Always a pleasure to talk to the entertaining Mr. Newell. I first discovered this pop genius’ work last one night in the summer of 2011. I had insomnia, per usual in those days, and at 3 a.m. I was up scanning the blogs for any new music to listen to. And I happened upon a site with ‘Living With Victoria Grey – The Very Best of The Cleaners From Venus’. I wasn’t sure about the band name but I had gone to high school with a girl name Victoria Grey and I’m always one to indulge coincidences. And I was so glad I did! This was just spectacular pop music. And there was so much to discover. My first favourite was the upbeat ‘Illya Kuryakin Looked At Me’, referencing a teenage trip to London where Newell ran into the actor David McCallum, who played the titular character on the ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’. Newell recounts this experience and many similar ones about the joys of growing up in love with pop in his first memoir, This Little Ziggy. The book also perfectly captures all the joys and frustrations of being young and in a band. Highly recommended.
From the early 80s, on his day off from working washing dishes at a local restaurant in Essex, Newell would record cassettes at home with drummer Lol Elliott and the two would self-distribute them. Early versions of the Cleaner’s debut, Blow Away Your Troubles, have different track listings and track orders, because they’d have to sit there making each one and Lol would often mix things up. In 2012, Captured Tracks would begin to issue these cassettes on cd and vinyl for the first time. Their third tape, 1982’s Midnight Cleaners, is a bona fide pop masterpiece. MGMT would later cover its ‘Only A Shadow’. ‘Corridor of Dreams’ beautiful melodies move dreamily through creating a particular poignancy.
Coinciding with the Captured Tracks reissues, I would interview Martin for The Quietus. He showed us around Wivenhoe, welcomed us into his home, and even played an early version of ‘Billy Liar’ on an acoustic mid-interview. The following year, as Captured Tracks released the next three early Cleaners’ albums, we spoke again. This interview Martin met my opening ‘How are you?’ with an answer of ‘Well, I died…’, going on to explain how the huge creative side of his brain that brought him back quickly. (my review of the second Cleaners box set here).
In 2014, I made my third trip to Wivenhoe for this ‘At last, someone who can write songs!’ interview that would appear in the December 2015 issue of Shindig! Great stuff from Martin about his thoughts on his body of work as well as The Smiths, XTC, and ABC.
Last year I reviewed his odds & sods collections, Martin Newell’s Jumble Sale, for popbollocks. “even an assortment picked off the cutting room floor by the Cleaners is better than most new albums you’ll hear this year.”
Check out Martin’s own website here. There’s lots of great stuff on it.
Other songs we discussed on the podcast:
Goodbye Dreaming Fields
The Green-Gold Girl of The Summer