Breafast with: Marty Wilde
Bad Boy’s look on life nearly 60 years on
By David Parker
Marty Wilde said it took time to get that crucial first hit record.
“I was getting experience on the road and I was doing shows, tours, TVs, but I couldn’t really get the material that I wanted. There weren’t the writers around in those day’s that could write Rock ‘n’ Roll songs, and lastly, they wouldn’t let me use my group on my early records.
“I had a group at the time called The Wildcats, of course, but in those days you had to use an orchestra, so a lot of those earlier records – although hits – didn’t have what I wanted – a group sound.
“The opportunity to use my group didn’t come until later, and it took Cliff Richard and The Shadows to wake our boys up when they realised that young musicians had much more of a Rock ‘n’ Roll feel than the jazz musicians.
“Few people will remember me by my birth name Reg – the only time that name is used is when I meet older people from the past. who really did know me when I was growing up. My mother stopped calling me Reg after awhile, once the name Marty came in and, from then on, in she called me by my stage name so goodbye Reg! She called me Marty from then on in – so Reg disappeared.
“A lot of the time was spent out of London, because my father was a sergeant who was training men in the Army. He was in the Buffs regiment stationed first in Salcombe Devon, and I was there, of course, with my mother.
We moved again, later, to Capel Curig in North Wales, and it proved to be one of the big loves of my life. and one of the best things that happened to me – in so many ways.
“The worst problem I had, from recollection, was that I was the only English boy in a school where they all spoke Welsh some of the time. But I learned to love the countryside and nature, and the people from Wales were very kind to mum and I. They accepted us and it was a beautiful way to grow up.
“I managed to miss a lot of the bombing in London, although, I did see many bombers at night in the search lights, and many doodle bugs. One came perilously close to killing mum and I when it flew over the Granada Greenwich at rooftop height, but luckily for us went on to explode a few miles up the road.
“My father, being an army sergeant, gave me an insight into what National Service would be like. So when I was called for my Nation Service, I was mentally accepting a situation that was bound to happen – and it was called ‘Conscription’, but he sort of talked it all through. He said: ‘Look, make the best of it.’ “But Larry Pames, who was my manager, had other ideas and he got me out of National Service, by jiggery-pokery, and some surgeon, who felt compelled to say I had fallen arches I think.
“Although I went through all the tests and everything, they didn’t accept me into the Army. What are my feelings about not doing National Service? Well, in some ways I think it would have been good to have done it because the discipline is good for shaping your character, but on the other hand I would never have had a career, so that would have been a disaster for me personally.
My choice was not to do it, I didn’t, and I’m damn glad I didn’t.” Did he take up a career before his long trail to stardom? “I didn’t really have a career; I was just a messenger boy walking around London all day long, going nowhere, but it was a start and I was only 15 years of age so it was good experience.”
Marty was around at the time of Tommy Steele and others of the late 50s.
“Well, although Tommy Steele had several hits written for him, and I think Lionel Bart wrote most of them, mine was a slightly different situation as we were covering American tracks all the time. They were put in front of me and I would pick one out that I liked but, to be honest, they weren’t my kind of songs, but there was no choice really.
“I mean, I didn’t really know any Rock ‘n’ Roll writers and, although Lionel Bart was a great song writer, he belonged to the musical world of the stage, writing such great musicals as ‘Oliver’.
“But he wasn’t a rock ‘n’ roll writer and, although he wrote ‘Living Doll’ for Cliff, that song was originally a sort of jazzed up piece of music, and it was only Bruce of The Shadows who brought it down to what it really should be, which is a slow song.
“The only good thing to come out of that situation, was that I got so frustrated with everything, that I decided to write my own material, and luckily wrote my first self-penned hit ‘Bad Boy’.”
What was it like performing on the road at many different venues, night after night?
“Well it was a funny experience because, at that time, it was the death knell of the old musicaltype shows, so I would be working with old comedians, fire eaters, and tightrope walkers, and even violinists and people like that – and it was a strange situation, ‘cos I would be on the bill with all sorts of entertainers who had nothing to do with the pop industry, and certainly nothing to do with Rock ‘n’ Roll.
