The Sensible Gray Cells’ Martin Parrott talks

❉ Best known as Marty Love of Johnny Moped, now teamed with Captain Sensible and Paul Gray as The Sensible Gray Cells.

Sensible Gray Cells, a side project of Captain Sensible and Paul Gray of The Damned, have produced a work full of variety and comment with the band’s second album, Get Back Into The World, released on 27 November – and it is not particularly a punk rock record. SGC’s debut, A Postcard From Britain, was issued back in 2013 and my, a lot of water has passed under the bridge both globally and nationally since then. Get Back Into The World gets to grip with much of this, as well as including the Captain’s everyday themes, something he has tackled so effectively over the years. The record thrusts its feet forward from the opening ode to Crystal Palace football club right through to the trippy psychedelia of the closing cut, Another World.

The long player also heralds the arrival of Johnny Moped drummer Martin Parrott (aka Marty Love) as a new member of the band. Martin attracted the attention of Sensible and Paul during the Mopeds’ support slot with The Damned in 2019. The story goes that Paul watched him intently from the wings each night.

The Sensible Gray Cells, January 2020.

Martin is an experienced musician. A founder member of the unique and mesmerizing Croydon punk crossover outfit CASE in 1979, he also worked with goth outfit Blood and Roses in the eighties, Dirty Love and has been behind the skins for Johnny Moped since 2015, taking the moniker Marty Love in the process. Martin was also was the driving force behind his own ensemble, the very excellent The Weird Things who issued two albums between 2015 and 2019. The band featured Martin’s own song-writing as well as his daughter Leila on lead vocals on the second record, Code: 533.

I managed to grab a chat recently with the man on the very eve of the release of Get Back Into The World. After a word or two about the proposed tier system replacing the UK lockdown in early December 2020, we got down much more, y’ know, important stuff….

The new album is terrific.

Glad you like it.

I’ll start by asking a question about the recording process. How was it done?

We got some time in the studio together before the lockdown. We started it in February in the studio with half a dozen songs. It was an interesting way of recording – the boys sent me the songs and said, ‘Learn these, Mart’. It was the first time I’d worked with the lads – the first album was done with another drummer.

Anthony Thickett?

Yeah. So, we booked a studio for the weekend and I said to them, ‘I’ve learnt the songs’. Then they went and said – ‘Ah yeah … well, we have changed them all!’ (Laughs).

Of course (laughs).

I must admit, it was the hardest weekend of work I’ve done in a studio. But a great experience. All the drums were done in a recording studio, and probably four bass lines and some lead vocals, and some backing vocals – which was quite good for us as a group because it gave us time to get to know each other.

The fact we were able to do some lead and backing vocals in the studio vocals gave me the chance to say to the boys ‘Well, I can do some of that, that’s no problem.’ So, when we did three tracks with vocals, I helped on backing vocals and when we eventually got to the point of lockdown, we could do the rest of it at home. Captain could do his guitars and bits of keyboards at home, Paul could do his basses at home, and his keyboards too. Captain could do his lead vocals, and I could do my backing vocals at home safe in the knowledge we knew what we were looking for. I knew what worked and what wouldn’t. So, most of it was, ultimately, done in our houses.

It’s funny, it does sound like you were in the studio for the duration.

Yeah it does. It was mixed by four or five different people, too. So, the guy that did the cutting had a challenge on his hand, getting things to balance (laughs). Some mixing was done in the States, some was done here. Captain did some, Paul did some. Two were done in the studio by Dick Crippen, from Tenpole Tudor and King Kurt. So, we were lucky that we did get that time together, to get to know each other, go to the pub, have a chat, have a beer and talk. It does do you good when you’re starting a new project.

Speaking of getting to know each other – musically – it does sound like an album put together by three people who have extensive and varied record collections. Is that correct?

Very much. I’ve known Captain on and off for years. I didn’t know Paul at all. So, even though they asked me to join after seeing me with Johnny Moped, we were lucky to get the time in the studio. We got to know our musical interests. We found they were all similar.

Paul was mainly drawing from the old garage stuff like Nuggets and 13th Floor elevators, which is the stuff I like as well like The Sonics and bands like that.

