Tony Martin 4 July 2012
An Interview with the legendary Tony Martin to find out more about his new band Tony Martin and The Headless Cross, and to find out more about the man behind the music.
MG - Hi Tony, thanks for taking the time out to chat with us today about Tony Martin and The Headless Cross.
TM - Great to meet you and thanks!
MG - What bands and artists influenced growing up?
TM - As a child of the seventies, bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, but also bands like The Sweet, T-Rex and all those kind of bands. But those were the only bands of that genre, there wasn’t another Led Zeppelin or another Marc Bolan, although it varied, there wasn’t that many different kind of bands around, so we were forced to listen to that. Unlike today, there’s a hundred different bands that sound like the Foo Fighters etc., we were kind of forced to listen to it and it kind of put me in good stead, as it widened my musical appreciation.
MG - When did you first know that being a rock singer is what you wanted to do?
TM - I didn’t, I was kind of forced into it! I was a guitar player. I started playing the guitar when I was seven years old and did my first show when I was seven. It wasn’t until I was 23-25 somebody advertised for a Player / Singer and I dutifully took my guitar along. Then they decided that they didn’t want a guitarist, just a singer, so it was like you can leave the guitar in its case! ... I was like .. oh alright then ... and they loved it so much that they wouldn’t let me play guitar. I am not sure if that was because of my great singing or my crap guitar playing to be honest! Yeah that’s where it started. From then onwards I was always known as a singer not a guitar player.
MG - The 'Headless Cross' is personally one of my favorite Sabbath albums featuring yourself, is it personally a highlight album for you too and why did you choose it for a band's name?
TM - It’s a kind of mixture of a lot of things. Firstly I lived in a village called Headless Cross and it had a graveyard etc. and suffered from the Plague back in the 1600's, so the name was based around initially the village. Also being in Black Sabbath we were able to write about that kind of stuff and then the Black Sabbath 'Headless Cross' album became one of my signature albums. It’s the one thing people tend to know me for more than anything else, so it seemed obvious to me to call my band Headless Cross, Tony Martin's Headless Cross. So you know there’s a whole lot of reasons and different stories for the name how we ended up where we are now.
MG - You have put together a new line up for the Tony Martin’s Headless Cross band, with Dario Mollo, Jeff Nicholls and Danny Needham. Was it difficult deciding who to take on board?
TM - Well Danny has been a drummer with me for some years and in a previous version of the band. Then I kind of stopped trying as the music business was kind of really messed up and promoters were starting to do singer only shows, where they fly me out but wouldn’t fly the band out . Then wherever the area was, such as South America, the promoters would hire local musicians to be the band. That’s very boring. The fans obviously know it’s not your band and you know it’s not your band. You don’t know where they are going to be on stage. They don’t quite play the same, although they might be competent musicians, it’s just not your band and doesn’t quite work the same.
So I stopped and got stuck into record mode and had been doing that for a number of years, then I just got the thought of going back on the road again. I decided to go out under a slightly new name, Tony Martin's Headless Cross and get some new guys into the lineup and see and try again. The interest has been really cool with this line up. There’s a couple of people I have worked with before, Jeff Nicholls and Dario Mollo. Dario is just a recording partnership normally. We have known each other like twelve / thirteen years and we have done three albums together. It’s going to be the first time we have played together on stage though.
MG - Can we expect any new studio releases from the Headless Cross Band, or is it purely a short term project?
TM - That’s a good question and I don’t really know. We are forced into having only one show this year and that’s because all the other members have got commitments and we can’t actually get together again this year to do any other shows. It forces us into using this particular show on the 27th of July as an event and a test to see what it’s like and go forward with it. If it works, I would love to take these guys out on the road next year and make a proper tour of it.
We were kind of forced into doing just the one show as we did have a festival date in Felixstow, but the promoter took on far too much than he could handle and cancelled the whole thing and dropped the ball. I had already arranged for these guys to come over to England, so we needed a venue. That’s how we ended up in Birmingham and it has turned out to be quite an event. It will be the first time I have ever played my solo stuff in the UK and my hometown as well.
MG - I would like to very, very briefly talk about your time with Black Sabbath. I know it’s something that’s behind you but it's something people are still interested in and some great albums were produced in your time. What were your most memorable moments?
TM - Oh I don’t really know, the whole thing was fraught with stress. I mean the whole ten years I was associated with the band, it was never a smooth relationship. For a start they are ten years older than me, so our circle of friends weren’t the same. So we never mixed as best buddies, although we were friends, we were never best buddies. They kept having better ideas on how to move forward with the band, they would get Ronnie James Dio in, then they would fire him and bring me back in again, have a think about Ozzy, and then call me back!. I was just waiting for the next phone call all the time.
I had some great times with Black Sabbath in-between all the stress and the nonsense that goes with it. So the best moments end up being the most natural shows, or somewhere around the world where we had been, or something like that.
They always seemed to want to force it back into the Ozzy period, okay I know that's how it all began, everyone knows that’s how it all began, it hasn’t escaped anyone I don’t think. But they are not just cutting me out of ten years of history, they are cutting themselves out of ten years of history as well. The whole band disappears for ten years of its existence, so I don’t quite get it in that respect. They deleted all of the albums that I was on, to try and make way for the reunions and the rest of the stuff, which I don’t get it, but that’s them and their politics. They are the ones holding the strings.
