Martin Newell (musician)

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Martin Newell
Also known asThe Psychedelic Gardener, Mr. Mule
Born (1953-03-04) 4 March 1953 (age 66)
Wivenhoe, Essex, England
Occupation(s)Musician, poet, columnist, author
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, piano, bass, mandolin, harmonica
Years active1973–present
Associated actsThe Cleaners from Venus
The Brotherhood of Lizards

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. His most popular work is The Greatest Living Englishman (1993), produced by Andy Partridge of XTC.

Musical career[edit]


In the summer of 1973, a 20-year-old Newell joined the glam-rock band Plod as their lead singer, replacing founder member and lead singer Steve Travis (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 3-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 1982 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 leg 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.

The Brotherhood of Lizards was another Newell band that was active in 1988–89. It was a joint venture between Newell and the multi-instrumentalist known simply as Nelson.


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 had some songs arranged by Dave Gregory, and was a critical success.[citation needed] 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.

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 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.

Album discography[edit]

Year Artist Album Label Additional information
1981 The Cleaners from Venus Blow Away Your Troubles Self-released
1982 The Cleaners from Venus On Any Normal Monday Self-released
1982 The Stray Trolleys Barricades and Angels Self-released Recorded 1979-1980
1982 The Stray Trolleys / The Cleaners from Venus Secret Dreams of a Kitchen Porter Self-released Recorded 1980
1982 The Cleaners from Venus Midnight Cleaners Self-released Reissued on cassette by Burger in 2011
1983 The Cleaners from Venus In the Golden Autumn Self-released
1984 The Cleaners from Venus Under Wartime Conditions Self-released Reissued in 1985 by Modell in Germany
1985 Martin Newell Songs for a Fallow Land Self-released
1986 The Cleaners from Venus Living with Victoria Grey Self-released
1987 The Cleaners from Venus Going to England Ammunition Also released by RCA in Germany
1988 The Cleaners from Venus Town & Country RCA
1988 The Brotherhood of Lizards The Brotherhood of Lizards Acid Tapes Mini-album
1989 The Brotherhood of Lizards Lizardland Deltic
1990 The Cleaners from Venus Number Thirteen Self-released
1993 Martin Newell The Greatest Living Englishman Humbug Produced by Andy Partridge
1995 Martin Newell The Off White Album Humbug Produced by Louis Philippe
2000 Martin Newell The Spirit Cage Cherry Red Vinyl copies included the bonus single Android Nation
2002 Martin Newell Radio Autumn Attic Cherry Red Includes Martin Newell reading extracts from his book This Little Ziggy
2004 Martin Newell The Light Programme Cherry Red
2007 Martin Newell A Summer Tamarind Cherry Red
2011 The Cleaners from Venus English Electric Kool Kat Limited edition included the bonus album Stopping Train
2011 The Cleaners from Venus In Chimp World Kool Kat Expanded version of the EP of the same name
2013 The Cleaners from Venus The Late District Kool Kat
2014 The Cleaners from Venus Return to Bohemia Soft Bodies
2015 The Cleaners from Venus Rose of the Lanes Soft Bodies
2016 The Cleaners from Venus The Last Boy in the Locarno Soft Bodies
2018 The Cleaners from Venus Star Cafe Self-released Soundtrack to Martin Newell's D.I.Y. musical
2018 The Cleaners from Venus Life in a Time Machine Self-released

Compilation discography[edit]

Year Album Label Additional information
1993 Golden Cleaners Tangerine
1995 Back from the Cleaners Tangerine
1996 Martin Newell's Box of Old Humbug Humbug Box set containing the albums The Greatest Living Englishman / The Off-White Album and the EP Let's Kiosk!
1999 The Wayward Genius of Martin Newell Cherry Red Includes tracks by Martin Newell / The Cleaners from Venus / The Brotherhood of Lizards
2000 My Back Wages: A Collection of Cleaners Rarities Jarmusic
2004 Living with Victoria Grey: The Very Best of Cleaners from Venus Cherry Red Includes Giles Smith reading extracts from his book Lost in Music
2012 The Cleaners from Venus Vol. 1 Captured Tracks Box set containing the albums Blow Away Your Troubles / On Any Normal Monday / Midnight Cleaners
2013 The Cleaners from Venus Vol. 2 Captured Tracks Box set containing the albums In the Golden Autumn / Under Wartime Conditions / Songs for a Fallow Land / A Dawn Chorus: Early Cleaners and Beyond 1967-1985
2014 The Cleaners from Venus Vol. 3 Captured Tracks Box set containing the albums Living with Victoria Grey / Number Thirteen / My Back Wages / Extra Wages
2015 Teatime Assortment Captured Tracks A "best of new Newell" taken from the Cleaners from Venus albums English Electric / In Chimp World / The Late District / Return to Bohemia
2016 Lizardland: The Complete Works Captured Tracks A Brotherhood of Lizards compilation which includes the album Lizardland and their self-titled mini-album The Brotherhood of Lizards
2017 You've Never Had It So Good: The Best Of Captured Tracks Limited edition release in yellow vinyl for Record Store Day 2017
2017 Martin Newell's Jumble Sale Self-released A collection of demos and out-takes recorded between 1975 and 2017
2019 Ginger Stepkids: The Lost Demos 2009/2010 Self-released A collection of demos and out-takes recorded in 2009 and 2010


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)

By Newell[edit]

  • I Hank Marvinned... ("Martin Newell, c/o The Essex Festival, Department of Literature, University of Essex"; no publisher or year stated; 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. 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

With contributions by Newell[edit]

External links[edit]