“There was no-one else to work with, and it wasn’t like America where they started to do package shows with just singers being on the bill, and early Rock ‘n’ Roll singers like Elvis were working with other Country Stars who, at least, were something like him. Was he one of the Wilde things’ at the time?
“No not really – I wasn’t a ‘Wilde thing’. I was too busy planning out, or worrying about what I was going to do next. Most of the time I really concentrated on my career- I was a very motivated man.
“Life has changed for me in many ways, but I am still touring. On some of my tours, I do my own show which is a much smaller affair obviously than the big tours.
But, apart from my many theatre dates this year, I will also be doing a tour at the end of the year for Flying Music, which I do every two years. It will incorporate about 30 to 40 dates and it’s always a great experience, because it allows me to perform with some of my old friends, such as Eden Kane and Johnny Leyton: and, of course, I have toured with my old workmate Joe Brown.
So it’s a lovely thing to do and to share a laugh with your old buddies.”
Is It because he can pick and choose dates and venues?
“Well to a certain extent I do — but I mean – you have to take the venues available, and, as you can gather, I choose to work because I absolutely adore it – it’s a life force with me. If I stopped, I don’t know what I would do, so it’s a non-starter for me to consider anything else.
“So, I guess you can say I will always be treading the boards for as long as my health will allow.” Working with Joe: are you ‘Two Of A Kind?’
“A rather strange thing in a way: I mean, Joe and I go back many many years – way back to those early days. Obviously there are great similarities, because Joe’s talented daughter sings and plays music like my daughters, Kirn and Roxanne. Kim is constantly touring, and my youngest daughter Roxanne tours the world as a backing vocalist for Kylie Minogue, so I’m used to having my children working – just as Joe is.
“Joe also works with his son Peter, just as my son Ricky works with Kim as her MD. It is strange, but Joe and I are very different in many ways, and that’s probably what makes it so great to work with him, because the one thing that links Joe Brown with Marty Wilde, is that both of us adore music – there’s no question about that, and because we adore music so much, we are good together – and we work well together.
“It’s always great fun working with Joe, because his approach to work is slightly different to mine. I am more laid back, while his approach to music is stricter and disciplined, but I think the pair of us get the right sort of balance, and Joe is a wonderful artiste, there is no doubt about that.”
Was it something he encouraged his sons and daughters to do – or was it a natural talent? “I think it is definitely something in the genes – there’s no question with Kim and Ricky, Roxanne, and my grandchildren, who all have a natural love of performing on-stage and making music.
“As I have said – I do think it’s in the genes, and maybe it’s something that’s passed on from one generation to another- from us to our children to their children. Our home has always been full with the sound of music – Julie Andrews often pops in for a pint of Guiness – so they have been living in a world that’s bound to influence their own lives.
“So it’s not just a natural talent, more a natural thing for them to want to do I guess.”
As a big, good-looking heartthrob in the pop world, Marty married young and that caused a bit of a stir. He still is, of course, a big, good-looking heart-throb in the pop world!
“Yes it did cause a stir – but it was a time in my life when I had to make a decision to move on. I wanted to get married because I had met someone I loved. So there was no question that there was going to be anything but a great change in my life. If something was going to affect my career, then, tough, because my life had to go on, and I couldn’t be ruled by people outside my world, I had to get on with my own life.
“Recently I did a show with Kim, and my family, and it was fantastic. It was a Christmas show for Kirn’s Christmas album, and I totally enjoyed it. I do of course work with my daughter Roxanne an awful lot these days. I try to get Roxanne whenever I can, because she likes to work, but obviously has a great allegiance to Kylie with whom she worked three world tours.
“So I understand that, and try to get her when Kylie is not so busy, so then she can work with me. It’s a privilege at my age to work with my family – it’s such a lovely thing to be able to do, and I think that we work well together.
Golf is one of Marty’s hobbies.
