Martin Bramah

Martin Bramah is the original guitarist in the Fall, a band I may ave mentioned a few times in this publication. Bramah played guitar on the groups first release, the single Bingo Masters Break Out, and the ground breaking debut LP Live at the Witch Trials, afterwards he shortly left the group, but returned to record  Extricate in 1990 a turning point in the bands history which me was the start of the second golden era of the Fall. Bramah is also a founding member of Blue Orchids, originally as Nicos backing band, which continue to this day. Martin was kind enough to speak to me from his UK base an hour before the Pies Semi final game against the Giants.

Munster: was doing some reading on you and read your first band was called Nuclear Heat, tell us about that band.

Martin: Nuclear Heat was with a young Karl Burns but we never did any gigs, we were just a teenage band rehearsing in a cellar, this was pre punk rock so there was no opportunity to play, we were a rehearing band that dreamed of playing.

Munster: are you a self taught muso?

Martin: yeah I was self taught just had a cheap guitar in my bedroom, I listing to a lot of blues so I learned some blues standards and took it from there. John Lee Hooker and Howling Wolf things like that just the standards just taught myself a few basic chords and then tried to write original stuff.

Munster: how did you meet Mark E Smith?

Martin: I kind of met him in a pretty different situation. I knew his sisters first of all, he has three sisters younger than him, two elder Barbra and Susana, Tony Friels was dating Barbra we went we met through them, her brother Mark was sitting on the sofa (laughs). We/d all hang around listening to the Velvet Underground and all that kind of stuff. And at the same time I met him at a club, I wasn’t sure where I met him first at the club or through his sister. We had a bit of a run in at a club, and we became friends.

Munster: we/re you big into literature like Mark?

Martin: not as much as Mark at that age. I was reading I loved my books but he devoted his life to literature.

Munster: When the Fall, you actually started with the name the Outsiders. Did you play any gigs under that name and was it true you where the singer to start, and was it true you were the singer because you had the looks in the group?

Martin: Not really thats something Mark said. When we first started we unnamed and I had a few songs and he owned a guitar so he played a bit because he owned a guitar but he couldn/t really play it but by the time we were the Fall he was the singer and I was the guitarist. So I was never the singer in the Fall, just when we were mucking about put it that way I did some singing. It/s something Mark would trot out in interviews not sure why, I never really ran with that, I didn/t sing until I started my own band.

Munster: When the Fall first started gigging what was the audience reactions like?  It was certainly aimed at an alternative audience but it doesn/t seem like the kind of music punks would listen to back then?

Martin: yeah that was definitely the case. A lot of hardcore punks didn/t appreciate us as we didn/t ave the right uniform on for the most part, we weren/t strictly punk but it did give the opportunity to step out, before that we were more a gang then a band, we thought we were like Manchesters Velvet Underground (laughs). Our first gig I invited a couple of the Buzzcocks but a lot of doors open because of punk but punks saw us as outsiders, to a lot of punks as we were more than  punk rock. We did a lot of early gigs with the Buzzcocks that kept us going. Aving said all that punk did open a lot of doors for us.

Munster: was that true the Buzzcocks paid for the recording time of Live at the Witch Trials?

Martin: It was the single Bingo Masters Break out, yes it was Richard Boon that paid for that. Which they said not to release it because they were renegotiating United Artists. So they paid for it but it was almost a year before Step Forward released it,

Martin Bramah (left) and Mark E. Smith performing with English rock group The Fall at The Ranch, Manchester’s first punk club, 18th August 1977. (Photo by Kevin Cummins/Getty Images)

Munster: how long did Bingo Masters take to record?

Martin: not much time at all in think we did it in a day it was the first time we were ever in a studio. Just played live in the studio then sat on the couch for a year (laughs)

Munster: Live at the Witch Trails, is it true you booked a week in the studio but Mark lost his voice and got it back on the last day and the LP was recorded in one day?

Martin: thats true. We had five days in the studio and Mark lost his voice. We drove from Manchester to London, Step Forward was paying for it. Because we play live in the studio we couldn/t play because of Marks voice. So we just hang around and did it in the last two days. A day to record and a day to mix.

Munster: with Marks vocals he seemed like the kind of singer that can just punch it out in one take  but with limited time where you at all worried about getting it all done in a day?

Martin: no we weren/t that worried. We just took it as we found it.

Munster: When Live at the Witch Trials came out did people see the group differently or where you still seen as outsiders?

Martin: we were still outsiders, that was part of the Fall. We started as the Outsiders, then changed to the Fall, we never did an gigs as the Outsiders that was our gang name. From when I first met Mark as a teenager he was most dismissive of most people and thought he was smarter than most. Turns out he was (laughs).

Munster: Were you a fan of the book the Fall by Camus where the name comes from?

Martin: Not really, theres a lot made of that, he took the name from that book but was mostly because it was a cool looking cover. Tony Friel had it, as we started with the Outsider and the Fall which where all Camus books, but it was really because he looked cool on the cover, very French looking with the black and white. And I don/t think Mark was that keen on it I think he just like the name.

