TONY MARTIN (EN)

Anyone who considers themselves a Black Sabbath die-hard should remember Tony Martin‘s name with particular fondness. His melodic and extensive vocal range resurfaced the band from its ashes during very turbulent times for the fathers of heavy metal between 1987 and 1997. He recorded with them five underrated albums, including gems like Headless Cross, Tyr or Cross Purposes. In fact, after Ozzy he’s the vocalist who has been the longest with the band from Birmingham, even longer than the iconic Dio. Without forgetting of course other singers such as the legendary Glenn Hughes, Ian Gillan passing by and even Rob Halford for some live shows.

It has been a hugee pleasure for Queens of Steel, due to his enormous music legacy, to have been able to interview him again, to learn the ins and outs of his time with Black Sabbath, as well as his extensive solo career, and as a session or guest vocalist. Last Friday 14th the third album of his own project, Thorns, was released. We have been able to enjoy it and we strongly recommend that you listen to it. We hope you enjoy this interesting interview!

-Nice to meet you, Tony! To begin with, the mandatory question.  How have you and your family have been during this global pandemic?

Thank you, same to you! It’s ok… I mean, you know, same with everybody, I guess.

-Yeah.

We have a vulnerable family. My parents are very old, like 90 years old… so for us it’s important to do what you have to do. We’re having all the vaccinations and the masks… as well as lock all the doors and don’t let any people in! (laugh). So, for us that’s the right thing to do. I know other people have different views on it, but we’re happy to do that. If there’s more vaccinations we’ll have those as well. It makes no sense not to.

Apart from that, my career is in the studio, so nothing has really changed. I was always locked in the studio anyway so, you know, I didn’t have to go out. I’m still in the studio, so it’s been not too bad to us. It’s ok.

-What records got you interested in metal music?

Oh Wow! That’s… that’s a long time back! I really am this old (laughing while he touches his chin). 1971 changed everything for me. Before that, I was into The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and… other hippie-like stuff! As 1971 happened… Sabbath, Zeppelin and all those bands were kicking around and they just opened my eyes to everything. In England I’m not sure… you’re probably not old enough to remember, but we had so many bands, really good bands, so we listened to everything. It wasn’t just heavy metal. So, I did get into everything: from reggae, to rock, opera… lots of stuff was going on. Such a small island and yet so much creativity came from England. It was just impossible to avoid it all, so I kind of got involved with heavy metal more… but it wasn’t called heavy metal then. It was just rock music. The heavy metal tag, label, came much later.

Actually, I didn’t even like Sabbath when I first heard them. I took my first girlfriend to see Black Sabbath in my hometown. I didn’t like it at all. So, I had to learn what Black Sabbath was about and… you know that sort of music. Me personally I was into the more technical stuff like Yes, King Crimson

-All prog rock bands.

Yes, and then Rush… that kind of stuff. My head was in that sort of direction. So I had to learn what this other stuff was about. I mean it’s a great genre, really is fantastic.

-I’m curious to know about your previous projects before joining Black Sabbath. Which voices would you say have been your biggest influences in your singing style?

Umm I don’t really know. Cause I never had lessons… I can’t read music. I’m musically illiterate and I just told myself how to do it. So, I didn’t really have one particular voice that made me… sort of work that way.

In fact, originally, I was a guitar player. I did everything on guitar and then I sort of did all back in vocals. For local bands and stuff like that. But I always had my guitar with me. And then, some guy said: you should be the singer! (laugh). I tried to find out why, but he wouldn’t tell me. I’m not sure if it was because I was a good singer or a shit guitar player (laugh).

-Hahaha.

So, I don’t know. It just happened and my voice sort of, developed. And then it really developed with Black Sabbath. When I was in that band, I found a way of making it work like that. So, nothing in particular, it’s just how it worked out.

-Before Black Sabbath, in which projects were you involved?

Well, nothing that you would know. Local bands like The Alliance or others. Nothing of any gravity or stature. The Alliance had a publishing deal with Warner Brothers, and we were heading for a record deal… but it didn’t happen. The next thing that happened to me… I was in Black Sabbath! (laugh)

-Before you knew.

Because my manager was friends with the band, and they were having some problems. First, they had some problems with Glenn Hugues with the… Seventh Star tour album, I think? And then they got Glenn going. And then they had Ray Gillen and he left. So they called me again and I was in Black Sabbath from nowhere. Not really anywhere… to Black Sabbath, which is a huge distance! Incredible.

