An Epic Tale of Three Geordie Brothers Who Changed The World.
Normally traditional ‘finger in the ear’ Folk Music bores me to tears; but very occasionally something comes along that captures my attention and yet again it has come from the mind and pens of Folk singer-songwriter Gary Miller and acclaimed poet Keith Armstrong; two NE Legends..
The story of The Mad Martins meant nothing to me in late 2017 when this amazing package (including a triple album and an extra instrumental cd) arrived; but I’ve had my mind truly expanded over the last four weeks.
Who knew that three brothers from the South Tyne would and could have such an effect on British history in the 18th Century?
Starting with Three Mad Martins (Prophecy) Gary inhabits the spirit of the son’s mother over a traditional Geordie toe-tapper of a tune and the scene is set for a rip-roaring tale of men who would go on to become ‘ a “Philosophical Conqueror of all Nations” and a doggerel poet, pamphleteer, engraver and inventor (William aka ‘The Lion of Wallsend’); “the notorious incendiary” of York Minster in 1829, prone to frequent fits of rage against the clergy, including an attempt to assassinate the Bishop of Oxford leading to his committal to several lunatic asylums (Jonathan), and the youngest, John who devised sewage schemes for London, along with a number of other inventions but is most famous for his epic New Romantic paintings of Biblical scenes. One of these, ‘Pandemonium’, based on Milton’s ‘End of the World’, sold in 2003 for a record £1.65 million!
Part entertainment and part history lesson, the word ‘epic’ only comes close to describing the way the story is told in song, word and verse with some stunning artistry in the background from an array of musicians.
The Mad Martins, in true Folk Fashion is told in three ‘Acts’ beginning with William’s story then Jonathan and finally the successful painter John.
Choosing individual songs to point you towards is bordering on the impossible; as this is a ‘musical story’ and is meant to be heard in one long session; and by jove it works…..I actually sat listening intently as the stories unfolded in a way that beggars the regional nature of the subject matter.
But select I will, because that’s what I do!
On disc #1 Poet Keith Armstrong’s speech ‘On Libraries’ is fascinating and who among us can resist a title like ‘Cure For Cholera’ but again Keith’s warm Geordie voice makes a weird subject very entertaining; trust me. But the winner on this first disc is the Folk Rocker William, You Were Really Something …..ok, the title nods towards the Smiths but Gary breaths new life into an exciting period in our nations history that owes everything to a Geordie Genius!
Disc #2 is Jonathan’s story and opens with a nautical theme; I have to say I was disappointed (not really) with In The Navy as it isn’t the Village People version; but a hornpipe; but Jonathan’s tale takes on a really exciting path with Blood, Fire and Smoke and the rollicking Madhouse Martin; but there’s a golden love story thread too, with Keith’s poem Jonathan’s Departure from Maria being followed by the beautiful ballad Maria’s Testimony, which actually does stand out as an individual song that could be played on the wireless.
It’s fascinating to note that two of the tales here are Keith Armstrong reading from Charles Dickens’ letters ‘On Visiting Jonathan in Bedlam Asylum.’ Again; why didn’t I know this story? I studied Dickens for O’Levels many years ago and knew he visited the North East; but this wasn’t part of any of the books I was forced to read.
As you might expect, the mood and tone picks up on Disc #3 John Martin’s story. There’s a jaunty, even ragtime feel to Picture of the Scriptures and In My Hands sounds like it could be from a Cameron McIntosh music theatre piece; but then again the whole story and the way Gary Miller (and friends) presents it has a feel of a Northumbrian Les Miserables about it; with the final three tracks starting with the larger-than-life Pandemonium looking back on the brothers story on the day of the painting’s sale then Keith pulls all of the strings together with a ghostly tale THREE MAD MARTINS (epitaph) before he closes the story with another gorgeous 21st Century poem At Anchor that has it’s soul in a story of a family over 200 years previously.
I’m nearly lost for words now; I knew nothing of this story and feel obliged to read more deeply into it but more importantly this magnificently packaged Triple Disc box-set deserves a much wider audience than Gary Miller and Keith Armstrong’s loyal fan base; the story and they way they tell it deserves a much bigger and indeed national stage; all it needs is a generous benefactor; because if Sting can get his tale of the Wallsend shipyards onto Broadway then there’s indeed hop for The Mad Martins; now where is my lottery ticket from last night?