Martin Newell (musician)

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Martin Newell
Newell in 2007
Newell in 2007
Background information
Also known asThe Psychedelic Gardener, Mr. Mule
Born (1953-03-04) 4 March 1953 (age 70)
Wivenhoe, Essex, England[citation needed]
Occupation(s)Musician, poet, columnist, author
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar, piano, bass, mandolin, harmonica
Years active1973–present

Martin Newell (born 4 March 1953) is an English singer–songwriter, poet, columnist and author who leads the Cleaners from Venus, a guitar pop band with jangly, upbeat arrangements. He is also regarded as a significant figure in the history of cassette culture and DIY music.

Musical career[edit]


In the summer of 1973, a 20-year-old Newell joined Colchester glam rock cover band Plod as their lead singer, replacing founder member Steve Greenfield. Plod was signed to London-based indie label Banjul Records in early 1975, and quickly began recording tracks for an album. However, contractual irregularities and financial problems at the label prevented the album from being finished or released,[citation needed] and the band broke up within a few months of being signed. In 2003, one track from the sessions ("Neo City") was released on a '70s glam-rock compilation CD titled Velvet Tinmine. This track was credited to The Plod, and remains the only officially issued work by the band.

Newell then joined Gypp, a pop-oriented progressive rock band, as lead singer. Gypp also played abroad and became popular in Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia area thanks to their live performances. Gypp issued one three-song 7-inch EP in 1978, but their music was out of step with the punk-oriented trends of the UK music scene at the time and the EP received a negative review in the New Musical Express. Demoralised, Newell left the band. By his own account, he then became a "musical recluse", staying in the studio and creating new songs but not playing live gigs for many years.


In the late seventies, Newell led a four-piece rock combo called The Stray Trolleys. They recorded material in 1979 and 1980, but it was not released until after the band had broken up.

In the meantime, Newell issued his first solo single ("Young Jobless" b/w "Sylvie in Toytown") on vinyl in 1980. By the end of 1980, he was collaborating with Lawrence "Lol" Elliot as The Cleaners from Venus, a band that mostly released their work on cassettes outside the traditional music distribution channels.

By 1983, The Cleaners from Venus had evolved into a band with a floating line-up that featured Newell as its only constant. The band still primarily issued material on cassette, got signed to the West German independent label Modell Records for one vinyl album (Under Wartime Conditions) and ultimately to the German subsidiary of RCA Records, which released two albums (Going to England, Town and Country).

Giles Smith joined Newell as the only other official member of Cleaners from Venus between 1986 and 1988, and in 1987, Newell returned to performing live under the Cleaners of Venus banner. As well, while regularly releasing Cleaners from Venus material on cassette, through the 1980s Newell also occasionally released cassette singles and albums under his own name. On these solo releases he was usually the only musician.

In spring 1988 Newell and Nelson (Peter Nice) formed the duo The Brotherhood of Lizards, self-releasing the mini-album The Brotherhood of Lizards that year, followed by the album Lizardland released on independent label Deltic Records in 1989.[1] To support Lizardland the duo embarked on an eco-friendly promotional tour, cycling over 1000 miles across southern England between October 1989 and February 1990 to make local radio appearances and do local newspaper interviews, while also busking and performing gigs. The uniqueness of this "green tour" caught the attention of the mainstream media with the duo making half a dozen television appearances, and interviews with them appeared in the NME, Melody Maker, The Guardian, The Independent, The Mail on Sunday and Time Out. On completion of the tour Nelson was recruited as the replacement bass player for the band New Model Army and the Brotherhood of Lizards disbanded.[2][3]


In 1993, Newell began working primarily as a solo artist with more conventional production values. His first non-cassette solo album, The Greatest Living Englishman, was produced by XTC's Andy Partridge, and was a critical success.[4][5] Commercially, it remains his most popular and successful album.[citation needed] It was followed by three more albums (The Off White Album, produced by Louis Philippe, The Spirit Cage and Radio Autumn Attic) and an EP (Songs from the Station Hotel) that continued to explore the same subject matter as Englishman, including the charms of rural or small-town English life and portraits of characters and scenes.

Newell has also made live appearances with The Cleaners from Venus and The Stray Trolleys in the 1990s and beyond, and has issued several post-1993 live recordings with these bands. However, studio releases credited to these groups post-1993 are actually all CD reissues of pre-1993 material previously released only on cassette. In addition, Gypp played reunion gigs in 1996, and live Gypp material – as well as Gypp demos recorded in the late 1970s – have now been officially issued on CD.

In 2004 Newell released an album of light jazz songs, The Light Programme. The album was not particularly successful commercially but his next album A Summer Tamarind returned to his usual style and was much more warmly received.

In late 2005 the British singer Richard Shelton released a jazz vocal album called Top Cat with five Newell compositions. Newell's songs have also been recorded by Miki Huber, The Jennifers, Kerry Getz, R. Stevie Moore and Alphaville. In 2011 MGMT covered a Cleaners From Venus song on their We Hear of Love, of Youth, and of Disillusionment EP.

Since 2010, Newell has returned to making lo-fi, self-released music under the name Cleaners from Venus. In 2022, he formed The Light Music Company with former Dolly Mixture member Rachel Love.


Newell is the subject of Graham Bendel's 2019 documentary Upstairs Planet: Cleaners from Venus & the Universe of Martin Newell,[6] the 2022 documentary The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story[7] and the 2022 animated documentary short A Man for Our Time.[8]

Literary career[edit]

Newell is better known to some as a poet and author; he has released several volumes of poetry (often in collaboration with the illustrator James Dodds) and a memoir, This Little Ziggy, about his youth and his days in Plod. In 2007 he released a volume of reminiscences, anecdotes and historical information about his beloved Wivenhoe. He is also a weekly contributor of poetry to The Sunday Express, He now writes a weekly column for the East Anglian Daily Times (for which he won columnist of the year in the EDF/ East of England Media Awards in January 2010), performs annually at the Essex Book Festival and occasionally issues spoken word recordings of his poems.