-Well connecting to the previous question. The metal community will always cherish your time as a singer for Black Sabbath. I think you’ve already answered me how did you get in the band.

Yeah, because of my manager. They were all friends at school. Tony Iommi, Ozzy and my manager grew up together in Birmingham, my hometown. Albert Chapman, who became my manager, was actually their tour manager during Ozzy days. It’s very incestuous, you know,the music business. Everybody knows everybody else. Everybody has married everybody’s wife. It’s crazy! (laugh).

-Well, it’s great that musicians help each other.

Yes. I remember when I was young, if a member left from your favourite band, you were really angry. Like ugh WTF is he doing!? (laugh). And then a new person would come in and you’d be angry at them (laugh). You know, it was constant anger among bands but honestly, there’s been a lot of changes in the bands. And now I look back on it and think: actually, that has given us a lot of stuff! A lot of music, of memorabilia, of stories… it’s fantastic really!

-Why was Forbidden your last album with them?

Well, you’ll have to ask Iommi about that! I don’t know, I was fired twice! (laugh).

So, you know, I’m not sure what were they thinking. I do know it wasn’t the best one, for me anyway, because I didn’t know if I was going to be in the band. Even when I was in the studio, I didn’t know for sure if I was in the band or not. The management just kept saying: “Keep going, keep going. Well, we’ve got Ice-T (rapper), who’s going to sing something.” And I was like: “Is he singing one song, two, all of them?”. “We don’t know yet, so just keep going.”

So, I didn’t really know, and with that sort of background I couldn’t focus. It was just hard to work, you know. Just like: “Come on, fucking hell! Just tell me what’s going on”. And it was just uncomfortable really…

-Yes, I think that the band was going through internal problems. And well maybe it was that.

Yes. And then they had to deal with I.R.S. Records. I don’t know what they agreed. Then, the record after that was umm… The Sabbath Stones, wasn’t it? The compilation album that they did after that. So, from the very first one that I did, which is The Eternal Idol, to the last one, The Sabbath Stones… it was about then years! And that sort of all kept my name associated with the band, you know.

-In my opinion, Headless Cross is your biggest achievement with the fathers of heavy metal, followed closely by the epic Tyr. Which albums or songs do you remember most fondly from your time with them?

Well, I remember them all, kind of. Everybody says that your favourite is the one you’re working on now. So, right now of course is Thorns, which is my favourite thing in the world at the moment.

When I think back… umm I mean Headless Cross was cool. There’s a couple of stories around those albums which are kind of interesting. Nightwing, you know the track from the album, Cozy Powell was producing that at the time. I went in and sang it, and he went: “Ok, thank you!”. And I said: “What? No, I’m not finished!”. And he replied: “No you’ve done it, that’s fine!”. And we had this little fight. Then he said: “Ok, I’ll give you two more goes. If you can’t better it, that’s it!”. After that, I said: “Yeah, I can do it better!” (laugh). And I didn’t do it better. So, the version that you hear is the first take. That’s the only one that they would accept. Now I look back on it and think: “Well, it was actually quite good”. But at that time, I was really angry that they wouldn’t let me… now I think that’s cool.

But I remember them all, they were all good times. I thought we were making good advance in the Sabbath name. Because they must’ve been low to take an unknown singer like me. I was nobody, really. So, they needed to built the name back up again, and I think we were doing that. I do feel like we achieved something. So, it was a shame it had to end, but it did. Twice (laugh).

-If I’m not mistaken, were you also briefly at Candlemass, another doom metal classic band.

Yes, they were good friends. I haven’t spoken to them for a long time. I was going to audition for the band, just to see how it could work. We ran out of time, which is usually what happens. They needed to make a decision and I already got things happening. We couldn’t really pursue it. But I joined them just for a couple of things. Nice guys, got along with them.

-Did you record something with them?

Yes, I did a couple of things. They only stayed as demos, nothing that I know of was released.

-Throughout your whole career, a lot of funny anecdotes must have happened to you, while being on stage or on the road. I would like you to tell me which ones have impacted you the most.

