Martin Gordon started out in the 1970s with the brothers Ron Mael and Russell Mael in Sparks on the album Kimono My House. He then formed Jet and then Radio Stars. He is now producing and creating his own music.
Martin Gordon started out in the 1970s with the brothers Ron Mael and Russell Mael in Sparks. Martin played with Sparks on the album Kimono My House, which featured his trademark Rickenbacker 4001 bass. “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” and “Amateur Hour” were UK hits from that album. “This Town…” made No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart. He then formed Jet and then Radio Stars, both bands featured singer, and acrobat!, Andy Ellison. The Radio Stars charted with Nervous Wreck.
I was first introduced into the musical world of Martin Gordon back in 1977. I was walking down The Mound in Edinburgh and I had nipped into one of my favourite record stores. Rummaging through the latest 7″ release box a sleeve design jumped out at me – the logo was not that different from the old Radio Times logo, a photo of a band, a woman dressed in stockings and suspenders, a layer of grubby fingerprints and a song called Dirty Pictures! What’s not to like! I paid the 70p and a love for the Radio Stars started that day and continues now.
Loved that band, which I saw live twice. All was quiet but then rumours of a Radio Stars one off reunion gig started to surface. Sadly it didn’t happen. I have covered the release of one of Martins previous solo albums, which I play often, The ‘Gilbert Gordon & Sullivan’.
OMG its the new album!
Martin fired across the sampler tracks. I wasn’t expecting the pure joy these tracks sparked off. I hope Martin doesn’t mind the comparison here to the Radio Stars. The opening track is the rockin’ Will Of The People – be warned this will hook you straight off the Rickenbacker bass lines. This is so good I thought I may have missed a Radio Stars album somehow. The wicked hooks, MG’s humour and biting satire buried in the lyrics and that chorus. Is it really necessary? Yes. This is really sharp lyrically and MG busies himself making points and observations of what is happening politically and socially. It is fully supported with a finely tuned cast of backing vocalists and chanting crowd sounds.
Question: Any plans to visit the UK?
Answer Martin Gordon: I do make the occasional appearance in various Berlin venues, which keeps the costs down as I can cycle home at the end of the night. I would like to scale up this approach, but I think 1200 kilometres would be pushing it a bit. But let’s see.
Martin Gordon (centre), with Ralf Leeman (left) and Romain Vicente (right).
Track 2 is Coming Over, again that warm feeling of nostalgia and familiarity washes over you as Martin and band deliver yet another quality slice of sharp lyrics backed again with the great chant along chorus. The lyrics are bang on on point, this is a damn fine track and I can see a crowd bouncing along to this track, if we were ever lucky enough to see it performed live. Martin lives in Germany now and so a visit to the UK may not see him coming over for a while.
Question: What are you up to to pass the time, or what book are you reading as the world hunkers down?
Answer Martin Gordon: Actually I’m revisiting some old music theory texbooks – the OUP ‘Harmony and Counterpoint’, and Walter Piston’s ‘Orchestration’, and am considering forming a one-man bass orchestra. I would have to audition myself, but I think I stand a pretty good chance of getting the gig. My newly-acquired looper might help out here.
And just as you settle back, Martin as always tweaks your senses. Is it ok to call it a “cover”? Prelude in C, Bach no less! Just listen to the wicked bass Martin puts into this. Would Bach like it? Its totally packed with some fine electric guitar playing magic, percussion items, and a strong drum pattern. You know, I think he might well of liked it. Martin unpicks the threads of this and then redresses it with style and attention to detail. It’s simply stunning to hear.
Will Of The People: “A single release. This is the family-unfriendly version, which may contain the word ‘Rees-Mogg’ and which will definitely frighten miners.”
Will leave you wanting more…
Wild Old Men is up next – so we move from Bach to a maracas shake and a fistful of guitar riffs sparking up. Tea and cakes served by Aunty Mabel. This is another sharp track as we are invited to reminisce “over the drugs we took”. A lovely guitar and piano combo and all the while that bass bursts through your speakers accompanying Martins vocal style. If you cant remember what pop songs used to sound like, then this album may help. A pub style honky tonk piano opens and you are pulled in for what could almost be an east end sing song for Flat Foot Frank. A song about a flat pack merchant/builder and flat pack virgins. I mean, who else could do this? To end the song we are treated to ducks – its just quackers!
He is outspoken, always refreshingly honest, a humour that is sharp as a razor blade, but he comes across as utterly charming with an ever roving eye for collating those details. That detail is dropped into the lyrics. Google World is up next and slows down the pace set by those Wild Old Men. Consumerism is the target here. He says what he thinks and voices those views and opinions, this one is backed by a bass clarinet. The melodies and musicianship on this track will want leave you wanting more when it ends.
