Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
At the beginning of 1984, Martin Newell had no idea that the political battle, which was then building up between Britain's Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and the Miners Union was about to explode on his doorstep. At the end of that winter, former Cleaner, Lol Elliott had been persuaded by Newell, to travel over from Bath for a few days, in order to lay down some drum tracks.
Newell, sick of the limitations of a cheap drum machine and home made percussion, even paid his friend's coach fare. That February, at the request of fellow DIY musicians, Falling A, the Cleaners laid down a couple of songs in a small studio in nearby Jaywick. Newell doesn't know where the master tapes of these sessions are but believes they may still be in the possession of Falling A.
Back in Wivenhoe, Newell managed to get Lol to lay down a few useable drum tracks. One of these became a rehash of one of their earliest songs A Blue Wave. A further two songs, Fracas On West Street and Hand Of Stone, ended up on Under Wartime Conditions created by Newell around two of Elliott's other drum parts.
At one point, Newell even bought a cheap drum kit and tried to teach himself drums. As he has always admitted, however, he was in his own words, Drum-stupid. and abandoned the project after a few weeks. The new album, which eventually became Under Wartime Conditions was rudely interrupted when the rapidly escalating national Miners Strike, came to Wivenhoe. Suddenly the sleepy little port became the front-line of the dispute. With Polish and later, South African coal then being imported into the UK, the miners' pickets descended upon Wivenhoe in great numbers as did the police. At the peak of the dispute, there were estimated to be 1000 miners and twice as many police occupying Wivenhoe.
At the port gates, only 200 yards or so away from Newell's house, during early May, events became violent. There were fights, daily arrests, many injuries and acts of sabotage. The media pack arrived and Wivenhoe woke up to find itself featured on the national front pages and in television news. Newell, up until then, not naturally a political creature, became motivated by the dispute, taking the side of the miners. He cleared his studio floor so that several pickets could sleep up there. For much of the spring and early summer, therefore, he could now only record at weekends, since his recording gear was put away to make space for his guests.
It was against this unexpectedly tumultuous background that Under Wartime Conditions was written and eventually recorded. Martin Newell, was reaching the peak of his ability as a DIY four-track producer and was now helping other bands to record themselves.
During that summer, as a result of a mutual friendship, one of Newell's songs, Drowning Butterflies came to the attention of a music business mandarin Charisma Record boss and Genesis manager, Tony Stratton-Smith. The song, had earlier caught the attention of another producer, Newell's old friend Dave Hoser who'd helped master Under Wartime Conditions and now had access to a large 24-track studio at the time. During sesssions, however, there was a major argument over the song's production, however; a thing which to this day, Newell still says he regrets. He walked away from the project. The incident was swiftly forgotten though since now, Charisma Records boss Stratton-Smith and Martin Newell, were having meetings about signing a five album deal. Newell, who liked and respected Tony Stratton-Smith immensely, was almost swayed and yet, a few months later, walked away again. Stratton Smith, who'd loved the song Drowning Butterflies said that when he heard Under Wartime Conditions he felt he was listening to 'a sketchbook' .He wanted to hear it recorded 'properly'. Newell who always preferred a lo-fi approach, refused. Around about this time, too, quite coincidentally, a good friend of his died suddenly, a thing which profoundly shocked Newell. Partly as a result of this he still regards the song Drowning Butterflies as cursed and will rarely, if ever play it. During that painful and often drama-ridden summer of 1984, one other significant event occurred.
In late July Martin Newell, who'd kept a detailed diary of events in his town during the battles between the miners and the police, suddenly found that his 2,000 word account of events had been published in The Guardian, the UK's most salient left-wing broadsheet. No one was more surprised than Newell himself, who'd previously only been published in music papers, fanzines and obscure counter-culture magazines. Shortly afterwards he was invited for a drink by a distinguished Wivenhoe resident Peregrine Worsthorne, then an associate editor of the right-wing broadsheet The Daily Telegraph. The speculation by mutual associates was that the musician was about to be offered writing work. After the disappointments of the previous year, the matter of writing was not one of his chief priorities, however. Nor was he ready to go honobbing with a Patrician tory, even such a famous one. Typically, Newell refused the invitation, thereby turning his back on being published nationally for almost another six years. I'm a musician, not a writer. he said.
With the fall-out and ill-feeling still hanging heavy in the air from a now- floundering Miners strike, 1984 ended badly for Martin Newell. Broke, frustrated and tired of fighting what he was beginning to believe were unwinnable battles with the mainstream music biz, he felt that he'd got nowhere and blown any chances of success which he might have once had.
He now knew that in Under Wartime Cnditions he'd made an outstanding album and yet had no reliable way of distributing it, or publicising it. He'd been published nationally but had walked away from the idea of becoming a writer. He was still washing dishes in a restaurant and acting as caretaker for the rambling old student boarding house. Having given up smoking for almost a year by that time, days before Christmas, he went out, got drunk and deliberately began smoking again. The resolutions for the coming year which he later made were to stop wasting his time on music. become a gardener. Fate, had other plans...