Tony Martin - Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby   
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 04:00

Despite the best attempts of those now in charge to consign him to a mere footnote in the band's four-decade long history, the fact cannot be ignored that Tony Martin was the second longest serving Black Sabbath vocalist. Serving a total of nine years and recording five albums with Iommi and co during his two stints (from 1987 - 1990 and again from 1993 - 1997) fronting the Midlands metal monsters. In the 15 years since "the phone stopped ringing", as the man himself puts it, he has been extremely busy, both as a solo artist (with two albums under his own name and another in the early recording stage) and in conjunction with a huge range of other artists.


As he prepares to bring his solo live show to the UK - and, fittingly, his hometown of Birmingham, what better time to sit down with the man born Anthony Philip Harford and otherwise known as 'The Cat' for an honest, forthright - and, in the latter part, thought provoking - chat about his lengthy and prolific career?




The obvious first question Tony is why has it taken you so long to grace an English stage as a solo artist in your own right?


That's a good question! Essentially, I've always been with a band - Sabbath, the Whitesnake guys, Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody.  So any time I've come to my home country, or my hometown, it's been playing somebody else's stuff. This is the first time I've been able to assemble all of that, and my solo stuff, in one show.


So, what can we expect from a Tony Martin solo live show?


I'm not going to tell you what the songs are, but we've got 17 songs spanning ten albums, which is obviously my solo stuff, Sabbath stuff, some other things... it's basically all in the same vein.  I mean, there's no reggae in there, although I have been known to do that in my past. When I was younger, I worked with Musical Youth, Dexy's Midnight Runners, and people like that... so, while I've been known to go off at tangents in my past, it's going to be all rock-based stuff.


I was going to ask if there would be any Sabbath songs in there?


Well, I would say a good percentage of it will be from that period: after all, it was a big period - I was there for nearly ten years, between 1987 and 1997, so there's a fair whack of stuff that could be included.


Black_Sabbath_1st_line_up_with_TonyThis is perhaps the most opportune moment to enter into the obvious Sabbath phase of our conversation, so, going back nigh on 25 years, what do you remember of how it felt when he got that call asking him if you wanted to be a part of Black Sabbath?


It was weird, because my manager at the time was already friends with them. I mean they used to go to school together, and he was their tour manager during the 70s: basically, he gave me a call one day and said "Oi, kid, I want you meet me somewhere, we're gonna take and drive" and I said "oh alright, where we going?" and he said just to meet him. So, I met him and we drove for a while, and ended up at this big house: he got out and rang the doorbell and Iommi answered the door... I was like "bloody hell, you could have warned me!" but in I went, nervous as hell, played him a few things and next thing I had audition in London, and that was it - I was in!


If we then move the clock forward slightly to your live debut with Sabbath, which took place at the Panathanaikos football stadium in Athens on Midsummer's Day 1987 - the hottest and longest day of the year, which in turn seemed to spark an eventful turn of events, at least according to Tony Iommi's recent autobiography, 'Iron Man': I wonder if you have the same recollections of that baptism of fire?


I remember he (Iommi) had the promoter up against the wall, and a photographer up the wall. It was fraught with things going on, they let the people in while we were sound checking, and there were all sorts of things going on... it turned out all right, though, as far as I can recall.


[Tony freely admits to not having read Iommi's autobiography, and therefore is not familiar with the latter's take on that eventful decade in the Sabbath chronology, and especially criticisms levelled at the singer during his return to the band after the brief reunion with Ronnie James Dio for 1992's 'Dehumanizer' album. Referring to the period, especially the touring phase following the release of 'Cross Purposes' in 1994, the guitarist lambasts his former singer as "unprofessional" and having "no stage presence". Whilst the singer's initial reaction is one of laughter when I mention this in passing, I can't help but wonder if, even after all these years, comments like that grate and hurt].


It surprises me. I mean, they never said anything to me. Surely, if you've got a problem, the first person you should say something to is the person that's in the band with you... You don't wait ten years. It sounds like a really stupid thing to say, as they didn't say anything to my face - and, if that's the case, then more fool them for not saying anything, because, you know, we could have fixed it. I said to them, endlessly, that if there was anything they wanted changed, done differently, just to say and we could fix it, but clearly they didn't, they hadn't got the guts to, obviously, and to write about it in a book afterwards seems a bit daft to me. I'm not bitter about it, but it is seems a bit stupid to say that after the event.


