Martin Fry, singer songwriter of ABC fame chats with Kevin Cooper about his recent holiday in Marrakech, being awarded an honorary Doctor of Music Degree from The University of Sheffield, the release of his latest album The Lexicon Of Love II and his forthcoming tour of the UK
Martin Fry is an English singer, songwriter, musician and record producer whose music career spans more than 30 years. He came to prominence in the early 1980’s as the lead singer of the new wave band ABC.
Their 1982 debut album, The Lexicon Of Love was a UK number one and they achieved ten UK and five US top forty hit singles between 1981 and 1990. He is the only member who has been with ABC throughout its entire history and is currently its only member. He continues to tour as ABC and in 2016 released his ninth studio album, The Lexicon Of Love II.
Whilst busy working on some new scores with Anne Dudley for the London Southbank Symphonia, he took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Martin how are you?
Hi Kevin, I’m very well indeed thanks for asking. How are things up there in Nottingham?
To be honest with you it is sunny and warm today.
That’s good then. All is well in Nottingham (laughter).
I was going to thank you for finally taking the time to speak to me. The last time that we had an interview arranged you left me hanging and flew out to Marrakech you naughty man (laughter).
(Laughter) well I thought that the interview was for The Marrakech Times (laughter).
I have to say that looking at your pictures on Twitter it really did look very nice.
I love Marrakech, it really is fantastic. It is really very quiet at this time of year as everybody moves out because it is so hot.
I love Egypt but obviously it is a no-go area now.
I find Marrakech to be far more relaxed than Egypt. I have been to Sharm El Sheikh a couple of times now but I always find it to be hard core especially when you compare it to Marrakech. You should go Kevin, it is totally different over there in Morocco and I am sure that you would love it. It is much more relaxed than Egypt.
I just might give it a try. Now back to this interview; I have to ask just how is life treating you?
Life is good. The sun is out, the new album is out so all in all life in general is all very good. I am particularly looking forward to touring with the London Southbank Symphonia. I am currently working on some new scores with Anne Dudley for the orchestra, for some of the songs off the new album, the Lexicon Of Love II.
I have to mention your voice. I have seen you now a couple of times in recent months and I personally think that your voice is getting better. Would you agree with that?
Thank you very much, it’s so kind of you to say that. I do try to look after the voice and if I receive comments like that then I must be doing something right.
I recently spoke to your old sparring partner Tony Hadley and he persisted in calling you Saint Martin. Just what is that all about?
Oh he does does he (laughter). He has never called me that to my face. Tony is currently recording over in Italy at the moment but I will be having words with him when he gets back to the UK (laughter).
You are obviously very good friends?
It’s funny but me and Tony are very different but also very similar in many ways. During all of these years of singing our journeys have been very similar. Tony is just like me in the fact that he loves performing on stage, now more than ever before. Part of me is like that too plus we are both over six feet tall (laughter).
Do you still enjoy touring?
Yes I do, in fact I feel that it is a great honour for me to get up on stage in 2016 and play the hits and perform them so that they mean something today to the audience. They really do have to mean a lot to the audience or why bother.
When you recorded The Lexicon Of Love back in 1982 did you realise that you had recorded something special?
We had a hit with Tears Are Not Enough and then we went over to work with Trevor Horn at the Sarm East Studios which were based on Osborne Street at the southern end of Brick Lane in East London. And let me tell you that it was a lot less bohemian and trendy as it is today (laughter). It really was a rough old part of town. I think that Poison Arrow was really the indication that things were working out really well. The times were very exciting but no, I didn’t think that the album was special at all, not really. I had initially wanted to have made a twelve track album. I wanted us to be like The Ramones but we finally made a ten track album with a reprise (laughter).
Could you ever have envisaged that the album would still be as popular today as it was back then?
No, not at all. I never thought that people would be listening to the music all these years later.
Coming right up to date with The Lexicon Of Love II, I have to ask you why now after thirty-four years?
Throughout the years people have constantly been asking me to make a follow up album and it was only recently that I was playing a show and I had gathered up a bunch of songs that I had written and it was at that point that I thought that it was time for me to make a very lavish orchestral album. Peoples memory of The Lexicon Of Love is of it being very polished, sharp, funky and I was ready to make an album like that but which reflected today, 2016. So with songs like Confessions Of A Fool, Flames Of Desire, Ten Below Zero and Viva Love, I felt that it was the right time for me to put out the record.
What was the inspiration for the album?
