It didn’t make the national news, it wasn’t a headline that reached out to shake you.But Martyn Watson, one half of the International People’s Gang; one half of the Pookah Makes Three; one third of Plan B; one quarter of Last Touch, and frontman and songwriter for them all, passed away on May 6, and the world of Post Punk Bands That Should Have Been Enormous is a lot poorer for it.
Even without that enormity, however, Watson was a towering talent, writing genuinely catchy songs to be sung in that defiantly distinctive voice.His distinctive looks, too, marked him out, particularly after he shaved his head in 1990, years before the look became fashionable.He announced he was planning to regrow his hair just days before he died.
A stint in A&R in the 1990s saw Watson championing a clutch of other bands (among them Moodswings, the High Fidelity), while work in the world of remixes saw him broaden his horizons even further. More recent years saw him adopt an almost paternal role on the local (Nottingham, England) music scene, not only encouraging new bands but also giving lectures on how to make it in the music industry.
Because he did.His own bands may not have been top of the pops, and he never became a household name.But he made some magnificent music, and it’s only accountants and star-makers who’d say that’s not enough.It’s always the music that matters the most.
Sleep well, Martyn.
the following was published in Goldmine magazine’s “Footnote Archives” series back in the 1990s. It has been slightly remixed, but not really updated.
Not many people remember the Wendy Tunes today; even fewer remember what bassist Andy Bennie once claimed, that "we were so desperate to get a record deal that as soon as we got one, we broke up."
(There would be a reunion some thirty years on - and here it is.)
But if they have any claim to fame, it's for spawning one half of what would become, unjustly briefly, but undeniably all the same, one of the finest British rock bands of the early 1980s, a group whose hybrid vision of post-punk neuroses and pre-punk dynamics saw them tearing up the club scene even as their records reposed on a label whose very name defined its potential.It was called Zilch, and that's what it delivered.
Last Touch were worth so much more.
The band members were not strangers, even if circumstances had split them apart for a while; Bennie and guitarist Buzz Chanter had played together in Sleaze, a brilliant Cockney Rebel-esque band operating around Torquay in the mid-1970s.
The superbly-named drummer Mallett (Martin Allett) and vocalist Martyn Watson first met at college; Watson himself joined Bennie in the Wendy Tunes. "The Wendy Tunes started just for a laugh," Bennie confessed. "Punk was really big in London, and up in Leicester it was just beginning to break through.Places were booking any band that didn't cost anything.Martin joined after we'd done three gigs, and he and I started bringing demos down to London.
"We played seven or eight gigs down there as well, and signed with Berserkley just as they were shutting down their UK operation.Then Martyn and I moved down to London, and the others stayed in Leicester."The Wendy Tunes shattered, but by February, 1980, Last Touch had formed from the wreckage.A month later, they made their live debut.
That was at the Marquee on March 13, 1980, opening for another ex-member of Sleaze, TV Smith (whose own new band, the Explorers, were making their own live debut); within a year, Last Touch were on the road with XTC.
“The XTC tour was a really great experience," Bennie recalled."It was the first time we'd ever played to large crowds.It cost us, mind, but it was worth it just for the experience, and a guaranteed crowd at every gig.We went down really well."
Coming off the road in June, the band signed with Zilch (labelmates to Pub Rock superstar Sean Tyla) the following month, and set about preserving their live set on tape."All Quiet On The Western Front," their traditional set opener; the faintly Bill Nelson-like "Africa And Laughing Gas"; and "Good Looking Boys Get All The Good Luck," which was good enough for the old Motown hit factory, sum the band up best.
Tight choruses looping out of nowhere; short, succinct hard hitting melodies; through the early 1980s, British journalists were obsessed with pigeonholing every band they encountered, but Mallett refused to play along.
"We're four separate people with all different influences. There's no set direction.Although Martyn writes all the songs, he brings them to us at a very early stage, and what emerges is the result of four people all contributing equally to the same thing.I don't think our music can be conveniently labeled."
"It's not pop because it isn't popular," Watson continued - "Clown Time," the band's first single, landed one review which compared it to David Bowie, but sold even less than his Eighties albums deserved to."It's rock, but it's not.Maybe it's Not Rock."
Actually, it was BritPop, at a very formative stage; a decade before it became at all trendy to hearken back to the halcyon days of Who and Kinkiness, Last Touch were exhibiting a keen sense of humor, neat double guitar leads, and what Sounds once called "a soupcon of vintage [Bob] Geldoffian flair."There's probably not a BritPop band on earth that would (or even could) acknowledge Last Touch as an influence, but there's not many who could deny the similarities, either.
In July, Last Touch landed another high profile show, a couple of nights opening for Steve Harley (of Cockney Rebel fame, of course!) at London's Victoria Venue.From all accounts, they blew their old idol offstage.
Sounds’ review championed, 'after witnessing an avalanche of young bands attempting to feel the force [a reference to the growing influence of electro funk on the post-Spandau British club scene], it was almost refreshing to see a combo who simply do what they do well.Last Touch are a rock band who play dynamic, melodic tunes with the minimum of fuss and maximum sharpness.Singer/guitarist Martin is a fine vocalist and a charismatic frontman..." and the whole thing was, woe betide the headlining Harley, "far superior to the sham that followed."
