He played bass on Sparks‘ debut album, ‘Kimono My House,’ which included the two hit singles, ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ and ‘Amateur Hour;‘ he was bass player with Jet, hailed as Glam’s first supergroup; he formed personal favourites of mine,Radio Stars ; he even played bass with The Rolling Stones (oh, yes he did!) … and this was all before teatime. Well, before the Seventies were up.
Since then Martin Gordon has played as session musician with some of pop music’s brightest, and apparently not so bright, stars.
He’s toured the world, collaborating with ‘world music’ stars across the continents and is now settled in Berlin, where the creative spirit of that fine city continues to guide his way.
A look at his excellent website highlights both his work over the years and his deadpan, self-deprecating and sardonic humour. In his more recent releases, he targets conspiracy theorists (and one in particular) and people who believe they have ‘superior jeans.’
It is this clever / pointed / fun writing style that drew me to Radio Stars back in the Seventies. There is, however, generally a point to what Martin writes / sings about.
However, just to throw us a little curveball, his new release has no words. It is though, like his recent songs, a celebration of current affairs. Well, maybe ‘celebration’ is a bit strong – it references the Cop26 conference on climate change.
Martin’s interpretation of what lies ‘over the rainbow’ conflicts somewhat with what young Dorothy expected, this version part doom laden, part painfully sad, bleak and downbeat. It’s a typically pragmatic view from Martin, I have to say.
And who, really, can argue?
In his own words, here’s what inspired Martin, if indeed ‘inspired’ s the correct word.
‘Marking the gathering of the great and the good, the besuited and the bedraggled, the lobbyists and the lobbied in Glasgow to perform the by-now traditional COP26 knees-up, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ is anew single by Martin Gordon. As the planet prepares to expel its inhabitants, why not mark the occasion with this rendering of Dorothy’sfavourite showstopper in Eb, well known to be the second-saddest of allkeys? This instrumental version has a Rickenbacker bass as a main voice – what’s not to like? After all, Xmas dinner will be served in a tin, withlashings of delicious Spam for afters, and then there’ll be live bombing of France on the telly after the Queen’s speech.
‘Arlen and Yarburg’s melancholy tune has been reworked, rearranged and made available to all, whether demented conspiracy theorist,hysterical populist or regular ol’ human being, although there are less of these than earlier thought.‘
(Released across all platforms on 8th November 2021)
Perhaps it should have been entitled ‘This Band Ain’t Big Enough For Both Us.’ Just days before embarking on television promotion for the single that would bring them international attention, Sparks decided to fire their bass player, Martin Gordon.
There’s a suspicion this was caused by friction between the parties over writing opportunities, but who knows? The result was Martin getting his jotters, not long after having played on the band’s debut album ‘Kimono My House.’
The band’s manager decided the ideal replacement lay in the bass player of another band he managed, Jook. In addition, he also pilfered the services of Jook’s guitarist, effectively killing off the band.
Left twiddling his drumsticks, having survived the cull, Chris Townson contacted Martin and suggested they make something of this treacherous act wrought upon them. His friend, vocalist Andy Ellison had played with him, and Marc Bolan of course, in John’s Children. He may be interested in joining forces, he suggested.
(The other member of that band ironically, was John Hewlett … who went on to become the manager of Sparks and Jook, bulleting Martin and rendering Chris unemployed!)
A guitarist was required, and the services of David O’List were secured. David held an impressive CV, having been a founder member of The Nice. He too was at a bit of a loose end, having just been ditched and replaced by Phil Manzanera in Roxy Music. Unexpectedly he brought with him keyboard player, Peter Oxendale, who believe it or not, was also bumped from Sparks at the same time as Martin Gordon!
Jet were a five piece! From adversity and all that …
A management deal was struck with Mike Leander, who in turn set up a record deal with CBS, which I understand was signed ‘blind,’ by the band. Oh, the naivety of youth!
The debut album was recorded amidst an increasingly acrimonious atmosphere, intensified by by the tedium of waiting endless hours while each band member was required to record their parts individually.
Finally completed, the band’s choice of name and artwork was overruled by the label who imposed their will. The album was to be called simply ‘Jet,’ and the sleeve design foisted upon the band was seemingly so similar to that of Marvel comics’ Mr Miracle, that it resulted in the label being successfully sued.
Sometimes, you can just sense the writing being applied to the wall.
A support slot on the UK tour with the Hunter Ronson Band (Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter and Spiders From Mars guitarist, Mick Ronson) was secured, during which time the debut album was released to a fairly positive press. (Though ultimately it didn’t sell in the numbers hoped, it was considered by many critics as a bit of a ‘glitter-rock’ classic.)
With an album to promote, a short UK headlining tour was booked and rehearsals were seemingly endured. Even before hitting the road, relationships between band members were strained.
The tour started out in Scotland, and audiences were poor. Allied to this, manager Mike Leander, who remember also had Gary Glitter in his roster, was not shy in having his acts dress, let’s say, rather extravagantly. And I’m not talking of accessorizing with bits of glitter or tartan, either. Try full make-up with white cape and boxer boots. Or jodhpurs and riding boots – that kind of thing.
Unfortunately, despite his vast experience of gigging, (or perhaps, in fairness, because of his vast experience of gigging) Davy O’List took full advantage of green room hospitality, if you know what I mean. His playing became completely unreliable; he became completely unreliable. He was asked to leave.
Following several auditions, he was replaced by Ian McLeod, who had actually been spotted by the band shortly after forming. Soon after, the band decanted to the countryside to work on the next album.
Their time together degenerated into hard drinking sessions and fall outs. Their relationship with CBS had also crashed. The label were keen for the band to produce more commercial styled music – hit singles and all that. A ‘showcase’ evening for the label bosses failed to convince the ‘suits’ that Jet were producing as expected, and the band were told in no uncertain terms they ‘must do better.’
The following week, another showcase was arranged in London. But again, totally hacked off with the label anyway, Jet failed to take matters seriously.
The next day, CBS cancelled their contract!
Peter Oxendale also developed an ‘unreliable’ side and moved on around this time, going on to play with Ian Hunter and The Glitter Band, so Jet rehearsed as a four piece (Andy, Martin, Ian and Chris) at Island Records in Hammersmith. .
Four songs resulted with another ex-Sparks member, Trevor White, now recruited.
In early 1976, Sparks manager, John Hewlett (remember him?) booked the band some recording time in Island Studios and those four songs were engineered by Queen and soon to be Rolling Stones producer, Gary Lyons.
Hewlett offered his expert opinion, declaring that one song didn’t really cut it and should be dropped. The band however decided to go with ‘Dirty Pictures‘ anyway.
OK, the recordings didn’t do anything at that point for Jet and shortly after the sessions, a combination of disgust at the treatment by their ex-label and perpetually having no money, drummer Chris Townson left the band to join the masses in gainful employment as an illustrator.
Jet, the so-hyped ‘supergroup’ had burned out within two years of their 1974 formation.
But, from the ashes and all that … six months later, in early 1977 Andy, Martin and Ian re-emerged into the light of the punk and new wave era as a fresh, new, positive outfit – Radio Stars.
Quickly picked up by Chiswick Records, the expensively recorded ‘Dirty Pictures,’ together with another of the four recorded a short time earlier, ‘Sail Away,’ were released as the band’s introduction to the world.
(Not only that, but in 1992, German superstars Die TotenHosen coveredthe track …. and sold 250,000 copies. Sweet! How hard must it have beenfor Martin Gordon not to direct a two fingered salute in the direction ofthe man who had removed him from Sparks eighteen years prior?)