It’s the same for the Captain. But then Captain and I both share a love of early Floyd and The Pretty Things. And The Beatles – which I think you can hear on the album.

 There’s plenty of psychedelic stuff. And, prog rock, not exactly in the style of Yes but …

(interrupts) … there is that though! (laughs)

…more the Canterbury scene, Kevin Ayers, Soft Machine etc?

Exactly. That’s all there. Also, Paul’s influence is there again – The Kinks, moments of The Doors. Syd Barrett too.

Yeah. Another World springs to mind as an example of something with all that on it.

It’s a very sixties album but in a up to date environment. I don’t know how we’ve managed to do that!

Maybe it’s down to your record collections and wanting to make an album, despite your punk backgrounds, that isn’t punk? There’s not even one punk track on it.

That was important to us. We didn’t want to go near it. Their first album, Postcard From Britain, is not like that (punk) either. I think it’s a little bit more whimsical, in a way. It’s literally a ‘postcard’, a comic, a Carry On. It’s a tongue in cheek thing, and it’s brilliantly done. I mean, Captain is a clever little bugger.

Definitely. More than he gives himself credit for, eh?

Yeah, I tell you. It was incredibly open. We’d go ‘Let’s chuck some bongos on here’ and everyone was chucking in their ten-penny’s worth. No-one was precious about what they played. Everyone was prepared to go ‘Well actually I think you could do that better’ or ‘I think if you went like this it’d have a nicer feel to it’. We had a lot of that going on. Very ‘prog’.

Generally, people in the punk world aren’t given credit for their level of musicianship. But the playing on this album is fantastic. Every guitar line, Paul’s melodic bass, the variety of your drumming.

Yeah. Glad you noticed. Jam Tomorrow is an example of us working as musicians. Paul had this riff and we jammed it out, kept the bones of the riff and worked some other things around it. It’s quite funny with that track and Another World, because they both sound like old style twelve-inch tracks. Part of me thought, ‘The Damned fans are going to fuckin’ hate these! Great!’ (laughs).

Yes, fans don’t always like their band members to deviate too much, do they?

No they don’t. When we heard the mix, Paul went, ‘Well you don’t need to take a spliff to enjoy these, do you?’. Turn the lights out, light some joss sticks and fuck off somewhere in your head! (laughs).

Totally.

It’s nice we’ve managed to produce something like that. I didn’t want anyone to put the needle on the vinyl and know what they’re gonna get.

Obviously you joined the band, or project, after the first album. Was it always the intention of Paul and The Captain to do a second record?

No, I don’t think it was, if I’m honest. They hadn’t said that to me. I got to know them with Johnny Moped supporting The Damned on tour last year. They were watching me. Paul sat side stage and watched me play EVERY night. We jammed some songs and they said, ‘we’ve got to do an album’. I was like a dog with two dicks (laughs), with Paul and Captain Sensible asking me to drum for them! I had to clear it with Johnny Moped, but they were OK. Captain was a Moped – he was with them at the start, that’s where he started.

He was, as was Chrissie Hynde and all sorts of others.

Yes. With the Mopeds it was never going to be a problem. They just said, ‘can we have him back when you’ve finished with him?’

So, I don’t think they ever had an intention to do another album because they had no direct line back to a record company to put another one out. So, I said to them, ‘I’ll have a word with Ian at Damaged (Johnny Moped’s record label) and see if he fancies it’. And when he did, they said humbly, ‘Oh really, is he interested?’ I replied, ‘Well – yeah!’

Going back to the album’s content, the lyrics are great. Did you have any input here?

No, no. It’s mainly Captain and some from Paul. I mean, Captain will ponder over a single word for …months. He’ll go ‘I’m not happy with that word’. It really does bother him.  He’ll go ‘It doesn’t fit, I’m not happy, it doesn’t work – la-la-la’. I’ll do him some words and he’ll say, ’Nah’. That’s alright, I don’t mind, no problem at all!

Captain’s very particular and he knows what he wants. There’s one thing he says he’s fussy over and that’s words.