"It really was sad," Mallett said afterwards."I really admired Harley, but he was obviously past it at the Venue.His band had only been together a few days, they just didn't know what they were doing."
Interrupted only by a handful of London club gigs, including one with a brilliantly on form Sean Tyla, Last Touch spent the summer of 1981 working on their masterpiece. A self-produced second single, "Killing The Ones You Love,” had already been taped; now it was onto an eight song mini album which they envisioned being released at a mini-album price.Foolishly envisioned.
RCA, Zilch's distributors, thought otherwise; they wanted to bang it out at full price, and what started out as a mere disagreement swiftly escalated into a violent morality play.Neither party would budge an inch and, one by one, the barricades fell. Ladies in Grey was released on the eve of the XTC tour
"Killing The Ones You Love" disappeared into a black hole, somewhere between the pressing plant which barely churned out 1,000 copies, and the stores which didn't know enough to stock it.
Zilch itself pulled away from the major, signing a new, but vastly inferior distribution deal with the Stage One indy; and Last Touch found themselves on the verge of moribundity.
They killed some time rehearsing in a farmhouse in Wales, then returned to London, and started playing acoustic shows every Thursday at a pub in Parsons Green, in southwest London.First BritPop, now Unplugged!Was this band prescient or what?
"It's only an experiment, but it does seem to be working out very well," explained Bennie.A clutch of new songs needed knocking into shape, "and it was a choice of playing them to people, or playing them to the bedroom walls.Apart from helping us arrange the songs, it's helping us improve our voices as well."
It also helped them determine their future.A projected third single, the contorted hooks of "In My Little Place," was promptly cancelled; "what would have been the point?" Chanter asked."What would have happened if it had come out on Zilch?They'd have pressed up a few copies, then sat back and watched it disappear.It would have been a total waste."
That was certainly the fate of the album. Ladies in Grey would eventually be released, but not until the very end - as Mallett puts it, "We were on the verge of splitting up when it came out, so it all crumbled."
What happened next, of course, was inevitable; Last Touch quit Zilch in the spring of 1982."They were shit," Watson succinctly accused."They weren't promoting us, they weren't advertising us, we were just wasting our time with them."
Indeed, Last Touch were now regarding their entire repertoire as a waste; "we'd played [the songs] to death, so we buried them."A whole new set was worked up, retaining only a handful of the old favorites ("Scarlett Where Are You" and "Good Looking Boys" mercifully survived) and, with it, a new band name - Plan B.
And why Plan B? "Because," laughed Mallett, "there's already a band called Plan A."
Booking themselves a string of meetings around sundry London A&R offices, Plan B set out on one of the most audacious tours ever undertaken, driving themselves and their acoustic show from record label to record label, then setting up and playing in every room they were allowed into.
"You invite record labels along to gigs, but they never turn up," Watson sighed."So we're going round with guitars, setting up in their offices, and playing the songs to them there.It's not worth sending them tapes because they never listen to them; this way the only way they can avoid hearing us is to have us thrown out."
They never did get thrown out, but they never landed a deal either.Within months of their rebirth, Plan B had slimmed down to a three piece as Bennie quit (he would later rejoin TV Smith in Cheap); by 1983, they were a duo, as Chanter followed him out.
Now it was just Mallett and Watson and, for a moment there, the changes looked like they were paying off.Renaming themselves, in deference to an old James Stewart movie, The Pookah Makes Three (or Tea, as a few spiteful onlookers put it), they signed with Virgin's Ten subsidiary in 1984 and a bright new future beckoned.But after good reviews for their debut 45, a second single, “Take It Back,” scratched no higher than #85 on the UK chart, and two follow-ups perished.
A 1985 Melody Maker review perhaps explained why. "Somewhere between Frank Zappa and Godley/Creme, there is a happy land where all is Steve Harley's Love Is A Prima Donna album, and the new Sparks single rules the roost.This is Pookah territory; close enough to the norm to be infuriatingly contagious... but left field enough to satisfy even the most monstrous artistic pretensions."
It was their last recorded sighting; the Pookah made tracks.Mallett went on to a late eighties version of Transvision Vamp; Watson replaced bassist Andy Sears in the long-running prog band Twelfth Night, but only to see out the last year or so of that saga.He switch to the other side of the business soon after.
Last Touch singles
Zilch 4 Clown Time/Social Whirl (1981)
Zilch 13 Killing the Ones You Love/Angular Thin B.D. (1981)
no cat (cassette) Live at the Zilch Christmas Party 1981 (1981): All Quiet on the Western Front/Last Complete Performance/Good Looking Boys/Africa and Laughing Gas/Clown Time/Vienna (Dreaming Of)/Scarklet Where Are You/Home is Where They Put You/Walking Home
Zilch RIEN 3B Ladies in Grey (1981): All Quiet on the Western Front/Walking Home/A Little Bit Rotzy/Rules of the Game/All This and More/1961 Revisited/Laughing/Friend of a Friend/Vienna (Dreaming Of)/Looking for a Taste/Last Complete Performance
Pookah Makes 3 singles
10 Records TEN 15 Lucky Lucky Lucky/Fanfare for a Cowboy (1984)
10 Records TEN 31 Take It Back/I Can Do Anything (1985)
10 Records TEN 40 Waving Flame/This (1985)
10 Records TEN 56 Love Can’t Be Far/Who in the World