MG - So what would you say has been your biggest achievement in your career, biggest buzz so far?
TM - Well being able to hang on to, in-between the ten years of stress and nonsense, hang on to the fact that I was with one of the biggest names in rock music on the planet. I was actually there and they did keep calling me back to work with them and we did make some great albums. I draw some positives from that.
I am trying to go back to the musician I was before I joined Black Sabbath. I was a very varied artist, I worked with artists in Reggae, Rock and Pop, all sorts of things. I worked with Musical Youth, Dexy's Midnight Runners, all sorts of bands.
MG - Really! I didn’t know that!
TM - Yeah, I don’t know if you remember Musical Youth? I was actually one of the backing musicians and their dad used to write the music with a complete band, and then when the kids came in from school, it was our job to teach them what their dad had written during the day. So I was like a guitar player at the time and my job was to teach little Kelvin how to do the stuff his dad had written during the day. So I did that and there’s all sorts of people I have worked with, but when I joined Sabbath it kind of focused me into a box and I couldn’t get out of it. Every time people talk to me, they want to talk about the Black Sabbath stuff, they don’t know what I did before. I have been on thirty albums, but people don’t know most of them.
MG - Well to me your collaboration with Dario Mollo stands out, I have been listening to some of the Third Cage and it’s outstanding.
TM - Thank you, it’s one of the few albums that has not had a single bad review so far. It’s brilliant and it’s one of the things you look forward to these days, to be on an album that takes people and captures them and they enjoy it in its totality. That’s a wonderful thing. I think we have probably gone as far as we can with The Cage. I can’t see how we could better it and I’m not sure how we could better that with The Cage project. However, Dario is in my band and it gives us an opportunity to explore some of the stuff. He’s an amazing guitar player, he’s a left handed person but plays with his right hand guitar and is quite spectacular with that instrument. He just knows every part completely.
MG - Which bands are you listening to at the moment and are there any you would recommend?
TM - All of them. I don’t have a TV in my house by choice. I don’t like TV. Everything. The radio is on all day. I listen constantly to everything that’s going on. I go from the Foo Fighters, Radiohead right back through the Eighties, Seventies, Sixties into Opera. I am just a very open minded musician and I will keep listening until they do something I don’t like, or they get monotonous, then I will switch off, but up until then I will listen to everything. I don’t have any boundaries really.
MG - Current feelings on the music industry?
TM - Oh don’t get me started on that! I was talking to Jeff Nicholls about this the other day, we think we are the last people to have signed the old style of record contract. You had an A & R guy. You had an advance. You had all kinds of stuff that went into a recording contract. When people think of a recording contract, people go ... woo hoo!, but it’s not like that now. You are expected to have the work finished by the time the record label hears it. Whereas we used to make demos, send them in and the labels, would help you choose and design the album sleeves and all sorts of stuff.
We needed record labels in those days to distribute the physical vinyl, tape and cds. In those days we couldn’t print the stuff like that ourselves, so we needed the labels to get the stuff around the world for us. We don’t need them now, so the old business model doesn’t really work anymore in the modern music business. We have the internet where we can upload and download stuff ourselves, so we can bypass the labels in so many ways. Yet the record labels still take the percentages all the rest of the stuff that cuts in.
However the money that does come in is far less than what used to be around, so if you think about the chain of events where the artist is the manufacturer, by the time the promoters, the managers and everybody else has had their cut, there is nothing left at the end.
We are the first people in the chain that make the product and we are the last people in the chain that don’t get paid. We gave away the rights as an artist, the power to set as an example the recommended price to the recording industry. When we signed our contracts with the record companies, it gave them the power and authority to set prices on our product. Now the world doesn’t like price fixing and countries around the world don’t like to be told what prices to sell a product at, so we have lost all of that control, unlike the film industry and gaming industry who have held on to their intellectual rights much better than we did in the music business. We've lost that and I think it’s time for a change, where the artist has to take control, we have to start doing things for ourselves and stop working for free, stop giving music away for free, that doesn't work.
All that work. All that happens is the people that like you get it and then the people that don’t like you wouldn’t have brought it anyway, that won’t work. It is time to stop giving stuff away and to change the attitude of people.
For instance if you go to the cinema, you pay ten quid to see the film. You watch the film and you leave your ten quid there. So if you want to see the film again, you have to pay another ten pounds to go and see it again, but of course we the musicians don’t do that. Pay your ten quid to buy the music in the first place, then it is yours for life. You know the attitude has to change.
You know I have studied it lots and lots over the years and I think it is the time the artists took control.
MG - Are there any messages that you would like to pass on to your fans?
TM - We would love a room full of people for the gig on the 27th of July at The Asylum, Birmingham. The only thing we are doing is recording and videoing the gig and because it’s a one off and a special occasion, we are putting in photo restrictions and would like people to honor that, but apart from that just come along bring your friends and everyone with you and let's rock it!
If you are into the Tony Martin era and all the stuff I have done in my career as a singer, there is nowhere else to hear these songs and some of them have never been played before. It's quite exciting, very unique and will be great to have people there with us to celebrate that so come along and join in with the fun!
Interview by: Alison Bear