Born Martin Long in December 1954, in Ilford, Essex, England (now known as Ilford, London Borough of Redbridge, U.K.) on the border of East London and I lived with my parents and older brother. At the age of ten we moved to Hainault, Essex. now known as (Hainault, London Borough of Redbridge, U.K.) on the border of Chigwell, Essex (still known as Chigwell, Essex) which is where my mother really wanted to live but we couldn’t afford the extra £100 required to buy the bungalow of her choice.
I should point out that I was only ten at that time. I don’t want you to think my parents and brother suddenly regressed to join me at that age. That would be weird.
I bought my first guitar when I was fourteen, or was it fifteen. It might have been thirteen. Anyway, I was in my teens and I bought it. It was a ‘Texan’. For all you guitar enthusiasts out there, that’s all I know about it.
For the next five, four or six years, I entertained my neighbours and the frogs in the pond at the end of my garden. Actually I had neighbours on all sides. They weren‘t in the pond… It was the frogs at the bottom of the garden with the fairies who I was reliably informed lived there too. Although I have to confess, I never saw them. The frogs seemed to disappear at an alarming rate between the Spring and Autumn each year while the neighbours, however, were a more hardy bunch and were obviously prepared to weather the onslaught. Either that or they were more discerning than the frogs that disappeared and the fairies who didn’t hang around long enough to give me a fair hearing.
Whatever the case, the experience I gained prepared me for the kind of audience I was to face in years to come. Frogs walking out mid-performance has become a highlight made all the more remarkable in that they bothered to turn up and pay their money in the first place and I’ve lost count of the invisible fairies I’ve played to.
Somewhere between the ages of 18 and 18½ I made my first public appearance as a “folk singer” followed by “floor spots” galore all over London and the Home Counties. Before long I entered the pool of “roadies” for Noel Murphy. I was, of course, first choice. He was once described by Derek Brimstone as a “Celtic Yeti”.
Noel told me once of the time he was booked to play at a folk club in Liverpool. When he arrived he noticed there was not a guitar in the room. Nor in the side room. Yes, that was in the days when pubs had not only a function room but also another one next door where performers could tune-up in peace. He went on for his first set and at the end left the stage to thunderous applause. The organiser stormed in to the ante-room shouting, “What do you think you’re doing? This is a folk club! We don’t have that sort of stuff here!”
So Noel went on for his second set and explained to the audience that he had been advised by the club organiser that his material was not acceptable. He went on to sing a song from Liverpool. “Yellow Submarine”. When he got to the brass band part the audience were on their feet joining in with the music and the actions with trombones, trumpets etc. Standing ovation. Quite obviously the organiser had booked him never having seen Noel live. I learned a lot from Noel…..
One of the many far flung floor spots was at Brunel University, Uxbridge, which inadvertently offered me invaluable experience. Noel was the guest and I put my name down to sing. In those days floor singers were two a penny. Quite a bargain I thought although on this particular night the audience could keep their money in their pockets since I was the only one. So no bargains to be had that night but it gave me an unexpected and not a little scary extended set of at least six songs propelling me in to uncharted territory. I quite enjoyed it realising that after three songs you can relax and find a certain rhythm. It’s probably best to have some sense of rhythm before you start but, nonetheless it was a useful learning curve. Thanks to Brunel University.
It was soon after this I decided I needed to spread my wings and a fine opportunity presented itself one Sunday evening at the Blacksmiths Arms Folk Club, Epping, Essex. I was approached by someone who explained that he was about to open a new folk club in Walthamstow at the Lord Brooke pub in Shernhall Street. He was gathering floor singers in order to be sure of offering a full night’s entertainment on the opening night and, hopefully, subsequent weeks. It was quite an honour to be invited, not at first realising he was asking just about everyone who had a musical pulse. That man was Alan Bearman who is now an agent and an organiser of Sidmouth and Towersey Folk Festivals. He doesn’t have to ask any more. We all ask him.
So this was an opportunity I was keen to accept…..until I learned that the club night was to be on a Wednesday. A WEDNESDAY?!! Quite apart from the fact that they had begun showing football on TV on Wednesdays, I was heavily committed to amateur dramatics. Not only on Wednesdays but Mondays and Thursdays, too. As soon as the current show was over, on the first available Wednesday, I was there. The only floor singer. After all Alan’s work in gathering floor singers, I was the only one. Again.