“I haven’t played with Jess Conrad – but, let’s put it this way – he does make me laugh! Anyway, yes, I love golf like Jess – like many other artistes – it is one of my favourite hobbies. I also love song-writing and that might sound strange, but song-writing to me is almost a hobby and has given me so much satisfaction over the years.
“I also love aircraft so, when I can, I go to air shows, and I have hundreds of books on aviation. They are my basic hobbies – golf, writing, and aircraft. “I listen to music all the time. I have a set-up in my office with two very large speakers so I can listen to all the current music available from radio stations around the world. I always listen to the Top 40 – so I’m normally pretty current on what’s happening chart-wise, and I can honestly say I really do rate a lot of the young talent around today. I like most of the artistes, but not all of them, and I like a lot of the music that’s out at the moment. While travelling, I listen to mostly classical music, as it seems to sooth me down when the traffic gets bad.
“So classical music when travelling in my car; pop music when in my office. I have a huge collection of music on my computer, probably more than 20,000 pieces. Some of them, of course, will be old Rock ‘n’ Roll records, Classical, and Pop.
“You name it, they are there in my computer because, luckily, I have a huge and varied taste in my music: I’m a lucky man ‘cos I love it all.
“When the charts first began, I would, like any other artiste, follow my own releases and hopefully watch them as they climbed up the charts. That meant an awful lot to me, and to get recognition by receiving gold and silver discs was fantastic.”
Are you still able to collect royalties and have you been able to safeguard your family from the pitfalls of contractual obligations?
“Its difficult to protect your family from contractual obligations, because my wife and I no longer control their careers any more, but we hope they know most of the pitfalls that other artistes go through. If they are unsure about something in the industry, they can always ask us about it.
“My song-writing has given me the independence I have now, so that enables me to pick and choose what I really want to do.
Loneliness on the road
“Loneliness – there is no question about that. I can remember looking out of windows on some beautiful days wondering what my mates are doing now, thinking about the fun they must be having.
“I seemed to be just working all the time, but I guess it was all part of a learning process that comes with being a star. I don’t care who they are, whether the late Michael Jackson, or Elvis, there would have been times in their lives when they would have been so lonely and yet would have been surrounded by thousands of people.
“But having a family made my life become much more balanced. There were times when it was all working men’s clubs, and tough times – nevertheless. It was a learning process. I worked so many clubs in the North of England, but the people there were so good to me because they kept me in work and supported me when I most needed it.
“I feel I owe them a lot and, although they might have been tough times for me and my family, it eventually all turned out for the best, and it makes me realise just how lucky I was, and I will always be very thankful for that.” Retirement?
“I could never ever think of retiring – it’s not something that ever enters my mind, although occasionally it does if I’m telling you the honest truth. Every other few weeks. I will say: ‘Oh I can’t do this’ and people around me just laugh because, a day later, I come back to reality again and I realise I am going to do it, and I do love it.
“It’s a big part of my life – always will be – I have no plans to retire. What keeps me going? I think – sheer love of music – I adore music – it was the only thing the Labour and Conservative Parties couldn’t tax me for, and it’s the one force that has really kept me going all these years.
“Charity? I’m starting to favour maybe doing some charity work for animals – I love animals – animals are very important to me, and I think they are important to all human beings.
“One of my favourite animals, of course, is the dog, but loving animals so much means I can’t stand cruelty of any kind to any creature. So I guess I am a Buddhist at heart, insomuch as I don’t believe in hurting animals. So a lot of my time in the future is going to be spent, hopefully, acting on this.”
“When it comes down to an honour – do I think I should be Sir Marty? If someone, of course, gave me a medal, I would be very honoured. But it’s not the most important thing in the world – the most important thing is to be happy with what I already have, and I have been such a fortunate man, so all I really need now, is good health.”
Autobiography or memoirs?
I could write so much in my autobiography but I am not sure the public could stand the truth about Joe Brown, Eden Kane and Johnny Leyton. Their exploits over the years could fill Women’s
Own magazine for at least a quarter of a page and would certainly have the world on the edge of their seats.
“Only a joke, folks!..All the best,”