Headless_CrossFrom the outside looking in, there seems to have been a deliberate attempt to expunge that whole period of Sabbath's history, covering the years and albums involving Ian Gillan, Ray Gillen and Martin himself: for example, a quick check on a certain website on the morning of the interview proved that most of the albums from the era are deleted, and those that are available are decade-old rehashes. In addition, more recent Sabbath 'Best of?' collections omit songs such as 'Headless Cross' (one of this particular Über scribe's all-time top ten Sabbath songs by the way): it's something you have bound to have noticed yourself Tony, so how do you he feel about it?


It seems a bit of a waste of ten years of the band's history. To cut that out, they're not just cutting me out, they're cutting themselves out. It seems like cutting your own nose off to spite your face. Why would you want to delete ten years of your history? It seems to me that they've got their minds elsewhere, and whatever brings them the most money seems to be what they go for. I mean, the Ozzy reunion. How many times do you want to go and pay to see them do the same stuff? OK, people argue that those old songs are people's favourites, well; it's probably that way because you keep ramming it down people's throats and don't give them a chance to buy anything else. It seems disjointed and disconnected to me, and I don't understand why they would want to even cut themselves out of that history.


Despite the legalities or whatever of the reasoning behind Sabbath (or their management, or whoever) seeming to try and ignore that decade (and more, if you add in the Gillan/Gillen years) of their history, it could be argued that 'The Cat' is still officially a member of the band. The fact is that he, like Ian Gillan before him, was never officially fired from the group...


The phone just stopped ringing - for 15 years.


So, despite this somewhat ironic state of affairs, as far as you are concerned personally, is the door still open to your former band-mates - would you answer that call, if the phone happened to ring again?


I met Geezer a few years later in Moscow, where I was playing with my band, and again at a festival we were both playing. I had my own band and we played 'Headless Cross': he congratulated me on doing a good job, liked the band and said it was good to hear those songs again. So, the last communication I had with him, even though it was short, was quite amicable. But, I don't think it could get into the professional arena again. I think they're elsewhere and I don't think they'd want to go back to that era: the only thing is that I heard, through the grapevine, was that Tony was thinking of re-releasing the albums, if they got a chance, but they didn't hold all the rights to them, so I think it's pretty much put to bed... but, you never know!


Back_Where_I_BelongOver the years, you have kept one direct connection with Sabbath alive, and this is via continuing to work, both in the studio and live, with Black Sabbath keyboard player (and old friend) Geoff Nicholls - a link which brings us smack up to date in the Tony Martin story I guess. Not counting the Sabbath albums, you have featured, in one way or another, on around two dozen albums by different bands and projects since the release of your own first solo outing, the retrospectively ironically titled 'Back Where I Belong', exactly 20 years ago: it's an output that perhaps places you in the "workaholic" category, no?


I have been yeah. It's 30 albums, including six with Sabbath and three with The Cage. I like to try and vary what I do. I really enjoy picking up different instruments and getting involved with different projects. I just like to do that. Even when I was with Sabbath, I did a spell with Blue Murder (with John Sykes) and various other things: it's always been that way for me; it's not a new thing. It's the make up of who I am as a musician. I like that and people seem to get off on it, and each thing I do I try to make it the best it can possibly be, and as long as that keeps working for people I'm happy to keep doing it.


Having most recently crossed Uber Rock's radar with the highly rated 'Cage 3' opus, what else has the ever productive vocalist been up to recently?


I'm working with a new Italian band called Silver Horses, which is blues-Zeppelin type stuff, and it's just beautiful: I like three-piece bands, and this is just guitar, bass and drums - and they really, really sound like an English band, which I think is fascinating. They have clearly picked up on the English scene, and they do it really well. And, it's an opportunity for me to expand again. I've never really been into the blues thing, I found it difficult with M3 (his aforementioned collaboration with Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody), but, they gave me these songs and it just works, and I just love it, so I'm really excited about that.


And then I have this solo band, Tony Martin's Headless Cross, which concentrates on the other side of me, so I'm just trying to keep as many things going as possible, really.


ScreamAnd a new Tony Martin solo album?


You know what, that's a little way off. I did start it, and I named it ('The Book Of Shadows'), and I got about a third of the way through it and then, as usually happens in the music industry, you need to pay the bills and so you need to find something to do, so it got put on hold. I still intend to finish it, if I can.


Several times during our chat you've alluded to the fact that you can play multiple instruments including bass, drums, violin, keyboards, harmonica, and even the bagpipes and panpipes, but, isn't it true your musical journey started out on the guitar?