Umm… I’m not sure I could tell you (laugh). Those were just crazy days, a lot of fun. Well, sometimes not a lot of fun, you know, and it was really hard work. You’ll hear that from most bands. Sometimes you could be fighting, sometimes really happy. I guess if I go right back to the Headless Cross days, where we went to Russia. We were one of the first bands in Russia. We were doing two shows a day. One in the afternoon, and the other in the night. For two weeks. I think it was 40.000 people in the Olympic stadium. We were playing Iron Man, you know it, right? (laugh).

-Of course!

You know how it goes: “na na nanana”. So, Iommi comes up to me and hits me with his guitar and says: “look, down there! There’s an old lady knitting!”. (laugh).

-Knitting ? In the middle of a concert!?

To Iron Man! (Imitates an old lady’s voice): “Wow very nice boys”. I was like: “WTF is she doing!?”(laugh).

-Did you share stage with Aria, the heavy metal band from Russia?

Mm don’t remember, honestly. It might well have been. I mean we had Girlschool on with us. And then we had Motörhead. But I can’t remember. It’s an age thing, that’s the fact! (laugh).

-You collaborated with your son Joe Harford on your album Scream. Has he contributed to any of the guitar tracks on the new album?

Yes, Joe is a nice kid and he’s a good guitar player. He makes an appearance on the track Book of Shadows. Well, Thorns, the album, was originally called like that, but it took so long… I think it took ten years to get this album done. It took so long that, by the time we were to name the album, Bruce Dickinson had already used the name (very similar to The Book of Souls). So, I couldn’t use that. Then I was going to call it Black Widow Angel, and then it became Thorns. It had a transition of different names.

But Joe does plays guitar in that song for me. It was very cool.

-Related to the previous question, this Friday you’ll release Thorns, the third album of your own project, after many years since your latest release in 2005. I’m sure our readers will enjoy listening to it, as much as I have. What can you explain us about it? From what you’ve told me, it’s something you’ve been working on for a long time.

Yes, like I’ve said it has taken me about ten years to do it, and that’s because my career is in the studio. I kind of regret, it’s been a little bit of a mistake, that I don’t have a ‘band’. If I go out on the road, I have to hire the musicians. Then you must wait and see if they are available. Sometimes the promoter finds you a band, and maybe you get one rehearsal and then… It’s all a bit messy for me. Working live has never been a great thing. My whole career it’s been in the studio for the past twenty-five years!

-That’s a long time!

You know, recording, writing… My voice is now on about seventy-five albums and projects. So that’s where I live, in the studio. It’s taken time because if I have a session or guest appearance coming, I work on that. The solo album gets put to one side. Then I work on it and another session comes in… (laugh). It’s just taking a long time because that’s my life, my career.

But it’s been a great change for me, the guitarist Scott McClellan, who I met on Facebook. He just started sending me guitar riffs. I was like: “Who the fuck is this dude!?”. And then he sent me another one, and another… twenty-five tracks later, I started listening to them, and thought: “Wow this is quite good!”. So, I got in touch with him, and I said: “Do you want me to sing on this?”. He didn’t realize that I was that Tony Martin from Black Sabbath until a little bit later on.

And he replied: “Yeah man, please sing!”. After that, I said: “Ok, here’s the deal: I’ll cut it up, and I’ll put the verses where I want to put them, and the chorus where I want to put it”. He continued: “Yes, no problem!”. So, I took all his music, and I cut it up and put it back together, and it turned out like this. He was really surprised, and I thought it was well worth doing. It was a next big thing for me to do.

The three albums that you’re talking about, the first being Back Where I Belong, that was 1980’s pop/rock stuff. Then Scream, the next one, was a bit heavier, but this is the heaviest one that I’ve done. And it’s a nice direction for me. My voice works there, although it’s down from the Sabbath’s days. I’m five notes down off the top end of my voice, but it still works! The range that I’m singing in now it’s great!

So, I applied that to Thorns, and it all worked great. Lots of great people on it, you probably already know. We have Magnus Rosén on bass, and we also have Greg Smith from Alice Cooper and Rainbow playing some bass lines, as well as myself. I also play some guitar and even drums! (laugh). Then, we have Dario Mollo who’s from The Cage project, he played a guitar solo on there for me. We have Danny Needham who plays most of the drums. Danny has been with me for around twenty years or something like that, but he plays with Venom. Pamela Moore sings on one of the tracks, Thorns. My son Joe… there’s a few people on this, and I’m really happy with how has all come together. There are some great songs on there as well.

