Friend, since his teenage years, with the infamous Mark E. Smith, Martin Bramah was a founder member of the Mancunian post punk legends The Fall (instrumental in the foundation of their early sound). But two creative minds and strong characters could only have problems of coexistence, and Martin soon left to form, in 1979, his own band Blue Orchids, taking with him two other The Fall’s members, the former Smith’s fiancè and keyboardist Una Baines and John Cooper Clarke collaborator and bassist Eric McGann.

Signed in 1980 by Geoff Travis’ Rough Trade label, after the release of two great singles in a row and the highly acclaimed debut album ‘The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain)’, things seemed to be going from strength to strength but quickly, as often happens in the music business, turned out differently.

Despite having to bear relentless and unavoidable comparisons to The Fall, the legacy of the Blue Orchids’ sound, a memorable ‘ahead of time’ blend of psychedelic keyboards and post punk angular guitars paired with witty and imaginative lyrical qualities, has stood the test of time still influencing the generations to come.

I had the chance to see the band live in a vague Camden venue in the early 90’s during one of their unsung ‘rentrée’, but fortunately in the last few years, even if always around with his fine Factory Star project, Mark Bramah has decided to reopen a new chapter of the Blue Orchids saga and on May 1st they will be one of the leading players of May Day Special gig at The Continental in Preston along with fellow 80’s post punk legends The Nightingales and Blyth Power.

Let’s have a nice chat with Martin, at least I’ve been able to not mention The Fall or Mark E. Smith at all…

Thanks so much for the interview, Let’s start with a ‘my curiosity’: Why your stage name ‘Bramah’, is it just a nickname?

In the old days ‘Bramah’ meant ‘the best’ – like the best you can get. It’s what the local kids called me when I was growing up, and it kind of stuck.

In the late 70’s where punk also meant that all was up for grabs, was the idea to make your life as musician purely incidental? Did you already dream of it in your teens and what were your early inspirations?

I wanted to be an outlaw biker but then I got my hands on an electric guitar and loved the noise it made – so freeing. ‘Voodoo Child‘, ‘Get Off  My Cloud‘, ‘Born To Be Wild‘ was the kind of stuff I loved – The Stooges were my favourite band.

In a period more inclined to amphetamines or, at worst, heroin, was your psychedelic approach inspired by the use of lysergic drugs? Did you have an idea of psychedelia or was just a natural disposition? I guess in the early period, it was clearly reflected on your visionary lyrics too.

LSD had a big impact on my life and especially on my perception of music and its importance. Acid was the first drug I took at the age of sixteen and I became totally immersed in music and the possibilities in sound and words. There was no going back – all music is psychedelic to me.

In the early 80’s The Velvet Underground and to a lesser extent Television were certainly reference points for many bands, where did you grab your keyboards-led psychedelic sound? Apart from The Stranglers and The Teardrop Explodes, I don’t recall any other band, was it just the consequence of the involvement of Una Baines’ keyboards or also of an in-depth listening of the psychedelic ‘Nuggets’-era  bands of the 60’s/70’s?

The Doors and The Velvet Underground and some of Donovan‘s sixties psychedelic stuff – but yes, all of those bands you mention from those Nuggets comps.

Blue Orchids’ sound was a bridge between the ‘serious’ post punk sound and the following jangle/indie pop scene, not enough gloomy and too psych for the former, but also too angular and post punkish for the latter. What’s your take on this? Which bands of that period did you feel kindred and which did you like most?

I didn’t like any of the bands from that era, apart from The Fall. We just did our own thing – never worried about the racket other bands were making.

Blue Orchids, as a proper band didn’t last long, the fact you’ve always created music for yourself and with your own rules, on one hand preserved and increased your longevity and artistic quality and freedom, on the other hand, however, was to the detriment of a greater popularity and economic return. Now, years later, with a more objective vision, how would you judge those years? What are your highlights and worst moments? Even if it’s useless, do you have any regrets?

No regrets. I soon learned to hate the music business and so I wasn’t looking to make money or become popular. I love music and I make it when the spirit moves me, and I put it out there for people to take or leave as they wish. My highlights are just being in a position to make so much inspired and original music – and my worst moments were having to deal with the preconceptions and expectations of the ugly music industry.

