This is not the title of a bad B-movie from the 60’s but rather a long overdue homage to Martin Newell’s wonderful musical creations with his group The Cleaners From Venus which has been in various stages of activity since 1980 and in recent years has had a flurry of new releases and re-issues, although most of it somehow seems to fly below the radar. Things however may change soon with MGMT (who has been championing a lot of great bands) doing a cover of “Only A Shadow” in their live set (http://www.daytrotter.com/dt/mgmt-concert/20054582-112010.html ) and an upcoming box set on the Captured Tracks Record label (which I will mention in more detail below) which has garnered several mentions on Pitchfork and the interest seems to be growing.
The current interest in them started brewing, when one of the US’s premier Power Pop label Kool Kat Musik, released an amazing album of new material “English Electric” in 2010 and then another a few months back, making that 3 new full length albums in the last 2 years (when you include the bonus disc “The Stopping Train”). It continued with Burger Records releasing some cassettes, and some releases on the Fixed Identity label, being name-checked by various new bands, and featured here – http://blog.billkopp.com/?p=510 and an artist profile and an interview on the Altered Zones website (http://alteredzones.com/posts/1510/artist-profile-martin-newell/ ) and with great reviews and more people starting to notice. I hope this continues.
Martin Newell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Newell_(musician) ) is described as an English rock musician, singer, guitarist, songwriter, poet and author, although this doesn’t even come close to describing this musical genius, or relay just how magnificent and timelessly enduring his compositions are. Martin’s musical career dates as far back as 1973 when he joined the Glam rock band Plod as the lead singer, and later with bands Gypp and The Stray Trolley’s, although I have to admit to knowing very little about this period of his career (and something I hope to further explore later). He also played with The Brotherhood of Lizards in the late 80’s and released solo albums (check out Cherry Red Records for more details on some of theses) and collaborated with other musicians and I’m sure a book can be written about his many experiences, if one has not already been done. With the Cleaners From Venus he worked with various other musicians like Lawrence Elliot in the early years and Giles Smith (who did write a book about his experiences in the band) and Dave Allen later on they were very prolific and had numerous releases, many being released only on cassette (http://www.discogs.com/artist/Cleaners+From+Venus ), which rarely found their way to our side of the ocean. So it does take a bit of treasure hunting to track down the physical copies of his releases.
I had been meaning to write a few words about Martin for some time, especially after listening to the Cleaner’s 2010 release “English Electric” which I purchased from Ray at Kool Kat (http://www.koolkatmusik.com/ ) and which comes with an extra full album of demos, but somehow my scribbling never happened, so when my good friend Steve (who has impeccable taste and is sort of like an Ottawa version of John Peel) told me about Captured Tracks (http://capturedtracks.com/reissues/the-cleaners-from-venus/ ) plans to release a Cleaners From Venus, 3 vinyl record box set for Record Store day this year, I just had to spread the word and share my excitement.
Captured Tracks is a very cool label out of Brooklyn, New York that has been creating waves in recent years with bands like Beach Fossils, Craft Spells, Minks, Wild Nothings and more recently Thieves Like US (who also released many wonderful records on another great US label Shelflife – http://www.shelflife.com/ ) and has started to steer into re-issuing some very classic and lost gems from the past. Last year they released an album of tracks by The Servants, and I don’t have to tell you how much I loved them, as you can read it in my post on Apple Boutique (Phil King and John Mohan’s other band) and they have also re-issued stuff by legends, The Monochrome Set, classic stuff by The McTells (with their obvious connection to the Television Personalities), and have plans to re-issue stuff by The Wake, so you can easily see these folks have great taste. (and I forgot to mention that they also released an essential 7” tribute to the Wake, with a follow up this year – so how great is that!) Anyway I have digressed and got off topic, but it is hard to contain my excitement – all this great stuff – so back on track now.
Martin’s music is very hard to categorize and compare but as I usually try to do, I will provide a few reference points, keeping in mind these are just my opinions. I can’t help but liken Martin to some other favourites, like Robyn Hitchcock, Paul Bevoir and XTC in how he blends those amazing melodies with a healthy dose of jangle and a touch of psychedelic pop and thus Syd Barrett and Julian Cope also comes to mind. Add in a touch of the Kinks and their Englishness, and the more mod side of David Bowie and a touch of John Otway (who sort of comes from that same generation) and maybe think of The Catalysts if you want a more modern reference. His songs embody perfection in Pop and the standard by which all English singer songwriters should be measured by and maybe that’s why he’s often been referred to as “The Greatest Living Englishman” and thus it’s quite appropriate he had a song and an album with Andy Partridge of XTC by that name.
There is so much more I could write about The Cleaners From Venus, like a track by track commentary on the “English Electric” / “Stopping Train” album with it’s so many highlights (like the punchy “Wake Up And Dream“, the dreamy excursion to “The Sunken City”, and my favourite “The Queen And Me” with it’s Elegant Pop) or the new EP/album that Kool Kat put together “In Chimp World” exclusively for America, where they expanded the original 4 track EP by adding 7 more rare tracks, the highly collectible best of collections on Tangerine Records “Golden Cleaners” and “Back From The Cleaners”, that came out in the early to mid 90’s, The Cherry Red collections of “Living With Victoria Grey : The Very Best Of” and “The Wayward Genius of Martin Newell” which collects tracks from solo Martin Newell, Cleaners from Venus, and Brotherhood of Lizards releases and came out in 1999. So many classic tunes like the beautiful “Girl On A Swing”, the dreamy “A Mercury Girl”, “Julie Profumo” and “Illya Kuryakin Looked At Me” (where Captain Sensible plays guitars), the early Cure like “Only A Shadow” and I can go on forever -actually almost all their songs are classics – how many bands can match that.
This is a very welcome return by a band that deserves to be heard and one that is worth searching out as the musical treasures you will find will be a rich reward. Thanks so much to Martin for all this wonderful music (“knighthood must be imminent” for this Pop royalty if true justice was to prevail) and thanks to Captured Tracks and Ray at Kool Kat (you have such great taste) for keeping this music alive and for digging up these treasures and making them available. Thanks Steve for inspiring me to finally finish this piece (you can listen to Steve’s show on CKCU – www.ckcufm.com at 6 to 8 on Saturday evenings – He may even play a Cleaners From Venus track or two.