Martin Newell (musician)

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Martin Newell
Martin Newell in 2007
Background information
Also known as The Wild Man of Wivenhoe, The Psychedelic Gardener, Mr. Mule
Born March 1953 (age 62)
Genres Pop, Indie, Power pop
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, poet, author
Instruments Vocals, guitar, piano
Years active 1973–present
Associated acts Plod, Gypp, The Stray Trolleys, The Cleaners from Venus, The Brotherhood of Lizards
Notable instruments

Martin Newell (born 4 March 1953), also known as "the Wild Man of Wivenhoe", is an English pop musician, singer, guitarist, songwriter, recording artist, poet and author. He grew up in an army family in various parts of England and the Far East. His music is guitar pop with jangly, upbeat, guitar-centric arrangements. He is considered one of the pioneers of early home recording.

Musical career[edit]


In the summer of 1973, a 20-year-old Newell joined the glam-rock band Plod as their lead singer. 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 matter of a few months of being signed. In 2003, one track from the sessions ("Neo City") was released on a 70s glam-rock compilation CD called Velvet Tinmine. This track was credited to The Plod, and remains the only officially issued work by the band.

After Plod broke up, Newell briefly considered accepting an invitation to audition for the proto-punk group London SS,[citation needed] but decided against it. Instead, he 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 on account of their live performances. Gypp issued one 3-song 7" 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 (see Cassette culture) 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 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 releasing Cleaners From Venus material on cassette on a regular basis, 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 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 finds time to issue 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
1983 The Cleaners from Venus In the Golden Autumn Self-released
1984 The Cleaners from Venus Under Wartime Conditions Self-released
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
2002 Martin Newell Radio Autumn Attic Cherry Red
2004 Martin Newell The Light Programme Cherry Red Includes Newell reading extracts from This Little Ziggy
2007 Martin Newell A Summer Tamarind Cherry Red
2011 The Cleaners from Venus English Electric Kool Kat CD release included the bonus album Stopping Train

Also released on cassette by Burger Records

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 Also released on cassette by Burger Records
2014 The Cleaners from Venus Return to Bohemia Soft Bodies

Compilation Discography[edit]

Year Album Label Additional information
1993 Golden Cleaners Tangerine
1995 Back from the Cleaners Tangerine
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 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 albums English Electric / In Chimp World /

The Late District / Return to Bohemia


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
  • Under Milk Float. The Greyhound Press, 1992. Illustrated by Barry Woodcock. ISBN 0-9519100-0-0. 60-page book of poems
  • The Illegible Bachelor. Festival Books, 1996. ISBN 0-9519100-5-1. Poems
  • Poetic Licence: The Best of 1990–1996. Jardine Press, 1996. ISBN 0-9525594-2-0. Poems
  • Wild Man of Wivenhoe. Jardine Press, 1996. Illustrated by James Dodds. ISBN 0-9525594-3-9 Long poem
  • New. 1999. ISBN 1-85215-078-5. Poems
  • Black Shuck: The Ghost Dog of Eastern England. Jardine Press, 1999. Illustrated by James Dodds. ISBN 0-9525594-8-X. Long poem
  • Late Autumn Sunlight: East Anglian Verses. Jardine Press, 2001. Illustrated by James Dodds. ISBN 0-9539472-3-8. Poems
  • This Little Ziggy. House of Stratus, 2001. ISBN 0-7551-0267-3. Memoir
  • The Song of the Waterlily: The Building of a Boat. 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

With contributions by Newell[edit]

External links[edit]