International Songwriters Association (ISA) Songs And Songwriting • Marty Wilde Interview

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Marty Wilde Interview

Introduction by Jim Liddane
Marty Wilde, born Reginald Leonard Smith in Blackheath, London, is a British singer, songwriter and actor who rose to fame as one of the leading figures of the British rock 'n' roll scene. Managed by Larry Parnes, he signed with Philips Records, releasing his debut single, "Honeycomb," in 1957.

Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, he enjoyed a string of hits in the UK music charts. Some of his notable successes included "Endless Sleep", "A Teenager in Love", "Donna", "Sea Of Love", "Rubber Ball" and "Bad Boy". His music often blended rock 'n' roll with pop influences, and his charismatic stage presence which I have been lucky to witness live, contributed to his lasting popularity among fans.

In addition to his singing career, Marty Wilde also ventured into songwriting, penning songs for himself as well as for other artists, scoring hits for the Casuals' ("Jesamine"), Lulu ("I'm a Tiger"), Status Quo ("Ice in the Sun") and "Kids In America" and "Cambodia" for his daughter Kim Wilde. He also took on acting roles in films and television during the 1960s and beyond, appearing in such movies as "Jet Storm" (1959), "The Hellions" (1961), "What A Crazy World" (1963) and "Stardust" (1974).

While his chart success may have waned as the 1960s progressed, Marty Wilde remained active in the music industry, touring constantly and regularly releasing new material. He also became involved in producing and managing other artists, including his daughter, Kim, who went on to international success.

Although most of his contemporaries have long since retired, Marty continues to perform live, both as a solo artist and as part of revival tours celebrating the rock 'n' roll era. He has also participated in various television shows and specials dedicated to the history of rock music.

Marty Wilde is a key figure in the British rock 'n' roll scene whose contributions helped shape the landscape of British popular music and influenced subsequent generations of artists.

Jim Birmingham interviewed Marty Wilde for the International Songwriters Association's publication "Songwriter Magazine".

Is there a songwriter you’ve always wanted to write with?
Any good writer! It’s difficult because I like so many but I would like to write some Rock & Roll with Mark Knopfler and I like Sting and McCartney, but particularly Knopfler - he’s got so much Rock & Roll in him.

I understand you have a theory that everyone has at least one hit song in them?
I do. I used to get material sent in from people who might not be able really to sing or play but there was something there. I remember particularly one song that came through and it would never have been a hit because it was almost comical just the way it was dono on demo. This man sang and you could hear dog noises in the background, and cups chinking on saucers. But it was fantastic - he was singing absolutely from the heart and it ended up with a voice coming in “oy your dinner’s on” or something like that. We used to howl about it but had it been promoted, it could have been a hit!

So I think I am right, unless you are an absolute dimwit, you have to be pretty dumb not to be able to do something to make music. I think there are good writers out there but because of their sensitivity, they write a few things and they play it to a family member or friend who says “well that’s a load of rubbish” and then they stop. It’s like anything in life - you can easily get knocked. I always say, your songs are like your best pal or your brother or your sister, so any negative thoughts or criticism about them can really hurt. Any songwriter that’s at the beginning of their career, just has to be prepared for the knocks and keep at it.

Two writers I've spoken to recently - Mike Batt and Graham Lyle are both coincidentally releasing albums of material they have written for other people but never released themselves. Is that something you would consider doing?
I did actually think about it about six months ago and it is something I am still considering.

When Kim started having success, was there a point where you went from being recognised as Marty Wilde to "Aren’t you Kim Wilde's dad?”
Oh yeah, once Kim came along with her own career, it was natural that such an change would follow, but the lovely thing is that I have never been jealous of Kim's success. I could imagine some people might be, and you know, you could write a really good story about a showbiz father being terribly jealous of his daughter - that could be one hell of a film!

But you were very hands on with Kim's success anyway weren’t you, with the songwriting and studio work anyway? It wasn’t as if you were left behind with no involvement?
That’s right - it made a lot of difference. I was in the studio most of the time when the creative side was being laid down. I didn’t get involved in the sound side of it but I used to like to make sure it had little bits and pieces that helped it in a commercial sense, just some of the structures and parts to the songs. It was a great way to get your creativity out as well.

Basically it was a creative comeback for yourself without all the aggro of having to get out there and do it.
That’s exactly what it was and if I have to nominate some of the best things I ever wrote, it would be Kim’s first album. Really it was a nuisance in a way but I wrote on that album everything I ever wanted to say, apart from when I wrote the lyrics for “Cambodia” which was slightly different and fulfilling, I like songs that tell a story - a bit like a film.

What are you currently working on?
I write mostly for my own stage show which is called “Born To Rock & Roll” and I start the show with a song of the same title and finish with a longer version, so mostly I am writing for that. but it’s annoying - you can’t stop ideas. It’s crazy really. At 62, I should be put out to pasture, but I can’t stop getting melody ideas.

Any advice for aspiring songwriters?
Yeah. Learn chord sequences, go in for adventurous middle eights, take up an instrument and learn as much as you can. I find so much is sampled these days, and sampling is a lazy way of getting away with something in some ways! Having said that - I quite like it in some songs - they remind me of Salvador Dali paintings because they’re bits and pieces and quite electrifying in the way they are put together. But they hit you mainly because some of the bits have already been hits themselves. I think there is a colossal amount of talent out there. I have no worries about the future there is a huge amount of talent out there.

Finally do you follow the charts?
I do sometimes. I am still a good picker. If I hear something on the radio I’ll say to my son “What’s that?” and he’ll tell me who it is, and I’ll say “That’ll be a hit” and generally it is. So I do listen, and even though it’s a different style to me I can still pick ‘em!
Copyright Songwriter Magazine, International Songwriters Association & Jim Birmingham: All Rights Reserved


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