MARTIN BELMONT HAS A BRAND NEW BOOK
Martin Belmont’s first band was Ducks Deluxe, formed in the summer of 1972. After the band’s breakup, Belmont helped found the Rumour, best known for its years backing Graham Parker. He’s also played with Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Johnny Cash, and many others. So the self-taught guitarist has some chops.
Yet, Belmont said, “I went through the first 25 years of my professional career as a musician without being able to read a note of music. You don’t have to for rock and roll. It’s not part of the discipline.”
As the ‘90s rolled to a close, thinking it might be useful in general, and for the guitar lessons he was giving, Belmont went to night school for music theory where he learned to read and write music.
In his classes, and while taking his exams at the University of London, the kind-of-a-rock star wasn’t recognized by any of his classmates. “They were either too old or too young,” Belmont said.
In 1997 he passed his grade five examination in music theory, with distinction he’ll proudly tell you, from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
That degree sure came in handy when he decided to write a book.
The book is The Songs of Three Chords Good and Mystery Glue as recorded by Graham Parker & The Rumour. It includes never before published photographs; insights about the band and the music from Parker and the band members; and song sheets from the two reunion two albums, the aforementioned Three Chords Good and Mystery Glue. Thanks to those classes, Belmont was able to transcribe all the essential riffs and acoustic picking patterns from the album’s songs for the book.
As Belmont writes, “I always liked songbooks. I remember looking at printed music before I knew how to read it. Seeing lyrics written down with chord changes marked before I knew how to play them.
“… whether you play a guitar or not, this book has something for you—playing the songs, reading the lyrics, looking at the photos and enjoying the anecdotes and recollections from the six people who made up the best band I’ve ever been a part of and one of the best I’ve ever heard.”
Before there could be a book, however, there had to be a Rumour, which broke up in 1981. Then, there had to be reunited Rumour.
Belmont, 67, was raised in the country town of Yeovil in Somerset in Southwest England.
To no great surprise, his interest in music was piqued when he heard Elvis Presley and then saw him on television. The first record Belmont bought was Jailhouse Rock. He soon “learned how to play the guitar out of a teach yourself to play the guitar book.”
Belmont attended Bournemouth College of Art on the Southern coast in 1965 and claims that year was the best-ever for music. “Sixty-six, sixty-four, sixty-seven, sixty-eight were also great years. But sixty-five, it had Help and Like A Rolling Stone and Satisfaction in the same year. That’s outrageous,” he said.
Like the fan he was and continues to be, Belmont ticks off other songs from 1965 that remain some of his favorites: the Beatles’s Ticket to Ride, We Can Work It Out, and Day Tripper; The Rolling Stones’s Get Off Of My Cloud; Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues; The Beach Boys’s California Girls; the Kinks’s Tired of Waiting For You and See My Friend; the Them’s Here Comes The Night; Wilson Pickett’s In the Midnight Hour. Then there was the entirety of Otis Redding’s Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul album and “loads of Motown, obviously.”
In the mid-60s, art schools in England were churning out musicians like Detroit was churning out automobiles. Belmont played in skiffle bands and would go to local folk clubs and to the annoyance and amazement of the traditionalists would perform all the verses to epic Dylan songs like A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall or Masters of War. But at Bournemouth, Belmont specialized in cinematography with the intention of becoming a director.
Following graduation in 1970 Belmont moved to London and knocked on a lot of doors but could not land a job in the film industry. It was on to Plan B. His only other interest was music and a friend from art school told him up-and-coming band Brinsley Schwarz was looking for a roadie.
Belmont called cut on his film career, became a Brinsley Schwarz roadie, and soon enough got his first electric guitar.
Dia Davies, Brinsley Schwarz’s publicist who wanted to be a manager, introduced Belmont to guitarist and singer Sean Tyla, and the three hatched a plan to form the band that became Ducks Deluxe.
Ducks Deluxe, along with other roots oriented bands, became part of what has become known as the pub rock movement, a label considered a mixed-bag by the musicians who formed the scene.
The band signed to RCA in 1973 and made their first album that year and toured Europe with label mate Lou Reed. A second album, like their first, didn’t make much of dent on the charts and the band broke up in the summer of 1975.
“The record sales weren’t there, the music had got boring, we got fed up with each other. It had had its day. It was finished. We wanted to do different things,” Belmont said.
Brinsley Schwarz had broken up as well, and Belmont, Bob Andrews, Brinsley Schwarz’s keyboard player, and Brinsley Schwarz, the person and musician, decided by form a group. Bass player Andrew Bodnar and drummer Steve Goulding were recruited from Bontemps Roulez, another pub rock band, and the Rumour was born.
At that time, the Hope & Anchor pub in North London was pub rock’s ground zero. It was one of the first venues to embrace the gritty pub rock bands. Dave Robinson, Brinsley Schwarz’s manager and later Graham Parker and the Rumour’s, built an eight-track recording studio above the pub to record demos and bands playing there. Robinson also co-founded Stiff Records, the label for Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Elvis Costello, The Damned, Motorhead, Tracey Ullman, Kirsty McColl, Madness, Wreckless Eric, and many more.
The Hope & Anchor was home to Belmont. Literally. He lived there and ran the pub’s music cellar bar in the evenings. In the afternoons he rehearsed with the Rumour.
“Dave said to me one day, ‘you gotta listen to this guy,’” Belmont said. To the best of his recollection, the demos Robinson played were Parker’s Between You and Me, Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions, and Back to Schooldays.
