Martin Bramah, who has been fronting the band since 1982 agreed to do an interview with me via email, as it was not possible for the two of us to be in the same room together.
N.F. – Congratulations on the new album, “Righteous Harmony Fist“. I have been listening to the album for a few weeks now, and it sounds like a triumph. Can you tell me about the recording of the album, was it a simple process?
M.B. – Thank you. It was pretty straight forward, yes. I like to work fairly quickly with the band recording the backing tracks playing together live in studio with no ‘click track,’ then adding vocals and any other essentials as overdubs – classic Tony Visconti style. He remains a big influence on my approach to recording.
N.F. – A few of my favorite songs from the new album are “The Art of Falling,” “In the Acid Garden,” & “Get Bramah”. Lyrically they seem very personal, yet induced with humor and a bit of surrealism. Can you speak about your writing process?
M.B. – My writing is very personal to me in the sense that it’s like keeping a lucid dream diary; humor and surrealism play a part, and my real life experience is scattered about throughout and reflected back in kaleidoscopic mirrors.
On the other hand, I’m writing for an audience not just for myself; so in that sense not personal.
N.F. – The Blue Orchids have been a going concern for some time, although there was a bit of gap there, from sometime in the 90’s, to 2008 when you released a solo album, “The Battle of twisted heel”. What were you doing when not recording and releasing music?
M.B. – First of all, don’t forget Blue Orchids 2003 album ‘Mystic Bud’ – but yes, there was a lull between the mid 1990s and my return to the stage in 2008.
Basically, I started to question why I was making music and what my relationship with the music business was. This ball had been rolling since I’d started The Fall in early ’77 and I needed to reassess my position and decided to jump off the merry go round and dive into ‘real life’. I moved to London (being from Manchester originally) and worked a series of blue collar jobs: bus driver, delivery driver, warehouse hand, record store staff, etc. I also took up training in the Japanese art of Aikido, which took up a lot of my time and eventually attained black belt. Normal stuff like that.
I never stopped playing music though – I just made it for my own pleasure.
N.F. – Following the Solo album, you formed the band “Factory Star” which I quite enjoyed. Did “Factory star” genuinely end. or did the band just somehow just become “The Blue Orchids”?
M.B. – Yes, we basically just morphed back into Blue Orchids. The marketplace demands that Blue Orchids is a stronger brand than Factory Star and will not indulge the high minded whims of artists.
Plus, Factory Star was all about my return to Manchester, and I’ve moved on again now and am living by the sea in Wales. I guess I’m just destined to be a Blue Orchid.
N.F. – It seems to my ears that all of the bands with which you have been involved, there has been a basic and very effective instrumental set up. There always seems to be guitars, complimented by keyboards, and vice versa, Does that stem from an influence of 60’s garage rock music? If so, can you tell me about a few of your favorite 60’s garage rock songs?
M.B. – Yes, I am drawn to the guitar/keyboard combo. Keyboards add color to the guitars’ edginess, which I find pleasing.
60s garage is a big influence. It all started for me with the first Stooges album ‘The Stooges’. You can take any song from that album as a classic. Also…
Oh boy, there are just too many to choose from. Those are a few I’ve been listening to lately.
N.F. – Obviously I have no idea when you started to play guitar, but I do know that you were the original guitarist for the Fall, starting in 1976. Being the first guitarist in The Fall, you set a blueprint for all of the guitarists that followed you. The Fall is obviously one of the greatest bands to have come out of England, and sadly with the passing of Mark E. Smith, their legacy is a closed book. Are you proud of the work you did with the Fall?
M.B. – Proud? Well pride comes before the Fall.
But yes, of the original members, I put the most thought and effort into creating the Fall sound template and I’m happy to be able to say that.
I first picked up a guitar in my early teens and taught myself a few blues standards like ‘Big Boss Man,’ ‘Don’t Start Me Talkin,’ ‘Boogie Chillen,’ and it seemed natural to write original songs from those few chords and licks – turning them on their heads and stripping them down and getting to the root of what made them tick.
