Nov 302012

RTH: You’re still gigging a lot…

MB: I play live with about four different bands. At the moment I’m mostly working with a guy called Hank Wangford, he’s a kind of English country, sort of honky tonk/rockabilly – that end of country. And then I’ve also been working with Ducks Deluxe. We’ve got a Swedish tour coming up towards the end of March. And then there’s a couple of other bands: there’s a band called Los Pistoleros, which is a sort of offshoot of Hank Wangford which is a kind of Western Swing, jazzy – not very jazz, a little bit jazzy – like Western Swing but with country and rock ‘n roll in it, as well. And then there’s a band I play in called the Johnny Nicky Band. He’s one of the guys that sings a track on my album. He’s like a real old-fashioned, in the best sense of the word, soul singer. He’s like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke – he’s from that school. And he sings great. We all live close to each other – me, him, the bass player – and we just do local pubs, just to play music we like, which is kind of soul, blues, rock ‘n roll, and quite a lot of reggae. So that’s about my life’s work…I also teach.

RTH: Teach guitar or…

MB: Yes, that’s the only thing I can teach. [laughs] When you get to my sort of age and the kind of music – there are people who will play anything, but unfortunately I only play what I like, and unfortunately what I like, in today’s scene is a kind of minority: what is generally called roots or Americana, which covers folk to blues to Cajun to Tex-Mex to country to rockabilly. That’s my roots, if you like, all that kind of stuff, prior to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis, Otis Redding…all of that stuff that I grew up with in the ‘60s. You can hear that stuff in Graham Parker. He’s like The Rolling Stones crossed with Van Morrison with some Bob Dylan… It’s a mish-mash.

RTH: And then you always had that reggae strain in there too, which so many of the British bands did but, but of course we never had.

MB: Yes, and that’s mainly because the vast majority of black folk in England are from the Caribbean. And there was that company Island Records, which was set up by a white Jamaican, Chris Blackwell, and he kind of broke those bands through to a bigger stage, particularly Bob Marley & The Wailers – there were several others. So we just heard reggae all the time – and its forerunners, like bluebeat and ska.

RTH: Right, that’s always been music we need to play catch-up with. I want to ask you about how The Guest List came together. I like the album a lot. As a listener it’s a great way to catch up with some artists I first heard long ago, some I did not know what had become of since then, someone like Paul Carrack, who I haven’t heard since the time he toured with you and Nick Lowe.

MB: Yep, that was me, Paul, Nick, and Bobby Irwin was the drummer. Before that we had a bass player as well.

I’ll tell you how The Guest List came about. Originally, way back in ’95 I did an album called Big Guitar, which was basically just me with some instrumentals that I’d written, because I can’t write lyrics to save my life. But occasionally I come up with a reasonable tune. So I did these kind of tunes, they were kind of like themes from imaginary Westerns. And I’ve got this baritone guitar, so it’s like a big twang. That was fine, and then I just went back to playing as a sideman, which is what I do, basically. Then about 3 or 4 years ago I had a few more tunes that I’d written. The drummer I’ve been playing with had a home studio, basically a laptop with some outboard stuff. We started laying down a few tracks, just drums and acoustic guitar. I happened to be talking to Dave Robinson [ie, Parker’s manager, Stiff Records founder] – I’ve kept in touch with him over the years and we’re still friends – and I told him that I was putting together some more instrumentals. He said, “You know what you should do, you should ask all the singers that you ever played guitar for if they would each come in and sing a track.”

I said, “Oh, don’t be ridiculous! They’re not going to want to do that. I’d be too embarrassed to ask!”

He said, “Don’t be stupid, just ask.” And of course everybody said yes. But it did take the best part of 3 years to do. But, it wasn’t like Bruce Springsteen making Born to Run. It was 3 years of an afternoon here and then a couple of hours 3 months later. If you put it all together it probably took a about a month, but spread over 3 years.

There were two people who I worked with, more than just an odd session, who I couldn’t get. One was Elvis Costello – we just never found the time because he’s living in America and he’s always doing something. The other was John Hiatt, who almost joined Nick’s band, in fact he was in Nick’s band for about 6 months. You know John Hiatt? Great songwriter!

RTH: Sure. Is this what led to Little Village?

Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe

MB: That came later. That was after Nick and Jim Keltner and Ry Cooder did a John Hiatt album, Bring the Family, a fantastic album. Then they decided to form a band, and it wasn’t that great. I saw them live, and of course they’re all great players: Ry Cooder is one of my absolute guitar-playing heroes, Jim Keltner is one of the three great drummers of all time, but as a band, when it was like four equal parts, there was never any focus. Whereas when they were doing a John Hiatt album there was a focus, because it was John’s latest batch of songs. So I saw them live and it was OK, great playing and everything, but I didn’t think the album worked well and neither did they. They knocked it on the head quite quickly.

Oddly enough Ry Cooder has just been touring with Nick again. He did an English tour and did some Australian dates. I saw them in Liverpool and it was just absolutely fantastic. It was just Nick, Ry, and Ry Cooder’s son, Joaquin, was playing drums. And it was supposed to be Flaco Jimenez, originally, but he couldn’t make it, he was ill, so it was just a three piece, and it was wonderful.


  26 Responses to “The Rock Town Hall Interview: Martin Belmont’s Got Answers”

  1. Right On! Thanks to Mr. Mod for conducting, and even more to Martin for his extensive and informative answers.

    A rumor of a Rumour movie is captivating. Let’s hope for fruition.

    Love seeing those live clips. Always looks like Martin is really enjoying himself. The dude always has an understated but entertaining version of Mach Shau going on.
    You’d better get him the Hope and Anchor show. He earned it. I know it will live up to his recollection.

    Well done!

  2. Awesome job, Mr Mod! Great audio dugout chatter

  3. mikeydread

    Mr Mod: two big thumbs up! You are the Samuel Charters of the interwebs,

  4. Very very cool.

  5. I was under the impression that Brinsley was the lead guitarist, and Martin the rhythm guitarist for some reason. Maybe just from the couple of Squeezing Out Sparks videos I saw as a youth. You Tube and this interview cleared that up. The 2 of them really did play off each other well.

  6. Mr. Moderator

    Yes, they seemed to have a pretty good split of responsibilities. I think you’re right that the videos and songs performed on Fridays when we were kids featured Brinsley on lead.

    You know what I love seeing when I watch the old GP & the Rumour clips? The movement of each band member! Natural, onstage movement is something I can’t get enough of when I see a band live. This probably ties into my somewhat bizarre thoughts on the possibilities for crossover between sports and music, but if you’re choosing sides for a pick-up game of football (American or otherwise), wouldn’t you look over at a band like The Rumour to make your first pick?

  7. Yeah. That’s the Mach Schau I noticed, too. No one is doing windmills, but everyone seems to have their own circle of energy up there.

    It’s got to be basketball for this band. MB is 6′ 5″ and Bodnar and Schwartz don’t look that much shorter. We should challenge them! I’ll cover Parker.

  8. BigSteve

    This was pretty cool. You can tell he’d be a good sideman, very easy to get along with. Wouldn’t it be great to have him as your guitar teacher?

    I think it’s interesting that punk never came up in the interview (unless it was edited out). Guys like Belmont and the Rumour seemed to be catching the wave at the time, but really they just kept doing pretty much what they’d been doing all along. Andrew Bodnar’s golden suit in that first clip was a bit much though.

  9. Mr. Moderator

    Punk itself never did come into the discussion. Throughout, such as when I asked him whether Ducks felt like part of a “movement,” his take was more along the lines of he and his mates being committed to and happy with what they were doing. Meanwhile, I was having too much fun doing what I was doing in talking to him as freely as we were to loop back and try to ask a similar question regarding punk. By the point of the punk years, I took it, the band was gunning for mainstream success.

    That’s one of the things, as a teenage fan of those bands, that I always take out of that time in my life as a rock fan: I truly hoped that, and expected that, a few of my favorites would be “The New Boss” – not Him, not Bruce, that is:) – but among the mainstream standard-bearers of the traditional forms of rock ‘n roll that I grew up loving. Tom Petty, who I liked coming out of the gate, made it, but although people like Elvis Costello and the legacy of The Clash et al are respected and still carrying critical weight and space on the “coffetable collections” of educated rock fans, they’re still not threatening to play the Super Bowl.

    Whether this would have been a good thing or not is beyond the point. When you’re a boy you tend to root for things, don’t you? I did, and from the way Belmont tells it the Rumour also felt they should be getting some of the rewards that some other artists were able to manage at that time.

