About Cleaners from Venus
The Cleaners from Venus, began in Wivenhoe, Essex, in November of 1980. They recorded their music on minimal equipment, using cheap or sometimes home-made instruments. Lol Elliott and Martin Newell, both in their 20s at that time, didn’t expect much to come of their chaotic endeavours and weren't particularly concerned about the matter.
A year or so later, equipped with a new 4-track Portastudio, their second cassette album received minor attention in the music press of the time. The Cleaners were regarded as belonging to a post-punk genre, D.I.Y. better known nowadays as 'Lo-Fi'. In 1983, Lol Elliott moved to Bath in the west of England, leaving Newell to continue on his own, with guest members dropping in occasionally to play on recordings. Despite primitive production methods, Cleaners from Venus gradually became known for high-quality songwriting, which leaned towards mid-1960s pop influences, driven by punk energy. Newell realised at this time, that even when given access to better studio facilities, he actually preferred recording on 4-track machinery. This discovery became an important factor in the Cleaners musical style.
In 1985, a German record label, Modell, persuaded Newell to let them release the Cleaners fifth cassette album, Under Wartime Conditions as a vinyl record. This became something of an Indie hit in Germany, even receiving a couple of good reviews in the UK. The band, now joined by a young keyboard player, Giles Smith, made a promotional video and began recording their sixth cassette album, Living With Victoria Grey.
In spring of 1986, because of an earlier association, Newell became lyricist for Captain Sensible, guitarist for The Damned, who at that time was enjoying a solo pop career. This collaboration led to a deal with a London record company, Ammunition, for whom the Cleaners from Venus made two albums.
In 1988, Cleaners from Venus Mk 2 broke up, with Giles Smith becoming a newspaper journalist and Newell returning to work as a gardener in his home town. Within a few months, however, he'd formed an acoustic rock duo, The Brotherhood of Lizards, with another former Cleaner from Venus, Nelson 'Surfquake' Nice. The pair soon secured a record deal with a new indie label, Deltic, releasing an album, Lizardland. Famously, in autumn of 1989, they toured England by bicycle to promote the record, gaining much media attention in the process.
In early 1990, after Nelson accepted an offer to join the band New Model Army, Martin Newell left music for a while to become a performance poet and writer. Unexpectedly successful, he was soon regularly contributing his work to national newspapers, as well as appearing on TV and radio shows. For the next few years, with several books of his poetry published, he toured as a spoken-word artist, performing at theatres, arts centres and literary festivals.
He hadn't abandoned music entirely, however. Between 1993 and 2007, Newell also made six solo albums: two for Humbug Records and four for Cherry Red. The best known of these, The Greatest Living Englishman (1993) was produced by XTC's Andy Partridge. The album was well-reviewed, especially in the USA and is now regarded as a rock classic.
In 2010, he was about to settle down to writing another book, when once again, the unexpected happened. Somewhat to his surprise, Newell learned that the old Cleaners from Venus cassette albums he'd made almost thirty years earlier, had become cult items. Over many years, fans of his music had copied and then circulated the imperfect recordings among themselves, sometimes posting them up on the internet, in order to keep the band's name alive.
By now, small record labels both sides of the Atlantic, were taking an interest in these recordings and, with the bemused Newell's permission, began reissuing the records in small runs; sometimes in their original cassette format. Within a couple of years, nearly the whole Cleaners from Venus 1980s catalogue had been re-released on vinyl and CD by a New York label, Captured Tracks, whom Newell had appointed as licensees.
In 2012, he acquired a small 4-track digital recorder and returned to making Lo-fi recordings. These new offerings were released by a UK micro-label, Soft Bodies. Eight years and eight albums later, the Cleaners from Venus are better-known globally than they've ever been. In August 2019, Upstairs Planet a film made by Graham Bendel about Newell's life, enjoyed its premiere in London's West End at the Regent Street Cinema. It was well-received. A new documentary, The Jangling Man, is planned for release soon.
Martin Newell, today still doesn't have much to do with the music business or its media, because, as he says, 'They tend to ruin everything'. He refuses to tour or play rock venues but does agree to occasional performances in less-orthodox places. Currently at work on a new album at home, using an 8-track recorder, he now claims that he's no longer Lo-fi but 'Mid-fi'. He continues to record and issue his music under the name Cleaners from Venus.