At the time I had been watching a lot of Netflix and I particularly like watching thirty-six episodes of the same programme and so I thought that a follow-up album wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. I felt that it would give the people out there the opportunity to find out what had happened to the characters on the original album and to see just how we have all grown up.
I have to say that, in my opinion, you have done it marvellously well because half of the tracks that you have mentioned could have, in fact come from the original album back in 1982.
I really did want to write a whole bunch of brand new music because I play a lot of shows and a lot of the artists that I meet are very nostalgic, and they just tend to live in the past but I don’t really. I want to get myself up on stage and try to cook it up a bit; making it as exciting as possible in 2016. I wanted to make a record that reminded my audience, the ABC audience of our glorious past but also bought us smack bang up into the present day. So that is why the album is called The Lexicon Of Love II, it is a continuation. However, I have to say that I didn’t want to make a record that could have been made in 1982. It is a very modern sounding record with the orchestra and a very polished sound.
Are you happy with just how well the album has been received?
Yes I am, very happy. It was a big challenge to go back into the studio and make it but people who had worked on the original, fans and people who have got the original seem to really like this and have accepted it as being another piece of the story.
I recently read that you had forty tracks to pick from. Was there ever any danger of it becoming a double album?
(Laughter) to be honest with you I did in fact discuss that with the label but in the current climate albums have gone back to having ten or eleven tracks on them haven’t they. For a while, back in the days of the great double albums, it was eighteen songs but it can get a little bit tedious especially by the time you get to side four (laughter). Personally, I love The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia together with Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde but after those I can’t think of many more great double albums.
So what will happen to the songs that failed to make it onto The Lexicon Of Love II?
Well I do have quite a few songs left don’t I, so it would be really nice for me to make another record that is very different again from The Lexicon Of Love I and II (laughter).
Are you looking forward to the tour and getting the album out there live?
For me to be able to get back out on the road and to perform with the London Southbank Symphonia and Anne Dudley is absolutely great. It brings the whole thing up to the scale and size of the record. We have played a few shows in the past, although we have never played in Nottingham, so that will be a first for us.
You have to be pleased with just how quickly the tour is selling out?
Yes I am very pleased, the whole tour is selling out really quickly. Nottingham was the last date that we added to the tour and all in all it is selling really well.
You co-produced the album, was that something that you enjoyed?
I took the album over to Gary Stevenson who is a really good old-school producer. Gary has worked with people such as Rick Astley, Go West and thousands of other artists who you have probably never heard of. From my point of view it felt good for me to get back into the studio with Gary. Gary made it sound really special with the strings, together with the light instrumentation and I have to say that, in my opinion, it worked out really well working with Gary.
On 19th July 2012 you received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University of Sheffield. Was that a special moment for you?
Yes it was, very much so. It was a great feeling for me to go back to Sheffield. What made it extra special was that my daughter Nancy received her degree from the Department of Sociological Studies from Sheffield University on the same day. She keeps telling me that I didn’t have to do any work for my degree (laughter). I suppose that she is both right and wrong at the same time. I had written a speech for the students and Nancy was great, she helped me through it because all of my reference points were from back in 1982 (laughter). She told me that all of the bars and the names had changed on most of the streets and so she helped me rewrite my speech so that it made sense to an audience of twenty-one year olds (laughter).
Being back at Sheffield University did it bring back happy memories?
Yes it did it really did because that it where we started really.
Why has Sheffield always produced great bands?
That’s easy, they always used to put something into the Ladybower Reservoir (laughter). To be honest with you it was a golden period when I lived there because there were so many killer bands like The Human League, Def Leppard, Cabaret Voltaire, Pulp and dozens more. It’s hard to say but Sheffield was a very creative place, in fact it still is with today’s bands from The Artic Monkeys onwards.
Who has influenced you along the way?
When I was first starting out I was heavily influenced by David Bowie and Bryan ferry. But these days I am influenced by a lot of the contemporary records that come through. There are some really good songwriters out there. What inspires me is that I am able to go into a studio today and come up with something brand new. That is still a magical thing for me.
After the tour what next for Martin Fry, just how far ahead are you planning?
Well I am going to go over to America and play some shows over there and also play a few throughout Europe. After that it would be nice to make a brand new album.
I will be shooting the show here in Nottingham but I will be watching the show over at The Birmingham Symphony Hall because I personally feel that it lends itself to what you are trying to do with the tour.
That sounds great and please do come and say hello.
On that note Martin let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I look forward to seeing you in Birmingham and Nottingham.
Thanks very much Kevin. I hope to see you soon. You take care and bye for now.