-Yes, I think the album sounds great! It’s heavy with some doom influences.

Yes, it works, doesn’t it?

-I’d like to know what’s your opinion on today’s music industry. Do you follow any recent artist?

I like them all! I’m very open to bands, and I like listening to all of it! I have particular directions… newer bands like Foo Fighters, Green Day and even back a little to Dream Theater. Right up to today there are lots of young acts that are good.

But the music business itself… is different from when I was young (laugh). I was signing completely different kind of record contracts. It’s not the same kind of contract that you sign these days. Record labels are different, as well as their customers. They are doing other things like the streaming or downloading stuff… it’s all changed, and we have to go with it. You can’t fight it. It’s something you have to learn, in order to find your position in the business. Otherwise, you can get lost. I know there are thousands of great artists out there, and none of them got record deals. It’s almost impossible these days. I walk down the street sometimes and there’s people playing on the streets that are fantastic. It doesn’t make sense, you know.

Part of it is luck, part of it is designed, but I think you have to be true to yourself. Don’t copy. When I was young, there was only one Black Sabbath, one Led Zeppelin. Now there’re thousand Metallicas doing thousands… you know what I mean (laugh).

-Yeah, do something different.

Yes, it’s not even necessarily different. Because if you listen to yourself and do what you want to do, it becomes different. It’s the very nature of what you do. I’m known for my voice and my lyrics. I write stories in my lyrics and in this new album, Thorns, it’s the same. I mean some of it it’s old school, God and the Devil, stuff like that. But there’s some modern lyrics and stories as well. So, there’s a connection between the old days and the business I had to learn. The same as everybody else, really.

-As a conclusion, you’re currently also playing with the Italian heavy metal band The Cage, as well as with Silver Horses. Are you working on new material with them?

No, that’s all stopped. Firstly, The Cage, was fantastic! Dario is a great guitar player to work with. We’ll always be friends, but I don’t know what will we do now. We’ve done three albums and that was cool.

Silver Horses had a problem. They were crazy with contracts and stuff wasn’t good. It all began a fight, so that kind of broke. Which is a shame because I thought the music was really cool. And I really thought we had a chance of doing something, but it didn’t happen.

And I’ve done lots of sessions. Giuntini was another one I worked with, nice guy and pretty good guitarist. But then again, I couldn’t get that to keep going. Most of my stuff is guest appearances now. The latest one I’ve done is with a band called Secret Society, a gothic kind of band. I was also with a band called Quill, and that’s Bev Bevan’s band, who was the drummer for Electric Light Orchestra and was also in Black Sabbath. So, lots of different sessions. I do whatever is here and whatever is good at the time.

-Thank you so much for taking your time to answer to these questions! Despite the restrictions, let’s hope to see you on tour playing these songs!

I really don’t know. I honestly don’t think it’s this year, and I’m not even sure about next year. It all depends on how the different countries are. Because if my country says: “yeah, you can travel”, but then your country says that you can’t… We can’t plan anything. And like I said, I don’t have a band, I need to hire the musicians. So, I would like to use the band on Thorns Scott, Danny, Magnus and everybody there. Just another quick word about Thorns. It really has been great to work with these guys and I think Scott McClellan is worth watching. He’s got a great style in his guitar playing. So, if I do come on the road, it would have to be with Scott. I’m pretty sure it would be with Danny, Needham and probably Magnus. There are no real keyboards on Thorns, so the we would only use them with Sabbath stuff if we were playing live but… again it all depends on the covid thing, so we’ll have to wait and see. Maybe,we might even get another Tony Martin album and then tour these two albums.

-That would be amazing!

Because then, you get past covid restrictions. We could be writing another album. Maybe we do that, I don’t know yet. But if we do, come on the road, and say hello! I’m glad you liked the album! Recommend it to everybody for me. You know when this is going to go out?

-It depends, because I’ll have to transcribe and translate this. We’ll have a version in English and in Spanish. Probably next week it will be published.

Well, I tend to talk a lot. If it’s too much talking, feel free to cut something out! (laugh).

-No really, thank you so much for these explained answers!

May be an image of one or more people, people standing and indoor
Tony Martin and Scott McClellan in the studio.

Pere Guiteras

pere@queensofsteel.com

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