Munster: you left the Fall in 1979 and rejoined in 1990 to record on Extricate, did you listen to the Fall inbetween your two stints?

Martin: Of Course, to me the golden age of the Fall was after I left and before Brix Joined.  Thats the Fall I was listening to the most. That period with Marc Riley, Craig Scanlon Steve and Paul Hanley Karl Burns. Various members, but thats my favourite period, as I can listen to it as an outsider (laughs). There is good stuff and good times, and there where periods when I really didn/t want to hear his voice.

Munster: How did it come to you returning?

Martin: well I suggested we did some writing after Brix left, I just thought this could be an opportunity to rejoin. I called him up we did some writing at his place, he invited me to play with the Fall, then  join the Fall, that lasted a year then I was fired (laughs).

Munster: Extricate was an interesting but brilliant LP and an LP that sent the band into a bit of an electro period which produced some great work, what was your memories of the recording sessions and with Brix leaving did Mark feel like he had something to prove?

Martin: we had just signed a major deal with Polygram, and a lot of money was thrown at us, they expected us to be big and hot property, they were expecting another Rolling Stones but it didn/t work out that way. So we recorded in Swan St in London, those backing tracks Mark was worried he said it sounded like a David Bowie backing track which he hated. It was a scrappy expensive project but it came together, there was a lot beats and experimenting which worked out well

Munster: Blue Orchards how did that band some about?

Martin: I left the Fall and just wanted to do my own thing. Mark was getting too dictorial, so I started my own band as I still wanted to make music. We got a deal with Rough Trade which we were on for a year.

Munster :Blue Orchards also where Nicos backing band in the 80s, for me Nico was the peak of coolness, so what was it like, this cultural icon all of a sudden being dropped in Manchester and being shacked up with John  Cooper Clark?

Martin: i/d been a big fan of hers since I was a teenager, I loved her voice. So was very surprise when shes just living in Manchester. My manager at the time Alan Wise said oh do you know this German singer I think shes called Nico? He didn/t know who she was. She was looking for a band and he was staying up the road, we meet her at this Polish Hotel. It was a strange one, we played with her for a year or so, just live didn/t work with her in the studio, but she introduced the band to heroin. The Blue Orchards had high prospects but we had members on Heroin and was bit self destructive.

Munster: in 2008 you played in a band called Factory Star with the Hanley brothers also from the Fall, what was it like playing with those guys, and playing with Steve again after all these years?

Martin: that was great it lasted a year. The trouble was it has three times the baggage and Marks been so dismissive of ex members and I think people were reluctant to check it out. But I loved working with those guys. We did two or three Fall songs in the set and we got very little thanks it was you cant stand on your own two feet? Why are you doing these songs? Which was stupid there are some people that think Fall is just Mark E Smith which isn/t true. Steve was in the band for 19 years. As mentioned it was three times the baggage which I think is happening with Brix right now, but shes had a much better promoter. Shes also been doing a few songs off the Fall catalogue which is fine but im into that.

Munster: a few years ago you released the Battle of Twisted Heel your first solo recording what process when into recording that?

Martin: I wanted to do something different, I recorded it home, just me and an acoustic guitar playing a few folk songs. I did a few gigs that was just me and a guitar. Im not Bob Dylan I need a band behind me (laughs).

Munster: Did you keep in touch with Mark in recent years?

Martin: No, last time I spoke to him was in the late 90s, I almost rejoined a third time during the Marshall Suite period. When they had that big fight in New York and he lost the band, he was struggling financially. I was living in London so it didn/t come together. He rang me at 2am asking me to do a Peel Session that day at 10am, and I was on holiday. I just couldn/t do it, he must ave known it for weeks, but I just couldn/t make it. So that was a shame I didn/t get a third crack. So that was really last time we spoke, we had a few meetings a rehearsals, he just put together a quick band. There were a few times we were in the same club and we/d nod from a distance. I knew him as well as anyone, before he became a name when he was a teenager, he was always a bit of a loner. We were close but we also didn/t get on as well, we always had a friendly rivalry.

Munster: Dave Simpsons book the Fallen has some very mixed stories, yet everyone says the same thing, if they had the chance tomorrow to play in the Fall thatd do it in a second. What is it about that group that draw everyone in?

Martin: there a famous band for one, there aren/t that many legendary bands out there. Its partly the kudos. You/d always want another shot at it. Its contributing to being part of rock history.

Munster: Whats coming up next?

Martin: we recently did a session for Mark Rileys show, we got a Blue Orchids album coming out but were also recording the next one very soon.

Munster: And finally whats your favourite Fall LP.

Martin: I really liked Slates the ten inch. LP id say Hex Enduction Hour, or Grotesque, I liked that period, I prefer the LPs im not on as I can just listen to em as a fan.


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1 thought on “Martin Bramah

  1. Great interview. Fascinating to hear Martin on the early days and his bond with Mark as a participant observer of the Fall. Delighted he loves Slates and Grotesque.

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