In 2008 you released a very limited low-key folk album titled ‘The Battle Of Twisted Heel’, included in your last year reissue campaign. Was it the result of your disillusionment with the record labels around, even the smaller ones? Folk music is all about telling stories, what were yours?

Yes, I wanted to make a record in which I was free to follow my muse with no compomise. To approach folk with the same spirit that I had approached rock – with a sense of fun and experiment – going deep and looking for an original angle.

How is your songwriting changed and evolved over the years? The dumb political climax of that decade was not too dissimilar from the catastrophic actual one, did and do it influenced your lyrics or were and are you more inspired from your readings? After the sadly recent departure of Leonard Cohen, with the exception of the good ‘old’ Nick Cave and few unsung others, there’s a lack of remarkable young lyricists around these days.

I do read a lot, but I read slowly… a lot of that finds its way into my lyrics. I don’t really know how my writing has evolved over time, as it comes from a timeless place inside me. I don’t write in a certain style – I just like to play with whatever is interesting me at the time.

John Peel always trained listeners to be free from any music genre boundaries and listen to ‘clever’ music. Blue Orchids had the privilege to record two Peel sessions in December 1980 and April 1982. Do you have fond memories about those sessions and about the Man as well?

Those Peel Sessions were very intense times. I remember being lost in the bowels of Broadcasting House, a quite alien environment to me – stoned and speeding trying to make art out of chaos &c. The John Peel team did great work unearthing musicians the mainstream would otherwise have bulldosed in its wake. I only met the man once when I played his 50th birthday party – he seemed like a nice guy.

The retrospectives and reissues by the Cherry Red and LTM labels and the call from Deerhunter for taking part to the ATP helped you realize that the devoted following of Blue Orchids was still there? Last year you released an excellent, solid new album ‘The Once And Future Thing’ and, through the Pledge platform, you’re digging your archives with unreleased tracks, demos and live concerts, with hopefully more still to come.  It seems a positive and satisfying time, isnt’t it? What’s your feeling about it?

It’s great to see all this music surfacing and circulating – it has life and it won’t lie still – I’m so proud of my babies!

In this age of quick, diluted and superficial music comsumption where people hardly listen to an album more than once, without that commitment and dedication we were used in the pre-internet era, how do you see the current state of music? Are there interesting and ‘intelligent’ young bands around that still keep your attention? From time to time you compiled a playlist on Mixcloud too.

I have always found most music diluted and superficial and hardly worth listening to more than once. I’m sure in twenty years time there will be some musicians from today who will be remembered as worthwhile – I’ve no idea who they will be though… I like Crystal Stilts, Bingo Harry and Thee Oh Sees – but I have a short attention span and there is so much new stuff to check out!

Before embarking in a few UK gigs, you’ve just released a 4-track 10” EP. Can you talk about it? I noticed that you always keep an eye at the vinyl edition of your releases as well, this time coloured too!

Yes, our ‘Skull Jam‘ EP is available on blue vinyl, or black if you prefer. I decribe it as ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’. It includes an interesting version of the Atomic Rooster song ‘The Devil’s Answer‘. We had a lot of fun making it.


‘To celebrate the nowadays ‘trampled’ workers’ rights, on May 1st you’ll be playing a May Day Special gig at The Continental in Preston along with your fellows, The Nightingales and Blyth Power. Curiously I read your last album review written by my dear friend Dave Cantrell, where he pointed out some affinities with The Nightingales. Did you already share the stage with them back in the days? What should the old and new fans expect from it? Apart from the old classics, any new songs and cover versions?

I played quite a few gigs with The Nightingales back in the early 80s. Rob Lloyd reminded me the other day that our last show together had been at The Venue in London. The bill was The Birthday Party, Blue Orchids and The Nightingales – a great night!

We’ll be playing a mixed set on May 1st, touching on various recordings plus a couple of covers – we’ll do a rocking version of The Nightingales’ ‘Overreactor‘ too.

Many thanks for being our welcome guest, I’m just going to ask you about your ‘near’ future plans.

Well, I don’t really make plans – music has its own momentum – but I am working on a new album at the moment. Oh, and I’m going in the studio next week to record a new single for Tiny Global Productions – which will be a blast!

Photo credits: Jim Donnelly

Fabrizio Lusso