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Friars Interviews

Martin Gordon
Radio Stars

friars appearances 10/12/77  18/02/78  02/09/78 

Martin far right 1974 in Jet (who became Radio Stars) and in 2009

Radio Stars remained one of the under-rated gems of the new wave era and played Friars three times. Bassist Martin Gordon lives in Berlin and saw the website and got in touch and we spoke to him in October 2009. He remembers Friars (he went on the site and was on it hours later.) and today has a dual solo and Radio Stars career. He has just released a new album as part of a five album trilogy (!) (see his website) and has been a live or studio musician for many people such as Blur, Boy George, Robert Palmer......and Kylie, the lucky man.

Martin, thanks for talking to us. Very glad to have you on board. As you know, I've already spoken to Andy (Ellison) and I am pleased that Radio Stars are still going even if intermittently. There's geographical issues as well of course....

And demographic issues as well...we need people to come and see us but that's another issue.

Is it just you living in Germany? (regards Radio Stars)

Yes. There's three of us and a permanently rotating drum seat. The last drummer came from Boston which made it even harder. A good drummer though.

Tell us about the new material you have?

In about 2001, I started to make records under my own name after doing other things for 25 years either for myself or for other people. I started working with other people after Radio Stars to make some money and then a Japanese record company got in touch in about 2000 suggesting I make a solo album. I said I wasn't interested but it started to get me thinking. I came across a Swedish singer who had liked what I had done before in Jet (precursor to Radio Stars) and then in Radio Stars. To cut a long story short, he became my singer. If it wasn't for that, it probably wouldn't have happened as I am very dependant on having a good singer and I found one.

So that launched you in terms of going out under your own name?

Yes, and now we are up to the fifth album in the Mammal trilogy...

Er....the fifth in a trilogy??..

Yes, a trilogy which goes up to five in case anybody asks.

Shouldn't that be a quinology or something.

A quintology I believe.

I have heard some of it and it is good. Are you or have you been gigging in support of your solo work?

Very occasionally. It's a lot of work to try to get together. We did one show in Boston, and then I supported myself on Radio Stars last UK tour where I was the opening act.

That must have been hard.....

It wasn't too bad - we took enough drugs to make it work. (clearly tongue in cheek. - Ed) and we did one here in Berlin recently and we might do one in it's quite sporadic really. But we will do it if factors prevail.

What inspired your move to Germany, you've been there about ten years now....

Sausages. I had a girlfriend from there. She came to live in England and then I went to live there. Berlin is a very nice place. The people can be a bit grim but apart from that, it's OK.

People of our generation when you mention Berlin think of the wall and Trabants...and a grimness (associated with the Eastern bloc)

Trabants have been banned now. Because they were 2-stroke cars, effectively four wheeled lawnmowers spilling out huge clouds of noxious gas. So they are banned unless you have them souped up, and bizarrely there are still two Trabant limos which have have souped up engines. There's also a stretch version....

(laughs) That doesn't bear thinking about - I'm surprised that U2 haven't tried to get one. They used loads of Trabants on their Zooropa tour. The image of a stretch Trabant is very hard to conjure up.

Moving back a little bit. You're doing stuff under your own name now, but let's go right back to before Radio Stars. You were doing stuff including being Sparks original bassist and played on the legendary This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us.

Yes, they were my first band.

So that was you on Top Of The Pops with them?

It was me on bass, but I was only on once. We recorded TOTP on the Wednesday, it was broadcast on Thursday and they sacked me on Friday. The next appearance was with a new but more willing bass player. It's that version that you see on the documentaries and TOTP DVDs. All there is of me is a promotional video which involved me shooting Russell Mael (lead singer of Sparks) with a double barrelled shotgun, but unfortunately it was only acting.

All I know about the Mael brothers is their on screen persona.....

They don't speak much and probably for a very good reason.

What did you do after Sparks?

