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I Travelled From Australia to a Small English Town to Track Down An Obscure Musical Pop Genius

A meeting with Cleaners From Venus' Martin Newell remains one of the highlights of my musical life.

Image provided by author.

I first came upon Cleaners from Venus and The Brotherhood of Lizards via Richie Untenberger's excellent Unknown Legends of Rock n Roll. The book, published in 1998, provided insight into the musical innovators and trailblazers of yesteryear, who for one reason or another didn’t break through to wider recognition, or in some instances shunned it.

The chapter on Martin Newell was one of the most fascinating pop stories I'd heard.


A one man anti music biz resistance unit, Newell banged about on a 4-track cassette recorder in the back shed with his Hofner B-3 guitar, and anything else he could get his hands on, to create what has become some of the most endearing and exuberant pop music of the time.

He formed the lo-fi DIY pop band Cleaners From Venus in the early 80s. With humor, harmonies, and command of pop-rock, they inspired favorable comparisons to another British group of the time XTC, and went on to release accomplished masterpieces of guitar pop home recordings.

The Brotherhood of Lizards, active in 1988–89, had Newell teaming up with Peter Nice, aka Nelson, to creat more joyous pop. Their 600-mile busking tour of southern England, with instruments strapped to their backs, earned them the repuation as the first eco-rock band.

In keeping to the true cassette culture and revolutionary DIY movement of the 70s and 80s - of which he is credited as being a pioneer - the only way you could hear Newell’s recordings was by mailorder directly from him.

Living in Australia in the pre-internet age, it was incredibly hard for me to find Newell’s music. At times I was able score 'Best of' CDs that complied recorded material post 1987, but the elusive cassette recordings from the DIY years 1980-86 were still out of my reach.

I just had to find this music though. I’d caught the fever and fallen in love with the music made by a cleaner.


Songs like “Clara Bow”, “Julie Profumo”, “Before the Hurricane” and “Mercury Girl”, made me sing, made me believe and made me forget. They really did blow all my troubles away, just what true pop music should do.

A few years later I turned 30 and everything around me became too much. In short, life was fucked. I had some pennies saved from my time on the factory floor and I quit my job, packed my bags and ran away to Europe.

I stayed for a year and every night felt like a Friday night.

A lot happened.

In England, I arrived at the crossroads of this little silly dream of looking up Martin Newell to see if I could buy some of this music that I had been forever dreaming about. I was faced with much internal debate between, "I can’t go, what if he thinks I'm some kind of weirdo?" to "Joe - you are a good man and you are in it for the right reasons, go meet one of your heroes and hear more of the music"

Thankfully, good sense prevailed and I made my way to the English countryside, along with this wondrous sense of adventure, in search of a pub near a railway station, a few hours outside of London.

I got off at the train station and found the pub. I rememebr the the sun was shining when I arrived at the doorstop of a nice little bed and breakfast in the middle of this quaint and charming English town.

When asked by the owner why I had come all this way I shrugged and said, 'I just felt like getting away from the big smoke and I hope to buy some music from Martin Newell'.


“Martin!!!” Her face lit-up with a smile, “Well how about that! Let me get him on the phone for you.”

I can still hear the conversation taking place from the hallway. “Martin there is this young chap on holidays and he has come all the way from Australia. He would like to meet you and buy some of your music."

I was growing nervous and slightly embarrassed to be honest, then I hear this—

“Right Joe, Martin will meet you at the pub this evening around 7pm. How does that sound?”

My jaw dropped.

Upon entering the pub I realised my visit luckily coincided with the Tuesday night busk where a gathering of locals (Martin included) played some faves and then some.

Martin introduced me to everyone and the beers started to flow and the spirits were high. I told him how I came about his music and how difficult it was for me to find his recordings and spoke about my travels and everything else in between.

Later in the evening after my stint watching the night sky outside of the pub, I began talking about a few of my fave Cleaners from Venus tracks to Martin and then, would you believe? Martin starts to play a couple of them right in front of me!

“Drowning Butterflies” was the big one and it sounded fantastic. Martin is an incredible performer. A true pro. I was gobsmacked by what I had just witnessed and found myself having one of the best nights of my life.

At the end of the night Martin handed me a CD collection of his songs and told me to pop around tomorrow for a cup of tea.


I got back to my room, happily drunk and played the CD. It was everything I was looking for. With a triumphant fist in the air I actually yelled, "I knew it!" I knew these songs existed, I knew they would be this good.

That was one of the happiest times my life. I honestly can't explain it. I followed a dream, something I believed in and it came true.

The next day Martin showed me around town and played a couple of old tapes for me. We went and collected some wood from the local forestry and had a few more beers later on. Quite the enjoyable afternoon really.

I was very fortunate to have seen this part of the world and at that point in time. I'll never forget it.

I returned to London and then made my way south of Europe.

I still adore the music of Cleaners from Venus and I'm very much looking forward to the long overdue The Brotherhood of Lizards repress. Check out their TV spot on YouTube where you see them perform "Market Day”. You will be humming the tune for days and days, I promise.

Martin, if you see this, thank you! Your approach to music and life inspires us.

The Brotherhood of Lizards 'Lizardland: The Complete Works' including their 1989 album 'Lizardland' as well as the band's legendary self-titled 1988 cassette will be released by Captured Tracks on August 19.

Joe Brnadic hosts Astral Glamour on Melbourne radio station Triple R.