Personal life[edit]

Newell has dyspraxia and Asperger syndrome.[9]


  • Barricades and Angels (1980)
  • Blow Away Your Troubles (1981)
  • On Any Normal Monday (1982)
  • Midnight Cleaners (1982)
  • In the Golden Autumn (1983)
  • Under Wartime Conditions (1984)
  • Songs for a Fallow Land (1985)
  • Living with Victoria Grey (1986)
  • Going to England (1987)
  • Town & Country (1988)
  • The Brotherhood of Lizards (1988)
  • Lizardland (1989)
  • Number Thirteen (1990)
  • The Greatest Living Englishman (1993)
  • The Off White Album (1995)
  • The Spirit Cage (2000)
  • Radio Autumn Attic (2002)
  • The Light Programme (2004)
  • A Summer Tamarind (2007)
  • English Electric (2010)
  • In Chimp World (2011)
  • The Late District (2013)
  • Return to Bohemia (2014)
  • Rose of the Lanes (2015)
  • The Last Boy in the Locarno (2016)
  • Star Cafe (2018)
  • Life in a Time Machine (2018)
  • Dolly Birds & Spies (2020)
  • Penny Novelettes (2021)
  • That London (2022)


Martin Newell's collections (from left to right): I Hank Marvinned, Wild Man of Wivenhoe, Black Shuck, Under Milk Float, Poetic Licence, The Illegible Bachelor, Pioneer: Last of the Skillingers, Selected Poems, A Return to Flanders, Spoke 'n' Word, New, Late Autumn Sunlight (flanked by irrelevant Pelicans)


  • I Hank Marvinned... ("Martin Newell, c/o The Essex Festival, Department of Literature, University of Essex"; no publisher stated, 1991. no ISBN.) 16-page booklet of poems. OCLC 505070831.
  • Under Milk Float. Colchester: The Greyhound Press, 1992. Illustrated by Barry Woodcock. ISBN 0-9519100-0-0. 60-page book of poems
  • The Illegible Bachelor. Colchester: Festival Books, 1996. ISBN 0-9519100-5-1. Poems
  • Poetic Licence: The Best of 1990–1996. Ipswich: Jardine Press, 1996. ISBN 0-9525594-2-0. Poems
  • Wild Man of Wivenhoe. [Wivenhoe:] Jardine Press, 1996. Illustrated by James Dodds. ISBN 0-9525594-3-9 Long poem
  • New Top Poetry. Off Licence Books, 1999. ISBN 1-85215-078-5. Poems
  • Black Shuck: The Ghost Dog of Eastern England. Hadleigh: Jardine Press, 1999. Illustrated by James Dodds. ISBN 0-9525594-8-X. Long poem
  • Late Autumn Sunlight: East Anglian Verses. [Wivenhoe:] Jardine Press, 2001. Illustrated by James Dodds. ISBN 0-9539472-3-8.
  • This Little Ziggy. House of Stratus, 2001. ISBN 0-7551-0267-3. Memoir
  • The Song of the Waterlily: The Building of a Boat. Jardine Press, 2003. Illustrated by James Dodds. ISBN 0-9539472-4-6. Long poem
  • Return to Flanders. Jardine Press, 2004. Illustrated by Andrew Dodds. ISBN 0-9539472-8-9. Long poem.
  • Spoke 'n' Word. Jardine Press, 2006. Illustrated by Charlotte Bernays. ISBN 0-9552035-0-3. 19 poems about Essex. Supposedly inspired by bicycle rides in the county.
  • A Prospect of Wivenhoe. Snapshots of an English Town. Wiven Books 2007. ISBN 0-9557313-0-5.
  • Selected Poems – A Career Best Of. Jardine Press 2008. ISBN 978-0-9552035-6-5
  • Horses Seen Through Trees. Wivenhoe: Wivenhoe Bookshop, 2010. ISBN 9780955731358. Illustrated by Charlotte Bernays, foreword by Andrew Phillips.
  • The Green Children. Jardine Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-9926877-8-6
  • Wife of '55. Bungay, Suffolk: Nasty Little Press, 2015. ISBN 9780957300071. Poems
  • The Greatest Living Englishman. Autumn Girl, 2019. ISBN 9780957039513. Memoir



  1. ^ Newell, Martin. "Lizard Tails – Martin Looks Back". Martin Newell's website. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  2. ^ Newell, Martin. "Martin Newell's Illustrated Tour Diaries". Martin Newell's website. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  3. ^ Frometa, RJ (19 August 2016). "Captured Tracks Releases Reissue Of Brotherhood of Lizards "Lizardland" TODAY". Vents Magazine. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  4. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "The Greatest Living Englishman". AllMusic. Retrieved 28 May 2021.
  5. ^ Lyman, Andy. "The Greatest Living Englishman". Retrieved 28 May 2021.
  6. ^ Fox, Neil (23 August 2019). "The World Leaks In - Upstairs Planet: Cleaners From Venus & The Universe of Martin Newell". The Quietus. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  7. ^ "ANNOUNCING THE JANGLING MAN: THE MARTIN NEWELL STORY!". Captured Tracks. 30 July 2020. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  8. ^ "A Man For Our Time". FilmFreeway. Retrieved 22 September 2022.
  9. ^ Ciccone, Don (7 November 2020). "The Greatest Living Englishman At Home: A Chat With Martin Newell". Stereo Embers. Retrieved 25 March 2021. I think it's attached to the Asperger's– it's an annoying add-on–but I'm dyspraxic, which is why I can't play a drum kit.

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