘just-right’ camp. Plus I’m always rather suspicious of Nordic types whose names end in K.

18. Why a solo album now after more than three decades in the music biz?

Actually it’s 29 years, don’t exaggerate. I didn’t want to flood the market, and I got a bit occupied with other things. I’m rather dependent on singers, and good ones are hard to find. Tiger Lillie Martyn Jacques sang on one of my projects in his Tiny Tim falsetto but I needed someone just like Mr Almgren before I could get going. Who knows, maybe I’ll even do another one…

19. Kylie Minogue: tell us a story

We were doing some poll-winners awards ceremony in London Dockland and I had just picked her up and placed her on top of my grand piano, which was towering above her head. It was planned, of course, I didn’t spontaneously decide to do it. She was slithering around and being rather revealing, at least from my position at the piano stool. Good job we were only miming, I remember thinking as the chords disappeared completely from my mind. Post-slither, she jumped off and, grabbing me by the hand, led me to the front of the stage for screams from the teenaged thousands (not aimed at me, I should say), and then we walked off hand in hand.

20. Who is your favourite rapper? Why?

I have to say, somewhat against my better judgement, it’s Eminem. There’s so much brain-dead bollocks going on lyrically in rap that, when you find something which actually does have a theme, and when the creator clearly looked further than the back of a cornflakes packet for his or her lyrical inspiration, it has to be applauded. Eminem is a man on a mission – I’d rather hear someone with something to say than rap-by-numbers any day. But check out as well Todd’s ‘Worldwide Epiphany’ for a magical combination of chords suspended over the wrong basslines, gleaming melodies and his take on white-boy rapping.

21. “There is one thing I’ve always wanted to say in an interview, and it is __________________”

I quote my Japanese record company, in reference to my CD: “Baboom!”
10-Jul-2003 6:30 PM