“Canada it was okaaaay,” Jeff Martin drawls slowly, which is more his way than a comment in itself. “The mission was all accomplished and the band were received with flying colours,” he adds, pointing out that taking a power rock trio into The Tea Party heartland was an artistic risk, but one he was unafraid to take.
In this case Martin, bassist J Cortez and drummer Malcolm Clark have just returned from some weeks in the old country; raised in Montreal, Martin is now an Australian citizen.
“When you’re dealing with minus 30 and you’re dealing with slush on the tour bus, no, I know why I’m not living there any longer,” he laughs.
“You can’t cast an audience to one side,” he notes. “How shall we say this? The legend, the myth of The Tea Party… I’m singing to an audience of 20 year olds rocking out, who never saw that band perform. This band – the band was just on fire, and it was such a pleasure to play with them.”
Martin readily agrees he’s a perfectionist on stage. He needs to know the band is there for him, anchoring some of the flights of musical fantasy he brings in to play. “Bedrock, the anchor,” he says shortly. “You know what you’ve gotta have? You’ve gotta have signposts in a two hour, two and a half hour show, then we can consider the ebb and flow. We’ve got that down now,” he assesses. “This entity in a year will be a terrifying beast.”
The new album, ‘The Ground Cries Out’, suggests that is very much the case; so I consider myself surprised when in listening to the album I’m more impressed by the experimental songs which form chicanes in the playlist rather than the old blues rock tunes.
One such is The Mekong, redolent with SE Asian influence, of course. “That would be J Cortez’ influence upon me,” Martin smiles. “Jay visits Thailand, Laos, even Burma, and he’s teaching me about these places.”
Talking of the rock songs though, there’s three numbers which he refers to as ‘the trilogy’: The Ground Cries Out, The Cobra and The Pyre, all very strong Jeff Martin songs with claim to be the ‘hits’ of the album. And yet, nestled amongst those is Riverland Rambler, a blues slide number which hearkens back to both The Tea Party’s Turn The Lamp Down Low and the Stones Midnight Rambler. Can you use the word ‘rambler’ in a song title and not evoke visions of The Stones?
Jeff Martin feels this latest line up is a bit of a renaissance for him; at one point in our conversation he even suggests the ‘twilight of his career’, and yet, this album is as fresh as any I’ve heard in the last decade and yet thoroughly rooted in it’s past. As a point of illustration, the raven reappears as part of the album’s artwork.
“Ah, well there you go,” he sounds confidingly.” The raven, Hermes, is all tied up with the native American; it’s full of symbolism. It’s me,” he laughs.
Jeff Martin 777 perform at Fowler’s Live on Thurs 5 May
By Alex Wheaton