Does God Believe In Me? Now there is a question. Now there is a song title! Howling guitars fire us into this and again the chorus to this will be rattling around in your head days after you hear it. Martin can put down a tune that other bands can only dream of. Martin infuses his own special brand of pop punk/punk pop into this album and it is as finely honed as ever. Turn up the music box for the title track OMG and I swear your ornaments will move to the rattling bass opening. The song again is topped with an ear worm of a chorus. Just listen to the guitar riffs tucked into this, that, every so often break out from a speaker and lick you in the face. Let Drone take you away as Martin wants to invade your private spaces. I Know It All took me fondly back in time to what has to be one of the finest tunes put on vinyl with There Are No Russians In Russia. Class.
Question: You have released some great music Martin, and I am going to try and pin you down here, what are your proudest achievements in recent times?
Answer MG: That must be playing bass on a Frank Zappa tune with the Ensemble Modern in The Gambia, topped off by being asked to conduct them through another piece of theirs which we had worked up in Dakar the month before. We, namely the Liberation Orchestra plus me on bass, had rehearsed our parts, so all we had to do was slot the EM in on top. And we did! All most unlikely and highly satisfying. It transpired that Dietmar Wiesner (the composer of the second piece) had participated in the Zappa/Ensemble Modern recordings from the 90s: we sat in Banjul until late at night over warm beers and I insisted he tell me his stories of the great man.
OMG is overflowing at times with joyous sing-along moments and a load of air guitar/air bass opportunities. OMG is an excellent auditory treat, and it just works in different ways as the album progresses. The opening tracks hit a great early stride. It is all expertly crafted, and the sound is technically able. Some wisecracking lyrics and observations and tunes – put it all together and it nails that hidden sweet spot.
All in all this really is a pleasant, pleasurable, indie, classic, punky, rocky slice. I think I covered all the genres this album covers. And if you still wish for a blast of the Radio Stars era, then OMG is spot on. But then you get so much more with this album. Martin always has something to say and it is always worth listening as it can be fun but he usually tucks a serious side in there. It is a collection of fine tunes.
Question:The Mael brothers?
Answer Martin Gordon: Good heavens, are they still going? Well done them! That must give hope to all septuagenarians. At least, I imagine it would.
A sample from the concert Martin mentioned:
The AfriCourage concert in The Gambia on December 28th, 2019, featured the Liberation Orchestra with a range of guest performers. Here we have members of the Ensemble Modern from Germany segueing seamlessly into an extract from Frank Zappa’s ‘Music For Low Budget Orchestra’.More on you tube
A timely reminder… Gilbert Gordon & Sullivan
After four years of deliberation, calculation, diversion and negotiation, the ‘Gilbert Gordon & Sullivan’ album was released. Sounding like a cross between the Small Faces and Winifred Atwell, Gilbert Gordon & Sullivan trawls through a selection of the finest compositions that the pairing of Gilbert & Sullivan ever put together. All have been re-imagined for a popular beat combo of today. Out with the soapy strings and matelot choruses, in with the electric guitars and, erm yep, matelot choruses are retained!
With his vast knowledge of the music business, Martin is well aware of the inevitability of successful musical partnerships hitting the rocks. Whether this is for time-honoured ‘musical differences’ or as the result of insoluble dental problems (which led to Stars’ untimely demise), bands always break up sooner or later. Gordon has devised a foolproof methodology to counter this trend, however. “I thought it would be a good idea to form a band with primarily dead people in it, except for me.”
I really feel this is actually an important work. These old operettas are just that, old. They are constantly performed across the world to an audience that usually know of Gilbert & Sullivan. Amateur productions of these works and of course those done by the world famous D’Oyly Carte Opera Company keep the musicals alive. BUT this album shows what could be done and could bring this music genre to a younger generation. A generation presently missing out on the fun in taking part in such productions and losing out on musical history and heritage. I could imagine a school year-end drama group putting this on stage replacing the piano with a pupils rock band doing some of these, and HMS Pinafore is a prime candidate for such a revamp.
This is a stunning disc, grab a coffee, sit back, listen and enjoy. Everything from the sleeve, notes, imagery and sound are all finely crafted and put together to deliver a unique and hugely entertaining experience.
Martin Gordon, armed with a wicked sense of humour, talent and dedication, is probably the only person I can think of who could transform, with such care and respect, material that is over 100 years old and turn it into a rock n’ roll album! And, importantly, pull it off. Respect Mr Gordon!
So dear reader two damn fine slices of music for your pleasure.
Martin Gordon is on the www – jump aboard here – pay him a visit, its a great place to while a few hours whilst the world is in lockdown.
Oh go on then… spoil us….
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