I started playing the guitar when I was seven, and stayed as a guitar player until I was about 27, when I went for an audition and they told me not to worry about the guitar because they just wanted me to sing: I got the job as a singer, but I'm not sure if that was because I'm a good singer or a crap guitar player!


I'm sort of a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none, so I play little bits of things on all sorts of instruments, but I'm not a virtuoso.  Again, it just widens your horizons: when you're writing, especially, and you have an idea, it's so much easier to get it across if you can express it that way.


Tony your musical talent obviously has been inherited by your children: your son Joe used to play in Headless Cross, until in your own words "he did something really intelligent and got a day job", you're obviously proud of all his children in terms of their creative abilities.


I've got four kids and they are all musicians and writers. They write their own stuff, which is really intelligent, I mean, my youngest, my 15-year old daughter, comes up with lyrics, which I've no idea about or their thought processes. I can't even remember thinking about the possibility of imagining some words they come up with, well, not the words, necessarily, but the way they use them. I'm really in awe of the kids.


Tony_solo_pic_2Having been in the business for nigh on 30 years, I was wondering if, looking back and given the ability to travel back to the beginning of your career, if there is any advice you would give to the young Tony Martin just starting out? Any regrets? Or anything you'd change?


Oh, that is HUGE. OK, for a start, when I started, it was a completely different industry to what it is today. So, if I was advising people then, it would be different advice to what I would give today - in that the music industry today is destroyed.


Funny, I was with Geoff (Nicholls) the other day and we were talking about this: we reckon we are among the last remaining group of people, still in the business, to have an old-style music industry contract.  You had an A&R guy, you had an advance, you had a five-year deal, you had all sorts of things to help you build up your career. You don't get all that now: it just doesn't exist. I don't even think there are many A&R guys now? The money that was about then was a different kind of money too. You always expected there to be another album. Now, you can't expect that. These days, you can't just go spending all your money; you really, really need to hold on to something. That's if you can get any money in the first place!


If you think about it, the artist is the first person in the chain of events, but the last person to get paid. You create the song, and then you've got the promoters, the publishers, the record labels, the managers and all the rest. They're all still taking the same percentage cuts that they did over the years, and you get paid at the end. Well, there's no money left after all that. It (the business) has got destroyed in so many ways... cos then there's the whole downloading thing: you put all that effort into making an album and then someone downloads one track - it seems to me all a waste of time and money.


I think it's time for the artists to start reclaiming the industry, and by that I mean stop giving music away for free! That doesn't work. Once the people who like your stuff have got it, then there's nobody else left to sell it to. All that's happened is you have given it away! Stop working for free as well: this whole 'pay to play' thing - that's ridiculous. Once you play for free, then the next time they expect you to play for free. It's really time to start giving stuff away for free: as hard as it is, it really is time to take a hold of things and start turning the industry around again. So, if I had to give any advice it would be to hold on to what you have, see if you can change the contracts, change the percentages, find some way to recoup your real value, because it's a bit of a worthless art at the moment and that's so not fair.


It's a big thing. I've studied it in the past few years and had lawyers and union people on it and, essentially, it boils down to the fact that we as artists lost control of OUR product, because we are manufacturers in the very beginning, but we lost control of how we price our products: WE were supposed to have contracts with the record industry, and they were supposed to do that for us: they didn't do that.


It's got to the point where artists are getting paid pence for their tracks... the last album I did, we got one euro forty cents per album - and that's gotta be shared between the band. So. It's just a worthless thing. It's time for artists to start really getting a grip and say "hey, hang on a minute, we need to do something about this".


Does this mean that he would be advocate of something like, say, the Pledge Music style of doing things?


I have heard about it, although I haven't taken part in it. I still think we need to take charge of our own music, because once we've given it out, once we've handed it over, it's just lost, and there's got to be a way of hanging on to that. We don't have copyrights like we had, and what we have doesn't seem to make any difference.  People can put it on YouTube or splash it out wherever they like. It's got to change somehow.


Which provides a thought provoking conclusion to a highly illuminating discussion with the one and only Tony Martin.




Everyone here at Uber Rock would like to thank Tony for his openness during this interview and we wish him all the best for his Tony Martin's Headless Cross show at The Asylum in Birmingham on Friday July 27th. Support comes from Blaze Bayley, and you can buy tickets here:


To pick up a copy of 'The Third Cage' - CLICK HERE