It’s a family affair

Mar 2020 It’s a family affair

by Ian Woolley

On the tail end of his current tour at the age of 80, we met Marty in Dorset just a week after celebrating his diamond anniversary.

Born Reg Smith, Marty was going to record under the name of Reg Patterson but Larry Parnes had other ideas.

“We tossed a coin, not once but twice, and Larry won thank goodness. Marty Wilde has been a lucky name for me,” said Marty. I asked him how it all started.

“Unbeknown to me, Lionel Bart saw me performing at the Condor Club and told Larry Parnes, who subsequently visited my mother one Sunday when I was at church – complete with contract. After he went away, I discussed it with my parent, who signed it on my behalf. I was 17.

“I was a very determined young man and always thought that, somehow, I would make it. I was ambitious and ever since the age of 10 I wanted to sing.

“Music has always pulled me through, not just rock and roll but all genres – classical for example. I love to hear a violin or a guitar, and music is, and always has been, a big part of my life from an early age.

“My father was a big influence in my life. When we had the radio on around the house, he would sing harmonies to the songs. He kept me focussed to the music and I grew up listening to the likes of Frankie Lane and Johnny Ray.

“In my teenage years, the former was my idol until Rock & Roll came out, when Elvis came on the scene. Elvis, Buddy and Jerry Lee Lewis had a big influence on me at that time, as I was in a skiffle band called The Hound Dogs.

“When, one day, I saw the film Blackboard Jungle, I told the band we weren’t doing skiffle any more…we’re moving on.”

Six months later, Larry Parnes signed them up. At that time, he had been alternating between The Condor and singing for a quid and a bowl of spaghetti! Success came almost straight away when, in 1958, Endless Sleep hit the charts.

Despite never having a chart -topping single in the UK himself, he had many Top 10 hits which almost made it. A Teenager in Love got to No.2, and Donna and Sea of Love made No.3 in the charts, with Rubber Ball, Bad Boy and Endless Sleep.

Does Marty have a favourite song that he loves to sing? “Bad Boy and Endless Sleep, although the latter I don’t really do very much in my repertoire these days. I also love to do Abergavenny, which we do every once in a while.”

I asked him about his novelty song of 1968. “My wife and I were on our way to a pantomime in Swansea when I saw a sign with the place name called Abergavenny*. I thought the name would make a great song the way it rolled off the tongue, and subsequently recorded with a brass band. It did really well abroad because, at that time, I wasn’t really selling records.”
Had he ever been to the place –which also happened to be my birthplace?

“I’ve been there many times since as it’s such a beautiful place, and always sing it at the little theatre in the town. The people, too, are really great and I love it to bits.”

Forging a successful career in song-writing, Marty wrote chart hits for Lulu (I’m A Tiger) and Status Quo (Ice In The Sun) before writing all of his daughter Kim’s hits. I asked him which of his songs gave him the most satisfaction in his long career. “Recorded by The Casuals, the song I co-wrote with Ronnie Scott called Jesamine and Kids in America for my daughter Kim, without a doubt. I had bought this organ and was playing around in the chord of C, which was the easiest key for me to play in.

“I started to write it and Ronnie helped me to finish it. Ronnie was a great songwriter and we had a lot of success together. (He went on to write a lot of chart hits for Bonnie Tyler).
“It would certainly have got to the top of the charts in 1968 if it was not for The Beatles being there with Hey Jude. Nobody was going to move them from that top spot.”

A regular on TV shows 6.5 Special, Oh Boy! and Boy Meets Girl, Marty also appeared in a few films throughout the years. Jet Storm, The Hellions, What A Crazy World and a cameo appearance in the 1974 movie Stardust.

He met his future wife when they were performing on the hit show Oh Boy! Joyce Baker was singing in The Vernons Girls and it was love at first sight for Marty. He admitted that his career did suffer when his marriage became public, despite having advice to keep their relationship secret from his fans.

“I never took that side of the business too seriously anyway. Before I met Joyce, it had been a life of recording, singing and sleeping, with little time for anything else. The road can be a very lonely place at times.

Once Joyce came along, of course, things were different. There is nothing stronger in the world than two people working together. She’s a great businesswoman and very astute and has given me great advice throughout my career.

“We recently celebrated our Diamond Wedding anniversary.” Having had four children, three of which are involved in music to this day, Marty is very proud of what his children have achieved.
“Roxanne works regularly with me, and Ricky and Kim have forged their own successful careers in the music business. Our other son Marty, junior, is a successful landscape gardener, owning his own company. (Kim is an avid gardener too).”

Having come through several health scares and a brush with cancer however, Marty still loves to perform for his fans. He recently toured with Eden Kane, Mark Wynter and Mike Berry. In 2016, he was presented with an MBE by the Queen herself, an honour he still treasures to this day.

Marty’s unshakeable belief that UFOs exist still remains as strong today as it’s always been. So what does the future hold for Marty?

“Apart from my other stuff, I am hoping later on in the year to do some dates with Eden Kane now he’s getting better after his recent health scare.

*Abergavenny was also the nearest town where in 1971 actor and singer Dickie Valentine was killed one night in the early hours when his car careered into a bridge in the village of Glangrwyney, with his drummer and pianist. He was en route to the Double Diamond Club in Caerphilly. Dickie was just 41 years of age at the time of his death. Marty remembers flowers being placed there down the years and there once was a plaque on the bridge which has long gone. He was very supportive of Marty in his early career.