KEY NOTE INTERVIEW

Q. Can you tell me about your school days?
A. Yes, I went to school at Seaford College, near Petworth in Sussex. The school was set in 360 acres of farmland and had the best sporting facilities I have ever seen at a boarding school. I was there on a music scholarship and used to play the organ for the church services and sometimes one end of a double ended piano at assembly. This required me to really hit the keys extremely hard, a technique which I have continued to use in rock music.

Q. And when you left school did you go into music?
A. No, I went to Exeter University to read Economics, after taking a year off studies to work in the Unemployment Benefit Office at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, where my family were living at the time.

Q. And what did reading Economics lead to?
A. From Exeter University I went straight into international banking in the City of London. I was a management trainee on an accelerated training course to become one of Nat West’s future leaders.

Q. But you left it all for a music career?
A. Not straight away. I moved to Ilkley in Yorkshire and became a psychiatric nurse in a nearby hospital.

Q. And did you carry on playing music during this period?

A. Yes, I was active in many types of music when not engaged in nursing. I used to perform jazz with a trio that I formed called “Free Hand”. Sometimes we would play to only six people at a pub called Dick Hudson’s. At other times I would play folk music in a more crowded pub in Addingham called “The Fleece”. And there were also concerts for the patients in hospital. They were slightly loose events when no-one really knew what they were going to play, but somehow we put on a show.

Q. So you were fairly busy as an amateur musician?
A. I probably played more often and for longer than I do as a professional, but I didn’t have to travel as far as I do now.

Q. What happened after nursing?
A. I got a call from a keyboard demonstrator at a local music shop. He was keen to leave his job rather quickly and suggested that I would be a good choice as a replacement for him if I wanted the job.

Q. Did you want the job?
A. Yes. I just wanted to be involved in anything to do with music. I gave notice at the hospital and started selling keyboards a week later. This put me in touch with most of the musicians with whom I now work.

Q. Did your career in the music business start with Smokie?
A. No, it started with a Barnsley band called The Ward Brothers. We made one album titled “The Madness of it all” and then Siren Records dropped us from the label. The album is excellent and deserved much better.

Q. So, did you know the guys in Smokie before you joined them?
A. Yes, for about 8 years before I eventually joined them in March 1988. As a keyboard demonstrator I sold them all the gear that they used on stage and at home, and occasionally Terry and Alan would turn up at a pub where I was playing and help out with some harmony vocals.

Q. Is the sound of Smokie the same as it used to be in the 1970’s?
A. Mostly it is, but it is richer now and the sound is much fuller. Keyboard technology is partly responsible for this. At times we hire an orchestra but mostly the string parts are produced on the keyboards. This is where my classical training comes in very useful.

Q. How much time do you spend on the road with Smokie?
A. About 260 days.

Q. Really, you must do a lot of flying
A. Probably more than the pilots. Around 140 flights a year.

Q. So, how do you find time to create music as well as keep such a busy touring schedule?
A. It’s a bit of a juggling act, but I use every spare moment to create new tracks and try to use all those tedious travelling hours in an industrious way.

Q. What are your future plans?
A. To start recording another album, maybe a piano one this time since I have recently invested in a baby grand.

Q. Good luck, Martin, and we hope to be hearing much more from you in the future.
A. Thanks very much


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