Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
He stands gawping straight at the camera, mouth open, his eyes fathomless pits. It's somewhere in Paris in late April, 1990 and it's nearly time to come home to England and face the music. He's 37 years old and the game is up. His last band broke up when his musical partner joined New Model Army. A couple of weeks earlier, there'd been a traumatic row at home with his partner and her two teenage kids. There'd been a lot of shouting, during which time his own dog had bitten him. In his despair he'd thrown some stuff into a pannier, got onto his bike and then taken a train down to Brighton to see his good friend Captain Sensible.
A few beers, a bit of walking around and a nice chat with his friend and he'd calmed down a bit. The next Saturday morning, he was thinking about heading back to Essex. But it was the Captain's birthday. "I don't suppose," the Captain said, "That you fancy coming out to France with us?" The record company was doing a bit of a promotion, you see. TV Smith and his band, Captain Sensible and the label manager, Andy McQueen were going to Paris. There would be photos, the odd press interview and a week's live residency in a club just off the Pigalle. Oh, and he'd really love Montmartre, where they would all be staying. Since Martin's band, the Brotherhood of Lizards, even though, it had just broken up, had a new album on the record label, did he feel that he could come out and do a few live spots? They could borrow or hire some gear. There wouldn't be much money but there'd be lots of beer, a really reasonable hotel and, the Captain warranted, it would probably be a frightfully good wheeze. We wouldn't have to go by plane or anything. As a matter of fact, there was a nice little ferry from nearby Newhaven, to Dieppe, followed by a spring breeze of a train journey across Normandy, right to the heart of Paris itself.
In those pre-terrorism days, Martin Newell would easily get himself a week's temporary passport from the Seven Dials post office up the road. His two pieces of ID consisted of his Network Railcard and one of his early album covers. That was all he had. It was all it took.
Half an hour later, on a bright Saturday morning in April, he was standing by Sensible's bed, on which he'd thrown the new passport, saying," Happy birthday, Capt. Against my better judgement, I've decided to come!" Much jollity followed by a read of the paper, a long wait for Sensible to get out of the bath and the inevitable trip down the shops ending in a visit to the pub. No contest really, was there? Go home to patch up the row, followed by a wobbly future which would alternate between making yet more demos for people who probably wouldn't listen to them, whilst doing a gardening round, in order to pay the rent. Or: one last blaze of glory in a foreign city, with some thoroughly personable punk rock oiks?
Now there was all this. Look again at the photo. There were no drugs involved. He'd packed all that malarkey in years and years ago. No. This is a picture of a man who's probably drunk rather too much cheap French beer, and has simply had rather too much of an exhilarating time. He has also been completely hypnotised by Paris in April. Everything that everyone had ever said about it was true. He has played his little heart out, every night and sometimes during the day too. He's been in brilliant company. He's been absolutely spoiled by the French people, who've made a great big fuss of him, when he most needed it. He was feeling less than worthless when he left Essex, nearly two weeks ago. Now he feels valued – liked, even. And having done an afternoon gig in a fabulous Fifties-style rock cafe, the world is his friend. He is high, if this doesn't sound to trite, on life itself. He's also completely exhausted, lost in his own world and probably, if he only knew it, on the edge of a mental breakdown.
"You were definitely unbalanced for a while, there." his friend Sensible would later admit to him. Rock life, though, for now anyway, is coming to an end. There's no road there. Nor, however, is there any road back.
When he finally does get home, he will sit at the front room table talking candidly with his partner. She will ask him, rather penetratingly," How much longer, do you think you can keep doing this?" (She means, trying to kick down the door of music biz success) . He will reply. "Christ, I dunno. But I've got some ideas..." She is quietly outraged at this and says: "It's been years, now. It's almost destroyed you. They keep knocking you down. And yet, you just keep getting back up again!" She is incredulous. He explains that he has some contacts. Good friends, who might help to manage him. And anyway, he'd been on telly a lot the last few months, hadn't he? That had to be worth something. He could start again. He still had £150 left. He was going to spend it on phoning people, and seeing people and if, in a couple of weeks, he hadn't made any headway, he was just going to give it all up, put his instruments away– except for maybe one acoustic guitar and be a gardener again. He would be happy being a gardener. He would be sane. What did Confucius say? "If you want to be happy for an hour, get drunk. If you want to be happy for a year, get married. But if you want to be happy for the rest of your life, become a gardener."
Quite right too. Three weeks later, with the money gone and everyone who'd promised to help, now having let him down, blocked his calls or simply vapourised, he was finished. No royalties were due. The tour was not going to happen. Every positive lead had dried up. There was nothing. He came back from his last futile trip to London late one sunny afternoon in May. He went purposefully upstairs to dismantle his studio and store all the effects units and instruments. He put everything away, as he had promised himself that we would do. In an hour or two, he'd turned the tiny former sail-loft into a room for reading and writing in. It no longer looked like his recording studio. Now he went downstairs and put the lid down on his piano. He placed books on it. It was symbolic. He'd done with the music biz. He'd bloody well had enough. What a mug! Twenty years of rock'n'roll and what had it come to? Well, he was going to be a good gardener. They couldn't hurt him there, drive him mad, tell him that there was money when there was none. They couldn't tell him that they'd do this or do that for him, when they'd actually done nothing. No-one would be the guv now, apart from him. At least he'd be happy now.
In the ensuing few months of being a lawn dog and hedge-cutter, however, how little he really knew. Within a year, he'd have done his first gigs as a performance poet. He'd have had his own first little collection of poems I Hank Marvinned issued. Captain Sensible, John Cooper Clarke and another old friend, Howlin' Wilf– now better known as R&B star, James Hunter – would all be at the launch. He'd have had his pop poems published in a national broadsheet. He would have been on national radio and appeared on TV. It was all only was just only around the corner. But – and you must first go back to that spaced-out photograph taken by a French rock photographer – Martin Newell, the man in that picture, has no idea that any of this this will happen to him. For it is the yet-to-be-revealed denouement in a story which goes right back to May of 1975, when quite another earlier pop life came to an end. Now read on.