    Can a teenage boy still “root” for his favorite underground bands to “make it” to this bigger level? Are there kids sitting around hoping that Vampire Weekend will succeed to a level that will cleanse the earth of all that they feel sucks about today’s popular music?

  10. sammymaudlin

    I could hear the wind leave your sails when he, appropriately, chose the Mick Taylor era.

    Nice tune-age under the chatter. Is that like our version of the Final Jeopardy music?

  11. hrrundivbakshi

    Mod, you outdid yourself! That was great!

  12. Not a particularly deep observation, but having a lilliputian lead singer with a clearly receding hairline tends to limit the overall mass appeal of an artist regardless of the quality of the music. Then again, Petty’s no cover model either. Great section about the lack of Mercury’s promotion. That played a part, too.

  13. Mr. Moderator

    My wife thinks Tom Petty’s HOT – but this is the same woman who’s digs young Woody Allen and pre-promotional baseball cap-donning Ron Howard. God, what does this say about me?

  14. 2000 Man

    That was a great interview, Mod! When I get a chance I’ll play the dugout chatter, but right now I’m listening to the Quadrajets and that really can’t be interrupted.

    I had a friend in high school that looked like Tom Petty. He even had Tom’s haircut before Tom did, and I think he enjoyed the ridiculous amount of attention girls gave him. They all seemed to think he was something else, so I just assumed Tom Petty was a good looking guy.

  15. Fantastic article and interview – thanks for posting! Just a few questions if anyone can answer them:
    Has Graham Parker and The Rumour’s “Heat Treatment” ever been released on CD? I’ve searched high and low to no avail.
    How long did The Rumour’s stint backing Garland Jeffreys last? Did the full line-up of the band join him on tour?
    I ask because Jeffreys has posted a good number of YouTube videos ( where he’s backed by only a few members (Steve Goulding and Brinsley Schwarz) of The Rumour in 1981.
    Jeffreys, like Parker, has never received proper recognition from critics or the public.
    Thanks again!

  16. Mr. Moderator

    welcome aboard, rockandrolldetective. This isn’t a sting, is it?:) Yes, Heat Treatment is available on CD. It’s available through Amazon:

    I was looking for a Jeffreys video with the full Rumour for use in this post but only came across the ones you found. Thanks for checking in.

  17. 2000 Man

    I really liked the audio Dugout Chatter. However – You sure are slow to pull the Cop Out car on a celebrity, aren’t you!

    I hope he gets a shot to play with Dylan some day. He’s paid his dues, and he’s go the chops. Bob would be lucky to have him along for a tour.

  18. Mr. Moderator

    I consider it “respectful,” 2K, but firm. I did make him choose a Stones era, didn’t I? I know, though, I let him slide on choosing ONE favorite guitar part. My apologies. For future audio chatters I’ll come up with a “Cop Out!” drop, as I think they call them in the biz, a little clip of someone yelling that phrase to cue the interview subject to make up his mind already:)

  19. diskojoe

    Thanks for the interview, Mr. Mod, which was highly entertaining & informative. I was also a big fan of GP & the Rumour.

  20. Great interview Mr. Mod and love the Dugout Chatter audio!

    He sounds like such a nice bloke. Invite him to the next RTH meetup!

  21. Just listened to Hound Dog and yeah, the second solo IS an “OH Shit! what do I play!” moment…

  22. Great job, Moddy! I really, really enjoyed that. Mr. Belmont has been a longtime guitar fave. Glad to see that he’s a real gent, as well.

  23. Anyone who knows whatever happened to Brinsley Schwarz, the man not the group I mean. Did he just quit playing after his stint in The Rumour?

  24. Mr. Moderator

    Welcome aboard, leif. From what I’ve read, Schwarz (the man) pretty much left the playing end of the music business and got into equipment design. I think he modifies and designs amplifiers, in particular. I found a good interview with him a while back, while researching for this interview with Martin Belmont.

  25. There’s a video of Garland Jeffreys performing “We the People” with nearly all the original members of the Rumour on YouTube at Band members include Brinsley Schwarz, Martin Belmont, Steve Goulding, Andrew Bodnar and Artie Funaro.

  26. Mr. Moderator

    Thanks for the tip, connectartists, and welcome to the fray!

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