“I was gobsmacked. I said this guy is fucking fantastic.
“And he was a guy on his own who had written songs and had very definite ideas about what he wanted to do, but had no idea how to do them.”
“We knew we could play good together but we were kind of directionless,” Belmont said. “And then Dave Robinson, he said a lightbulb went off in his head and it was like, here’s a singer, needs a band. Here’s a band, needs a direction, needs a front man. It was very serendipitous.”
A string of great studio albums by Parker and the Rumour followed: Howlin’ Wind, Heat Treatment, Stick To Me, and Squeezing Out Sparks, which nabbed the Village Voice’s 1979 Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll as top album ahead of Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps, The Clash’s The Clash, Talking Heads Fear of Music, and Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces.
In the paper’s 1976 poll, Heat Treatment came in at number two and Howlin’ Wind at four. (Number one was Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life and at three, Jackson Browne’s The Pretender.)
The band killed it live, too.
“We were a fantastic live band,” Belmont said. “There were very few bands anywhere that could live with us when we were happening on stage. Just ask Think Lizzy. Ask the Police.”
Parker and the Rumour put out a fifth album, The Up Escalator, but couldn’t capitalize on the momentum and acclaim they had generated with Squeezing Out Sparks.
In other words, the band had some fame, some fortune, but not enough of either. As Belmont said, “If we were paid for being critically lauded, we’d be very rich people.
“Graham decided he wanted to try something different and the only thing different left for him to try was working without the Rumour,” Belmont said.
The Rumour, which had put out two albums of their own, put out a third and backed Garland Jeffreys on a tour and live album.
After playing with Jeffreys, Belmont immediately began backing up Carlene Carter, Johnny Cash’s step-daughter. Carter’s band morphed into Nick Lowe’s band, and Belmont played live with Lowe and on his albums for a few years. He also had a one-off gig backing Carl Perkins, in addition to one with Cash, and played with Desmond Dekker in the studio.
As higher-profile gigs stopped coming Belmont began playing sessions and around London with acts including Hank Wangford, My Darling Clementine, Reg Meuross and others. He put out two albums of his own, Big Guitar and The Guest List. He began teaching guitar and put out an album and toured with a reformed Ducks Deluxe.
In March 2011, Belmont got an email from Parker asking, “how do you fancy coming over in June and making an album with me?”
Parker had planned to make an album with the Rumour’s rhythm section, bassist Andrew Bodnar and drummer Steve Goulding. According to Belmont, Goulding said to Parker, half in jest, “if you get Bob and Brinsely and Martin as well, you’ll have a decent band.”
Not a bad idea, thought Parker, and the Rumour was reborn.
They recorded Three Chords Good in Woodstock, N.Y.
“You suddenly find that 30 years didn’t exist,” Belmont said. “We just found that we played as spontaneously well as we did before. Most of the tracks on Three Chords Good are either first takes or second takes.”
In an art imitating life twist, writer, director and Graham Parker fan Judd Apatow had been in touch with Parker about appearing and playing himself in the movie This is 40.
Parker mentioned to Apatow that he was reforming the Rumour and they were making an album. Great, Apatow said. It would fit in the film.
The band got flown to Los Angeles and as described by Belmont, the one-time aspiring director, “You do an awful lot of waiting around. But there’s always somebody to come and mop your brow for you or give you a drink of water, or whatever you need.”
The band toured America and the United Kingdom to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the film’s release.
In 2014, Parker brought the band back together, this time to London, to record Mystery Glue. The album’s release was followed by tours of America and Europe.
“Something happens when the six of us get together,” Belmont said. “First of all, it’s all about the songs, and Graham writes particularly great songs. He’s also a very good singer, real soulful, and an excellent front man, really knows how to connect with an audience.
“As for the Rumour, we knew we were great in the ‘70s. We didn’t know it was going to be great 30 years later until we got in the studio. And then we didn’t know it was going to be great onstage until we started playing onstage, and it was almost effortless. Which doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard work. We rehearsed a lot and we put a lot of work and effort and conscientiousness into it. But the result felt effortless.
“And I would imagine that any great band has the same thing. It’s not to do with the quality of the individuals in the band. It’s to do with how the individuals in the band interact with the other individuals in the band. That goes from the very biggest, from the Beatles, to the very smallest.
“There are groups of musicians and there are bands of people that something happens. But that’s what it is about Graham Parker and the Rumour.”
The experience was so good, even brilliant, Belmont said, that he thought “there should be something, a memento, a commemorative item, to mark that five-year reunion that we did. I just thought it was something worth marking.”
His first idea was to transcribe all of the songs from the two albums.
Then “it went beyond being a book on how to play the songs which would only appeal to people who know how to play the guitar, to make it a desirable item, an artifact, so I wanted to get input from all the other guys in the band,” Belmont said about what became a labor-intensive labor of love.
“I feel great about it. I love the fact that it’s something you can hold in your hands,” he said.
The book finished, Belmont continues to teach, to gig, and play sessions, his most recent one with My Darling Clementine.
Does Belmont have another book in him? Fans of the band, don’t get excited, but Belmont said, “It has crossed my mind that it might be nice to have a book of the songs of Squeezing Out Sparks.”
Here is a New York Times story on the reunion.
You can also purchase Martin Belmont’s album, The Guest List.