I ran into Andy (Ellison) - we kind of knew each other through the band Jook whose bassist had replaced me in Sparks. Andy brought Chris Townson along and we made noises together and then that turned into Jet and then Radio Stars....which was Jet in different trousers.

I'd read somewhere that Jet were described as glam, is that a fair assessment?

(laughs) I suppose so, but that's not what we thought. Mike Leander, Gary Glitter's manager, signed to us his management company and part of the deal was to wear certain clothes. We were being paid 35 a week to wear these clothes. Mike Leander thought that was what the pop kids of 1974 wanted to see and mercifully he was proved wrong. So with Radio Stars, the trousers were different.

With Radio Stars, you played Friars three times. You did the Wilko gig in December 1977....

I can't remember that one but we did do one with Eddie and the Hot Rods....

Yes, that was next time round in February 1978. Squeeze also on the bill and then headlined and sold out in September 1978.

That's one I do remember, as it became interesting how Radio Stars suddenly became this big draw...

That tour went on forever didn't it?.

Months. The record company didn't manage to get the record out in time for the tour - the usual sort of cock-ups that happen so we kept on adding dates to the tour hoping the record would appear. Not sure it did actually (in the end).

Then the band decided to kick me out of my own group. I was in hospital having my wisdom teeth out and the manager turned up and said "oh by the way, the band have got the bassist from Sparks and are going to go out on tour". Nice. So they carried on touring but the record company were a little perturbed that the guy who wrote and produced the records was no longer in the group. Then the record company dropped them. To this day it irritates me that it nosedived into the ground because of somebody's lack of vision.

It's what could have been isn't it?

Yes, but it does irritate me in life when there is a wilful lack of vision and so clearly stupid. Not an obvious career move. Radio Stars had a good concept and could have been good. We did a 34th anniversary concert in London last year and that showed what could have been.

There's no mileage in dwelling on it and we all enjoyed the moment.

So whilst you have a solo career, you do the occasional Radio Stars gig....

Yes, when it all works out. We did a great gig at the (London) Forum for the Punk Rebellion thing, which was good. When someone comes in with an offer that makes sense, we can do it.

How did you keep busy between the end of Radio Stars and the start of your solo career?

I became a keyboard player and worked with Kylie Minogue (there's a joint video on the MG website), George Michael, S Express, Blur, Primal Scream....

Robert Palmer as well?

Yes, he was great, but no wonder he died of a heart attack. A great singer and a really nice guy.

You've also worked with Boy George, another interesting character.

Yes, I met him in Bombay. I was working with Stephen Luscombe from Blancmange who was working on a project with him, so that's how we connected. Then I became his house programmer and worked for Jeremy Healy (ex Haysi Fantaysee) which kept the wolf from the door.

Would you have called yourself a producer or session musician during that time?

All sorts, writing with S'Express, playing live keyboards with Blur, remixing for Primal Scream. TV shows for Kylie. All things to all men.

That's a hell of a pedigree as those kinds of artists will be choosy...

Looks good on the CV. And there was also the couple of dates with the Rolling Stones.

Oooh....a bit of name dropping. This gets better.

That was just after Radio Stars. The record company had a French partner and somehow I ended up as house producer for this French partner, Barclay Records and they put me up in this house and for a year I produced whatever rubbish they threw at me. Then I ended up in Pathe Marconi studios with the Stones. They didn't have a bass player and I pushily offered.

Your career has been incredible and I'm glad you're still making music.

So am I, it's what I do best. I did wonder if I was deluded about the whole thing. I listen with extremely critical ears to what I do. My crisis of confidence has passed and what I have done now with the new release 'Time Gentlemen Please' is probably the best thing I have ever done. Who knows, maybe someone else will join me in this position.

Maybe we should do that Eddie and the Hot Rods, Radio Stars and Squeeze gig again.

That would be interesting. Martin, thank you for your time and best wishes to Berlin.

Official Martin Gordon website

Official record company website covering Jet/Radio Stars/Martin etc

This interview and its content are 2009 Mike O'Connor/ and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.


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