They’re well-crafted, his words, aren’t they? The themes of the songs are superb, too. The subject matter on A Little Prick, for example, given the pandemic world we’re living in.

That was a completely different song initially, lyrically. Captain said, ‘All the lyrics are going in the bin, I need to write something for now.’ There is always a song on anything that Captain is involved in which is currently ‘news’. That one came out of nowhere.

It’s quite chilling with the robot voice near the end saying, ‘this will end when I say it will’, allowing a billionaire to manipulate things if they want.

Dictatorships.

Exactly. And then there’s his Crystal Place lyric in the opening song.

I wasn’t too happy about that. I thought, ‘You cheeky bastard!’ I’m a Chelsea fan, see!

If I could touch on some of your other projects. I really enjoyed the Weird Things album Code: 533.

Not a lot of people have heard that.

Your daughter Leila’s voice really helps it stand out. It’s a rocking record. Did you all get involved in the writing?

I wrote all the tracks. All the lyrics, all the vocal melodies. Musically though, it’s all of us really. The bass player Dan brings the riffs, and he plays the weirdest timing riffs, making it hard to fit vocal melodies over it. I go, ‘Oh, cheers mate, what am I supposed to do with this?’ It helps being a drummer ‘cos it helps you kind of float over the top.

Leila was the backing vocalist on the first album. Leanne (Charlie), sang lead. I did backing vocals. When we went out live I wanted the backing vocals and it to sound right. That’s how Dick Crippen got involved. I said, ‘Here Rich (Dick), you don’t fancy playing rhythm guitar do ya?’ He went, ‘Oh, alright then.’ And that’s how I got to know Rich. The relationship with him has been useful.

He’s really experienced, isn’t he?

He is. He was guitar tech with Screaming Blue Messiahs for a year. You don’t work with a band of that quality without picking other stuff up.

Sadly though, I think The Weird Things has come to its end. Mainly because I did everything, it was my baby. I was in the driving seat with the first album, Ten Digit Freak, which we literally wrote and recorded in three months. And then the second one took three years!

 Am I right in saying the first album came out the same time as you joined Johnny Moped?

Yes. It’s hard with a new band. I was the one getting us the gigs and it got to the point when I had exhausted all my contacts. Had someone picked up the Code: 533 album that would have been lovely. But they didn’t, and I felt the thing was I had taken it as far as I could.

 So tell me about joining Johnny Moped.

I was asked to join when Dave left. The criteria was – I’ll do it if you do another album. I knew they’d just done the It’s A Real Cool Baby album and it took them years to do. A big gap. I played with Rob (Johnny Moped guitar player) in CASE when we were kids. So, I said to the Mopeds – ‘I’m happy to join but can we please work on another album?’ Of all the musicians I’ve played with, when Rob and I get in a room it just happens. I know what he’s going to play before he plays it, and vice versa.

The new Johnny Moped album (Lurrigate Your Mind) is on another level. It’s because when Rob and I play, we can hold it down, we can open it up. We can push it where we need to push it, we can back off it when we want to. I’m really proud of that album.

It’s full of good songs, isn’t it? That’s the thing with Johnny Moped. They do what us people like – we like choruses and melody. Is there more in the pipeline from the Mopeds?

Yeah, we are just in the throes of getting together – well when we can get together, that is. The thing with them is – ‘we’ll just get together to do an EP, or a single’. But it always ends up as a fuckin’ album.

The reason I work with the Mopeds, possibly to everyone’s astonishment, is that we’re quite particular with our music. We spend a lot of time in the studio and spend a lot of time getting it right. The thing with Lurrigate Your Mind, is that there are a hell of a lot of overdubs on there. A hell of a lot of work. I don’t know if you heard our covers of Motorhead and City Kids?

I have, yes. Raw, fantastic stuff.

We didn’t have a lot of time to do it, and it’s rawer and more basic. I said to the boys – ‘Rob and Slimey, you put your guitars down and if there’s a solo, there’s a solo. But that’s it. Let’s try and strip it down to the bare bones.’

A song like Motorhead cries out for that. Do you think that the next album will be similar?

