My first request for a musical instrument came at 11 years old. Unlike many of my contemporaries in the early 1960’s, I wanted a saxophone or a drum kit for my birthday; although my request was politely acknowledged, it was never referred to again, probably in the vain hope that I’d change my mind and opt for the less noisy option of a bike or train set. To my surprise upon my birthday, I received not a saxophone or a set of drums, but an acoustic guitar. My parents were both very busy with the family business and I should have been grateful for the gift but a right handed steel strung acoustic guitar was, to a left handed child very little use. At this time guitar teachers were rare; it was inevitable that transport would be needed and I knew that I would have to come up with a more creative and simpler solution if I wanted to become the next ‘rock legend’.
I was encouraged that “Bert Weedon’s” book of “Learn the Guitar in Three Days” would be all that I needed. This was just the beginning of many hurdles I had to overcome; clearly Bert was oblivious to the needs of the left-handed musician as his book did not suggest that I should change the strings around. After many weeks and months of attempting to play the easiest chord on the fingerboard, C, the guitar was put away………it was not for me.
Then the Beatles came into my life…..and Paul McCartney was left handed……and he’d put the strings on the other way….. It was that light bulb moment…….. now where was that guitar?
My parents believed that my initial fad to play had faded, and on one of his regular pub visits, my dad found at the bar, a buyer for the guitar. Several years lapsed and in the 6th Form, I bought a second hand classical guitar. After changing the strings round to suit a left hander, I set to work on Bert; I still had the book! Although progress was rapid, I soon realized that I’d never be the next Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton playing this battered Spanish guitar.
After A levels came De La Salle College, Manchester University where I met my future wife, Maria and, at “the Exiles of Erin” pub in Smithfield, Manchester, I discovered Irish Traditional music. A hotbed of traditional music at this time, The Exiles featured many notable musicians including Martin Docherty, Peter Carberry, Mickey Rodden, Desi Donnelly and Tony Sullivan. On a visit to Mamelock Guitar shop on Deansgate, I bought my first real guitar, a BM (Barnes & Mullins) Mammoth Dreadnought Guitar; this was soon followed by an EKO 12 String and finally a Rumanian mandolin.
Now the guitar was rapidly superseded by mandolin, then bouzouki, then cittern and finally tenor banjo. I persevered with the latter because, not only did I love the crispness of the sound, (I was very fortunate in 1976 to find a beautiful 1920, Vega Little Wonder for the paltry sum of £25, including case) but also because I could really hear it in sessions.
I never lost my affection for the other instruments, and as a member of The Champion String Band, The Rub and Cuig, I played mainly cittern and banjo; however when playing for fun I’d always default to banjo or mandolin.Latterly however, the mandolin and acoustic guitar have, with the help of a good PA and back-line amplification, become more popular and versatile instruments.

the aftermath

After College in Manchester, Martin ran and played in the resident band with John Grey, Dick Jewell and Dave Fullen at the Kings Head Folk Club, Lanchester; he left in 1977 to play in the Joint Stock Ceilidh Band with Trevor Davison, Jack Grimes, Chuck Fleming and Jim O’Boyle. After solo competition success (tenor banjo) in the North Britain, All Britain and All Ireland Fleadh Ceoil of 1979, he formed the Champion String Band with Chuck and ex High Level Ranter, Tommy Gilfellon. This, his first professional band, played many of the major festivals in Britain, Ireland and Europe, hosted their own TV series (The Champion String Band) on BBC1, 1981/82 and recorded the highly acclaimed album of the same name on Black Crow Records in 1981. Collaborations with Kathryn Tickell, a guest on their TV series, led to recording and arranging On Kielderside, Kathryn’s first solo album on Saydisc. The Champions split in 1984 whereupon Martin formed and played lead guitar and mandolin in the Bluegrass/Country band Dealers Wheel, with George Pickings on guitar (RIP) Terry Betts, bass and Dave Stronge (Banjo/Fiddle) playing the North East C/W working men’s club circuit.
With the demise of Dealers Wheel after the death of George and following Dave’s emigration to Williamsburg Virginia, USA, Martin formed The Rub with Norman Holmes, Paul Archer, Becky Taylor, Ian Carr, Bob Fox and Les Moss in 1988. Festivals, folk clubs and concert tours followed, and the band signed a record deal for Celtic Music in 1989/90……. (yes they were warned but the band joined the list of all the rest) recording on Celtic Music at Blue Strike Studios Harrogate in 1989/90. The as yet unreleased, but much copied album provisionally titled “Dancing on the Wireless” led the band to individual and collective collaborations with Gerry Kaley (The Delicate Touch- SoWhat Records) and Vin Garbutt (Bandalised and Word of Mouth). Ian Carr’s departure to join the Kathryn Tickell band caused the band to split, and the rump of the band, featuring Martin, Norman and Bob continued, touring Holland and Belgium in 1993 and 1994. The upsurge of Irish theme bars during the mid 1990’s was a trend too good to ignore and the O’Boyle Band, with Martin, Jim O’Boyle, Andy McLaughlin, Tony Martin and a trio of fiddlers in Paul Archer, Chuck Fleming and Paul Ruane was formed to fill the gap. When Jim departed for Hong Kong in 1996, the band continued as a quartet featuring any one of the aforementioned fiddlers depending on their availability. The core of the quartet of Martin, Andy and Tony plus new fiddler Dan Hands continue performing to this day.
In 1998 Martin formed Cuig with Norman Holmes, Andy McLaughlin, Paul and Dee Ruane. Andy left in1999 and was replaced by Bassist Sean Taylor and yet more festivals, concerts, clubs and tours followed. Their debut album Prospect was released to excellent reviews on their own label in 1999 and later released under licence to Green Linnet records (now Compass records) in 2002. After a final tour of Canada and the USA in 2002, Cuig split amicably, due in main to family commitments (Paul and Dee had an addition to their family in Eva, a new sister to Orla). Around 1999/2000 Martin was approached by Alistair Anderson in his position as Director of Folkworks and Head of the newly set up Traditional and Folk Music Degree at Newcastle University to see if he was interested in being the principal Banjo, Mandolin, Bouzouki tutor. He gladly accepted the challenge and taught from the inception of the course in 2000 to 2007 before family and business commitments meant he could no longer give it the necessary time.
The North Country Dance Band was formed in 2003 featuring Martin playing electric guitar, along with Sean Taylor bass, Julian Sutton accordion, Andy McLaughlin pipes and wind synthesiser, Dave Pratt drums, Dan Hands fiddle and Tony Martin bouzouki and vocals. Although short lived, the nucleus of Martin, Tony, Dan, Andy, Dave plus new bassist Steve Farrow continued after the departure of Julian to The Kathryn Tickell band and Sean to The Jez Lowe Band the Bad Pennies and formed Steamradio the Celtic folk rock band. Steamradio recorded the album The Twilight Shift in 2005 and continue to this day performing concerts and ceilidhs throughout the UK.
As well as the aforementioned groups, Martin also currently plays in The Steel String Band, (Celtic concerts and ceilidhs) featuring Paul Archer, fiddle, Frank Porter, double bass, Sandy Still, guitar vocals and Tony Martin vocals, bouzouki and the Steel Swing Band playing retro gypsy swing, with Paul, Sandy, Martin and Steve Farrow on double bass.