Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
The freezing, snowy early days of 1985 began for Martin Newell with sad news of the death of his grandfather, whom he'd partly been brought up by and who had been such a calm and steadying influence upon his childhood. For Newell, who was now numb, anyway it was just another blow during an unlucky period of his life. He continued his caretaking duties at the house and returned to his part time job as a restaurant porter in the nearby town of Colchester. Although there'd been silence from Charisma records, for many weeks, one day a letter arrived asking Newell to reconsider his 'career'.
A third version of Drowning Butterflies recorded only a few weeks earlier by him had been produced by former Gang of Four bass player Dave 'Wolfman' Woolfson. Nobody, however, including its writer or producer, seemed very convinced that there'd been much improvement upon Newell's original version. In the early New Year there were yet more meetings in London with Charisma Records but nothing seemed to be moving forward.
Upon returning to Essex, he began recording new songs for what would eventually become the Songs For A Fallow Land collection. In early March of 1985 having just turned 32, Martin Newell walked away for the last time from any possibilities of a deal with Charisma Records. As far as he was concerned, although he and the label's founder Tony Stratton-Smith had got on well with each other, to the Cleaner, the music business seemed slow, unwieldy and reluctant to deal with him on his own lo-fi terms. More relieved than upset about matters at this time, Newell almost missed the next break.
An offer arrived by post from a German indie record company, Modell Records, to release his Under Wartime Conditions album in Europe. Typically, Newell left the matter for some days before replying, to them, “The Cleaners from Venus don't deal with record companies.”
He then forgot about it all and travelled to a little village near Whitby in North Yokshire to help some friends to paint a house. When he returned, some days later, another letter had arrived from Germany. More amused than annoyed, now, he wrote back to the company offering to send them some master tapes if they first sent him the cash for postage.
Newell by this time was past caring. He was going to leave music and writing, along with all its lies, corporate interference, corruption and disappointments and after the next cassette album –which he intended to be his last – he would going to become a gardener.
He was in a very light-hearted mood when he despatched the Under Wartime Conditions master tapes to Germany. Realising that he still had some money left over, he went straight from the post office to the pub to buy himself a congratulatory drink.
Dreams of signing to Charisma Records, and a writing career all behind him now, Martin Newell spent the warm spring of 1985, finishing his Fallow Land project. He'd made friends by this time with a friend of Martin Chapman, the pianist who'd helped him write Victorian Society for In The Golden Autumn. Chapman's friend, Giles Smith – about 8 years Newell's junior – was a witty Cambridge University graduate. He was also fine keyboard player who'd played with Newell on one of the ill-fated Drowning Butterfly sessions. He was destined, too, to become a Cleaner from Venus, before becoming a distinguished journalist. For now, however, he began helping Newell out with some recording sesssions in a studio in rural Suffolk, Essex's neighbouring county.
Newell's former bandmates from his late 1970s band Gypp, had recently lost their main songwriter and with a US album deal still valid and vhardly any material they desperately needed new songs. They'd contacted Newell, a well-known 'studio rat', who'd been only too pleased to help out.
For a few weeks, Newell, Giles Smith and another friend, Paddy Morris, travelled up to Suffolk each Friday to help make demoes of the songs which Newell had written for his old band. One of these was A Mercury Girl which, for some reason was never used, whilst another was an early version of Living With Victoria Grey.
Earlier that summer, the Songs For a Fallow Land cassette had been self-released by Newell to a usual lack of fanfare. He'd made fanzines aware of it, sold a few copies to people whom he'd met and waited for a slow trickle of orders, mainly from abroad, to come in – which they gradually did. He wouldn't have dreamt of sending a copy to the mainstream music press, the national press or any media outlets. “If people want it, they'll find it.” he yawned at the time, to an incredulous journalist.
At the beginning of the autumn, Martin Newell went north again, for a few days holiday at the North Yorkshire cottage which he'd helped to paint earlier that year.
When he returned to Essex, days later, he planned to finish the songs he was now working on with Giles Smith. This material eventually became the Living With Victoria Grey cassette, which, in turn would form the bare bones of the Cleaners from Venus vinyl album Going To England .
Meanwhile, however, another shock awaited Newell, as he opened his post. A large box had arrived from Germany. The German label which he'd casually sent his master tapes to, some months earlier, had now mailed him 25 copies of his first vinyl album. Also in the package was a sheaf of press reviews, mostly in German, all of them praising Under Wartime Conditions as a masterpiece. The album seemed to be selling extremely well too and now the record company was offering the Cleaners from Venus a small budget to make a promotional video.
An amazed Newell could scarcely take in what had happened. The gushing press reviews continued to arrive for many weeks and then, just before Christmas, a good review came in from Sounds an important British rock magazine, which had received their copy of Newell's album as an import. At the very moment he'd decided to turn his back on the music industry forever, it had come back to him. This was not the end of The Cleaners from Venus. In fact it was nowhere near the end of the story – as the events of 1986 would soon demonstrate...