On Martin & Bell’s elegiac An Alternative Ulster (2018), writer turned spoken word artist Gavin Martin’s words find a perfect match in the music of multi instrumental melodic master Martin Bell. Incorporating a wistful rumination on teenage glory days, the passing of time and current day Northern Ireland, An Alternat- ive Ulster 2018 is titled after the punk fanzine Martin published in Bangor, Northern Ireland back in 1977. The year after the ‘zine’ first appeared local band Stiﬀ Little Fingers borrowed the Alternative Ulster name for what became an Irish punk anthem.
40 years on, Martin expounds on the meaning of the original ideal expressed in the title. Bell’s stately, neo classical arrangement gives wings to the track providing a marked contrast to the pair’s acclaimed, ballistic and energising debut release, Roman Totale’s Death Song, tributing The Fall’s Mark E Smith. Celebrating an artistic legacy and relationship spanning 5 decades (Smith was an early Alternative Ulster fan and contribut- or), RTDS was written and recorded earlier this year in the week following The Fall legend’s death and re- leased days before his funeral.
Both tracks trail this release of the Martin & Bell debut album. The pair partnered on social media after Bell expressed enthusiasm for The Revolutionary (For Rory Gallagher), the lead track from Martin’s acclaimed 2017 debut release Talking Musical Revolutions, which had won plaudits from publications such as Classic Rock (8/10) and Record Collector (4 stars) as well as praise and airplay from broadcasters including Tom Robinson, Gary Crowley and Ralph Mclean.
Bell cut his teeth playing fiddle in the northern club circuit of the 70s supporting the likes of Roy Orbison, Billie Joe Spears and more, while punk rock raged across the nation. After a move to London he played in the house band for Willy Russell’s original production of Blood Brothers followed by stints in various indie bands from the London pub rock circuit of the early eighties, later filling the position of multi-instrumentalist in The Wonder Stuﬀ and working as a composer and music editor in film and TV.
Bell’s consummate musical scope has now given full range to Martin & Bell. The widescreen cinematic sound-tracking gives the album its depth, variety and grandeur, coming to bear on the synapse-slicing and splenetic Anti Social Media and the see-sawing sea shanty groove of the death defying When They Were Young.
“Martin was quite ruthless with the lyrics I sent him, if he had no interest or thought I could up my game, it was back to the drawing board,” smiles Gavin.
But when the words captured Bell’s imagination he went to work – check the twinkling magnificence and sea borne rushes in the deep longing and creationist meditation of Tiny World or the riotous clamour and attri- tion stalking No Arms Factories In Tottenham.
“The first poems I ever wrote came to me in Cornwall,” Gavin recalls. “Mr Bell’s scenic social media posts remind me what an awesome and inspirational place it is and it’s a great connection for me that the music for our album has been created there. “But during the time we’ve been working together I’ve never gone down there to meet him. That may seem a little odd, but then again – why spoil a wonderful partnership?”
UTOPIA by Martin & Bell
Release date: February 1st 2019.
Lead Track: An Alternative Ulster 2018. Release date: January 8th 2019.