Review: The Jangling Man – The Martin Newell Story

The Jangling Man film premiere Thursday 29th September 2022 at Hackney Picturehouse.

Words by Emmally Parsons

Illustrations by Joe Munro

Introducing the man who did an eco-green tour via bicycle before it was deemed woke or a marketing stunt.

Martin Newell… 

“He’ll gladly tangle with the weeds

And meet all your herbacious needs

And then he’s got a gig in Leeds

Who’s that then. Martin Newell” 

As John Cooper Clarke would say. 

Where to begin with such a man, icon, enigma, wordsmith, witty wonder that is Martin Newell? 

This man attracted an audience of people from far and wide, and spanning decades – from teeny boppers to golden oldies. A couple even from North Carolina came to watch the premiere of The Jangling Man, at Hackney Picturehouse on the 29th September.

He is still very much a cult icon. People either gate-keep him or celebrate him. Not often both. This is why this documentary was a necessity to make. To celebrate him and give him the credit he greatly deserves, although Martin wouldn’t really care either way. He makes music because that’s what he enjoys doing and the rest can simply “fuck off”. 

This premiere of The Jangling Man was incredibly overdue, having been in the works since 2019. Over 50 hours of footage was spliced and diced up by the lovely jet-setting couple from North Carolina in their woodside cabin. A stunning parallel to how Martin recorded most of his beloved Cleaners From Venus tracks… In a basement with an 8-track, guitar, bass, drum machine and some bloody great lyrics. 

Martin has the ability to play everything from 20-minute dream sequence prog rock, to jazz, to jangly, to three-minute pop songs. He is a man of many talents. A career that spans past music into TV and gardening and eventually buying a house directly from his poetry writing profits. A success that not many could say they could have achieved. 

The documentary was directed by James Sharp, whose idea for the documentary was birthed from a tour bus in America and a chance contact with Martin. A few email correspondences later and the rest was history. A friendship between them was born and thus the documentary too. The most important element of this film is how intimate and authentic it is. There are tender moments in it, comments that will split your sides from laughter and an array of wonderful costumes from Martin whilst telling his many life anecdotes. This documentary is more than a homage to one of the greats, it is an exploration of Martin’s world which many do not have the privilege of being a part of let alone being a fly on the wall in.  

Mac Demarco, Stevie R. Moore, John Cooper Clarke, Tim Burgess and more were all interviewed about the influence Martin had had on them. Many of them had wild pub related or tour stories of Martin, others a poem (John Cooper Clarke I’m looking at you); but the common theme amongst them all was how much of a hard-working, talented and impeccable wordsmith he is. He is revered amongst fans of his work as a once-in-a-generation musician and a wonderfully eccentric Englishman. They really don’t make them like that anymore!

Mr. Newell exudes a comforting familiarity and friendly openness with his fans. The Q&A post-documentary was informal and jovial. It was like you were in his living room having a chinwag over a cup of coffee with him. The questions came in thick and fast from the audience and spanned from off-topic questions regarding Sam Cooke, Luton’s dire straits and Martin’s favourite music influences such as The Shadows

It’s also important to note that this documentary justly touched upon Martin’s intense disdain for London, the music industry and the huge egos it breeds. It is so rare that an artist can admit to this ‘industry secret’, let alone fiercely reject and walk away from it.  

Part of Martin’s charm is his second nature of rebellion. I’m not sure if he is even aware of it being in his innate nature. It is so profound that when he speaks in a room, he really captures the attention of everyone. During the Q&A, many fans seemed very in awe of him. He is a rare sighting after all.. he refuses to tour or even come to London.

I could tell you section-by-section of the film but that would be a waste of a word count and even your time or eyesight. Therefore, it really is best to watch the documentary independently and make your own opinion on it. I have had the pleasure of watching this documentary a couple of times now. And every time it just gets better and better and makes me laugh even more. It’s uplifting, inspirational and just simply brilliant. Just what we all need as a remedy in the current affairs that we are living through. In the true spirit of Martin Newell, “fuck off” (with peace and love) and go watch it. 

Special Thanks goes to Zaynab Abigail.  

Image Credits: Original Film Illustrations by Joe Munro.

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