Alan and his co-organisers soon decided that, perhaps, Wednesday was not the best day of the week to run a folk club if you wanted an audience and it became clear that the club needed a resident. So I became the first ever resident singer of the Navvy Boot Folk Club. Later, Alan merged the club with The Three Blackbirds in Leyton, moved to The Chestnut Tree pub in Walthamstow and the Chestnuts Folk Club was born.
About the same time I was becoming interested in the Morris largely through watching a side which regularly performed at one of the many local folk clubs I attended. It got to the point where I convinced myself that they needed me. All I had to do was convince them that they needed me. Very soon they recognised that they would benefit from owning a novice and I joined.
Now a member of the Albion Morris it took two years to break in to the side and “dance out”. TWO YEARS of pub tours and sweating inside a hobby horse or, in this case a lion, resting on my head and having a glass smashed over it’s own (very heavy) head. On another occasion, during the torchlight procession at Christchurch Folk Festival, high spirited youths decided it would be a good idea that the lion’s mane should double as a torch.
The first I knew of it was when the rest of the side made valiant attempts to extinguish the inferno. It hurt but I’m pleased to say they succeeded.
In 1978, out of the blue, at the Southend Folk Festival I was approached by a man called Keith Dignum.
“Do you know anyone who plays guitar and wants to join a ceilidh band?“, he said.
“Yes, me!“ I replied. So I joined. Keith named the band “Parson Hogg”. Great name (?!)
I’ll never know why he asked me. I’d never met him before although I knew of him.
It was at the beginning of the eighties I took up calling ceilidhs with the same band and a new guitarist and as time went on, with others. Bands, not guitarists. I even began calling with recorded music and, on occasions, still do. I began getting bookings at folk clubs, rotary clubs and all sorts of unlikely places, cutting my teeth thus enabling me to sing a lot better. With those new teeth I found I could also write songs. By this time I’d left Parson Hogg and began working in the ceilidh band, “The Dangerous Brothers”, with Nick Pickett, a man with a pedigree, and Derek Proctor, a wonderful character from the North-East of England who looked like an Old English Sheepdog. Nick had played with The John Dummer Blues Band having a No.1 hit with “Nine By Nine” in just about every European country except Britain. Twice. We carried on through some difficult times, particularly for Nick, when, in 1992 he became seriously ill with cancer. But he’s a man of steel and carried on playing drums with us through chemo-therapy, only ever missing one gig, as far as I remember, when he was too ill to come out and play. Twenty years later he’s still going strong and now Dr. Nick Pickett. A remarkable man and a good friend.
My first cd, “The Climbing Boy”, appeared in 1993, produced by Graeme Taylor (Gryphon, Albion Dance Band/Albion Band, Home Service) with guest musicians Valerie Cutler (Albion Morris), Jonathan Davie (Home Service), John Kirkpatrick (Albion Country Band, Richard Thompson Band, Brass Monkey, Steeleye Span), Philip Pickett (Albion Dance Band, New London Consort) and Howard Tibble (Shakin’ Stevens)
The same year I moved from East London to Faversham in Kent where I live today. This opened up a whole world of new musicians and doors began to open. The solo career was gathering pace through the nineties, playing clubs and festivals, meeting and making new friends. Alongside all this came opportunities to and call with different ceilidh bands. I even played drums with John Kirkpatrick’s Bumper Ceilidh Band.
“Do you want sticks or brushes?” said I.
“No, don’t mess around with brushes. Just hit it.” said John.
You drummers will understand.
Very soon I began working on a regular basis with Chris Taylor (Oyster Ceilidh Band, Fiddler’s Dram, Gas Mark Five), playing predominantly Irish music for ceilidhs and pub gigs. Chris’s knowledge of Irish tunes know no bounds. He’s one of those people who can retain tunes and their titles recalling them at any given moment.
My second CD, “Botany Bay” appeared, or as Noel Murphy would have put it, “escaped” in 2000 again produced by Graeme Taylor with musicians Jonathan Davie, James Fagan, Michael Gregory (Albion Dance Band, Home Service), Nancy Kerr, John Kirkpatrick and Keith Thompson (City Waites, Shakespeare’s Globe).
At the end of 2006 I was forced to suspend solo work as a result of health problems. During that time Chris Taylor’s Allstars expanded to the five-piece BOWSTRING with Chris Taylor, twins Ramona and Zinta Egle and Chris Sadler. This helped me to carry on while the rest of the band took the pressure off me. Without these lovely people I would never have kept going. Thank you band.
In 2010 BOWSTRING released their debut CD, “VINNIE’S RETURN”
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