I’d like to think so. We always go in with these intentions. But then Slimey Toad (original and current guitarist) goes something like, ‘Let’s get some wine glasses out and play them! You wouldn’t believe what I’ve just found outside that I can make a fuckin’ noise with!’ (laughs).

Like many people, I think one of your early bands, CASE, were one of the most exciting bands of the era. Looking back, are you a little frustrated CASE never really got to be anything more than a cult band?

Yeah. We didn’t get near it. It was one of those bands that were just cursed. It had various line ups – it had three different drummers, starting with me, then Neal Faulkner and then Derwent, then back to me in ’85. Then it just died a death again because the two sax players we had ended up in Spear Of Destiny. So, we had to find sax players and you can’t replace those boys.

It was such a feature of the sound.

Oh man, yeah. After it died a death, and I joined Blood And Roses and all that bollocks. I was in a goth band and I didn’t even know it! Quite amusing to me (laughs).

(Laughs). Goth was ‘in’ at the time. It was the eighties, wasn’t it?

It was a very strange time. And then we reformed CASE in 2011. I talked Rob into putting the old demos together and putting an album out.

 At least we got that, at least us fans do now have an album. (Ain’t Gonna Dance was released on Damaged Goods in 2011).

It did. And then we did a seven-inch (the Grow Or Die EP) which was alright, but we never actually did a proper album which was an absolute bastard. I thought song writing-wise, we were up there, and Matthew was a great singer and a great frontman, but mad as a bag of squirrels! Which was a shame. I’m not just saying this, because even when I wasn’t a member and I still went to see them live – but there weren’t many bands who could touch CASE live.

All there was before was the Wheat From The Chaff EP, and some dodgy demos which appeared on Captain Oi compilations. Now at least there’s a coherent album. It deserves to be out there, and there are good songs on it. At least people have something, now. Were CASE a punk band? Were they a Oi band? Were they a ska band? We did Oi which was Oi. We did Oh, which sounded ska-y. We just had energy. There is too much genre-fication, anyway. CASE were simply good.

One final question. How does it feel to release an album, at a time like this? It must feel weird, for an artist.

I feel quite sad about it really, because it’s like, ‘well that’s that then – now what happens?’ For me, as a musician, it’s about taking it to the people. If you’re a real, honest musician and you were given the choice of making a record, and not playing live, or not making a record but playing live, then you’d say ‘well, I’ll go and play live then.’ You can still write new material, but just play it live. It’s all about being in front of people and getting that feedback and reaction. As much as you’ve loved this album, I wanna see your face after a gig. I wanna see if I’ve made your day. I can’t get that from my room when you’re in your room. So, that’s the bit I find quite sad.

There’s no other word for it really, is there?

And that’s from both parties, the artist themselves, and the person that likes the artist.

Speaking as that very person, I feel the same way. Hopefully, it will happen at some point.

Yeah, hopefully. For me, an album is great, but the songs are almost like watered-down versions of what you can really do.

No matter how you set your stereo up at home it won’t have that smack in the face you get when the drums kick in for the first time at a live show.

Yeah. How many bands really capture that live sound in the studio on an album? Very few get close. And that’s the thing, the songs are controlled versions of those songs. When you go out live, you’re giving them those songs and so much more.

It’s a very strange time to release a record. But I’m glad you’re doing it and I speak on behalf of a hell of a lot of people when I say that I’m sure.

I’m just hoping people give it a chance and listen to it.

Thank you so much for your time Martin.

No problem mate!


‘Get Back Into The World’ by The Sensible Gray Cells was released on Damaged Goods Records on 27 November 2020. Click here to BUY from Damaged Goods’ Sensible Gray Cells online store. Watch out for an indepth review in We Are Cult next week!

❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His debut novel ‘Toy Guitars’ is due to be published in 2019, and a further novella, ‘Donny Jackal’ is currently being edited. He previously promoted live shows as 101 Productions and owned The Attik night club from 2001-2007. He was also a songwriter and guitarist in The Incurables. Paul runs a music blog and has recently started a series entitled 101 Significant Figures. This focuses on under-appreciated individuals in the punk and new wave movement. See www.paulmatts.com for more details.

Header image: https://twitter.com/martylove62.

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