N.F. – The Punk and Post-Punk era was an explosion of music, there were so many records released, and in among those records there were a number of signature musicians with great guitar sounds, for instance, John McGeoch of Magazine, Andy Gill of Gang Of Four, Rob Symmons of Subway Sect…and I would definitely rate your work with the Fall, Factory Star and The Blue Orchids as I do the work of those I mentioned. Can you speak about how you arrived at your sound, and some of the guitarists that influenced you?
M.B.- My original sound came from a Fender Stratocaster plugged into a Selmer 50 Treble & Bass tube amp – with the bass turned all the way down and the treble turned all the way up!
Some of the guitarists that influenced me are: Buddy Holly, John Lee Hooker, Link Wray, Brian Jones, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Sterling Morrison, Johnny Thunders, James Williamson, Robert Quine, Tom Verlaine & Richard Lloyd, but so many others too.
N.F. –The first album by The Blue Orchids “The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain)” came out in 1982, given the albums garage rock / psychedelic sound was the group lumped in the “new psychedelic” sound from Liverpool (Echo & The Bunnymen & The Teardrop Explodes) by Critics? Or how was the record received by critics and fans?
M.B. –Critics said we were new wave/retro… they couldn’t decide whether we were throwbacks to Dylan, Velvets, Doors or cutting edge neo-psych. The jury is still out on that.
To some extent we were compared to The Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes as we were all friends and playing the same clubs. The same goes for the Postcard Records bands from Scotland. We also got lumped in with the early New Romantic scene when it was still an underground thing.
N.F. –For a time after the release of the first Blue Orchids album, the band worked with Nico, who was living in Manchester at that time. Are there any recordings hidden away from that time period that see the light of day?
M.B.-Unfortunately not. There is some live bootleg stuff – but we never set foot in a recording studio with Nico. In those days making a record was expensive and you were always waiting for a label to offer you a record deal – at that point in time no one was offering Nico a record deal. Hard to believe but true.
N.F. – The band the Crystal Stilts covered a song by The Blue Orchids, “Low Profile” on their “Radiant Door” EP. Did you know in advance that they were going to cover your song? Does a band have to ask permission? And finally, what is your opinion of their rendition of your song?
M.B. – No, I didn’t know in advance. I found out like everybody else when the record came out. I was thrilled as I was already a big Crystal Stilts fan by then and it sounded great. I really like their nod to Nico’s Indian pump organ sound that they used in the intro. And so no, they obviously didn’t ask my permission – I don’t think you need to – and I never have anyway.
N.F. – I noticed that the label that has released your album, Tiny Global Productions, is being distributed in the U.S. by Forced Exposure. How important or effective is distribution like that, in light of the fact that bands and label have access to the internet and sites such as Bandcamp to promote direct sales?
M.B. – It all helps to get the albums out there. Some people like to order from their local record store or just walk in and browse the racks. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to find our music in the most convenient way for them.
N.F. – With the release of the new album, The Blue Orchids seem to fairly busy touring in the U.K. Any chance the band will ever visit the United States? I have never seen the band and would love to do so.
M.B. – We would love to play in the USA. However, current US policy on aliens obtaining a work permit makes it prohibitive; the cost of a work permit for the band means we would have to sell a lot of records in America before we could take the financial chance of touring. But no one knows what the future holds.
N.F. – Finally, I have read a rumor that the band is already hard at work on new songs with plans for a new album coming soon, perhaps next year. Any truth to these rumors?
M.B. – Yes, we are halfway through recording a new collection of songs; something of a tribute: ‘Ut Americae Septentrionalis’ you might say.
And that is all I will say at the moment.
Noah Fence hosts It’s a Nice World To Visit – Punk, Post-Punk, Garage Rock, Psych…A mix of new tracks and old favorites. On Freeform Portland Radio.