The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story Image

The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story

By Michael Talbot-Haynes | October 17, 2022

Writer-director James Sharp’s magnificent documentary The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story tells the untold story of one of the greatest songwriters of the late 20th century. Growing up in England, Newell wrote songs and sang in several rock bands during the 1970s, cumulating with a minor hit single as a solo artist at the beginning of the 80s. The single was controversial as it focused on the lives of youth on public assistance smoking reefer, with critics accusing Newell of glamorizing unemployment for youngsters.

Disgusted by the entire makeup of the industry, Newell started recording his albums at home. Recruiting a few collaborators but mostly playing all the instruments and doing vocals himself, Newell recorded several albums under the band name Cleaners From Venus. He distributed them on cassette with no free reviewer copies for music magazines. They can go and buy one, as Newell says. In the twilight of the 80s, he left music altogether to become a gardener.

This profession gave him great satisfaction, so he used his lyric writing talents to start composing pastoral poems based on his gardening. The right people saw these, and suddenly Newell became a nationally recognized poet, with his work appearing in the newspaper and read on the radio. Then an opportunity with Captain Sensible of The Damned comes knocking on the door. The Captain needed help with his new album, which had one song, and someone needed to write all the other songs.

Sharp’s work in The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story proves that the music documentary has overtaken the novel as the dominant format for serious reflection on contemporary life. Is there anyone left out there that would prefer reading about Proust’s smelly biscuits in Remembrance of Things Past to listening to the man behind albums like Midnight Cleaners and Songs of a Fallow Land? The long and winding road of Newell’s career mirrors the unexpected paths taken in many people’s lives. The more he turned from his dreams, the higher he rose to surpass them.

“…the untold story of one of the greatest songwriters of the late 20th century.”

When Newell decided to leave professional music to, as he describes it, record Revolver in a garden shed, he recorded some of the best songs of the decade. Imagine song quality on the level of The Smiths and then imagine the next level, that’s Cleaners From Venus. It took Newell abandoning his serious ambitions in order to exceed them. There is also an unusual airy quality around the home recordings that add a unique feel to the songs. Newell was indie before indie was indie, something I am sure our readers can appreciate.

Sharp went the true indie route to make The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story. The documentary was crowdfunded, and the filmmaker worked on it for years. How lucky he was to have access to such a fascinating subject. While former bandmates and neighbors are interviewed, most of the screen time is spent with Newell giving his specific perspective on his life and work. He has a talent for succinctly describing his attitudes and has many insights into music that are true and funny. We also see Newell at work, fiddling with instruments and writing songs in his upstairs room.

Getting to see the guitar Newell bought used in 1970 and did all the Cleaners From Venus songs on to get their jangling quality was a real treat. Editor Jim Larson, who also produced, does an excellent arrangement of the footage Sharp shot that keeps things moving at a brisk clip. Also, no one in rock and roll rocks a top hat like Newell can. Yes, I am including Slash.

The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story is a celebration of a songwriting superstar who is in need of a lot more celebrating. Someone get Newell a Noble prize for his song craft or at least some more beer vouchers.

The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story (2022)

Directed and Written: James Sharp

Starring: Martin Newell, Dave Gregory, Iain McNay, Ian Pepperson, Ichiro Tatsuharo, Jack Tatum, Jackson Machintosh, John Clarke, etc.

Movie score: 9.5/10

The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story Image

"…keeps things moving at a brisk clip."

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  1. Jess says:

    Great movie, great review… but it’s Cleaners From Venus

  2. The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story – basternae says:

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