Marty Wilde still rocking at 80
PUBLISHED: 13:53 18 December 2019 | UPDATED: 13:53 18 December 2019
Credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
With a UK tour this year and next, a best-of album hitting number seven in the charts and a new album due out, Tewin’s Marty Wilde is still rock n rollin’ at 80
When rock n roll star Marty Wilde first came to view the thatched house in Tewin that has been his home for the last 50 years, it was love at first sight.
'I got up to the door and I felt the way I feel every time I come into this house. It's that same feeling. Sometimes it's quite intense and sometimes it's quite emotional. It was one of those things. I adore this place. And I love the area. I love Hertfordshire to bits.'
This was in 1970. Marty recalls that his arrival in the quiet village probably caused a bit of a stir.
'Some of the neighbours would have thought, "What the hell is going on?" because rock and roll singers had a certain reputation. You get an image of an incoherent tearaway.'
Yet he and his wife Joyce, a former Vernons Girls' singer, together with their young children Ricky and Kim, loved the peace and quiet of Tewin and soon integrated into village life. Marty and Joyce went on to have two more children: Roxanne and Marty Jnr.
Music is in the Wilde DNA. Today, Kim and Ricky both live in Herts with their own families, and continue to write songs, record and perform together with Ricky's daughter Scarlett.
Roxanne lives in London and is singing on Marty's new album, Running Together, released at the end of the year. Roxanne was one of Kylie Minogue's backing singers. She is now performing and touring with Clare Grogan. Marty Jnr has his own garden design company, Wildeideaz, close by in Datchworth.
Marty and Joyce now have nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The family register is now up to Marty IV. Kim's two children, Harry and Rose, are also forging musical careers.
The most popular name in the family might be Marty but Marty I was born Reginald Leonard Smith in Blackheath in 1939. It was Tommy Steele's manager, Larry Parnes, who convinced him that he should change his name before signing a contract with him.
For this interview we are in Marty's den. It's as vibrant and colourful as Marty himself - full of musical memorabilia and bright yellows and blues with a vivid green and leafy view of the garden. The house feels like a cocoon - the ideal place to recharge your creative batteries before composing a song. Everywhere you look there are souvenirs of a life well-lived - family photos, framed gig posters - some as Reg Smith and the Hound Dogs skiffle group, others as Marty Wilde and the Wildcats. There's a stunning juke box, an impressive array of guitars - including a replica of Buddy Holly's Gibson - and several golf clubs.
For some, when they reach their 80th year, it might be a good time to concentrate more on golf and leave thoughts of working life behind. On the day we meet, Marty has already played nine holes that morning. The following evening he will be on stage at The Stables in Milton Keynes. The show has already sold out.
I ask if those who come to see him perform remember him from the 50s or whether he has a younger audience.
'Oh, we've got people who come who are as young as 85 and 90,' he laughs. 'But sometimes the grandparents bring the children.'
In April Marty celebrated his 80th birthday in style. His most recent album, Dreamboats and Petticoats Presents: The Very Best of Marty Wilde, reached number seven in the UK album charts.
He also went on tour with his Solid Gold Rock 'n' Roll Show, featuring friends Eden Kane, Mike Berry and The Wildcats, which culminated in June at Alban Arena. The 2020 tour dates are already in the diary. Where does he get his energy from?
'I can't say that I'm mad about being 80 because I would like to live a lot longer. And you wonder when there's going to be a knock at the door and arthritis walks in or a heart condition or cancer or whatever. I stopped smoking when I was 50. It's the best thing I ever did otherwise I wouldn't be here now because I had cancer and I didn't realise it at the time.'
He enjoys going to The Grandison in nearby Bramfield to eat, and says that he and Joyce are very aware of the importance of eating healthily. I notice Jamie's Veg book in the kitchen. He also stopped drinking in January.
'Not for any particular reason other than I just wanted to see how long I could do it. For some people, I suppose if you're 80, you should drink as much as you can. But I watch what I do now a lot more than I ever did.'
And what about keeping creative?
'It's like a calling. You get to a point when you think you're never going to be inspired again. And then it could be two days after and suddenly a new song comes in and off you go.
'Energy and ideas are the two things. Cliff (Richard) is a good example. He's got phenomenal energy. Not just physically. His mental ideas are strong. But I do understand people losing that energy. I've had it myself when I've been very uncreative for a couple of years maybe. But you've got to want it. You've got to have that energy. That's one of the things I was blessed with.'
Remembering a royal command performance with Cliff Richard he says, 'I was waiting in the wings to go on and perform in front of the Queen Mother and I cannot tell you how scared I was.' Marty was awarded an MBE in 2017 for his services to popular music and meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace was one of his proudest moments.
'I've always been a royalist. I was proud to bow to her. I love my queen. She has always been steadfast. And Kate is going to be a wonderful queen.'
He says that since his birthday he has been in a reflective mood.
'When you get older you do become very introspective. You look back and you look at what you are. Why am I like this? In the old days you were just doing it, not thinking. And when you get to 80, you're looking at life. How am I going to face death? That crosses your mind.'
He is aware of his limitations. When he is on tour he tries to come home every evening whenever it is possible.
'Although now and again, I'll be honest, sometimes it's nice to be away. I think it gives my wife a break. I can be quite domineering I think. I think she's happy to get me out of the kitchen.'
He and Joyce Baker met in 1959 when they were appearing on the TV show Oh Boy! For Marty, it was another case of love at first sight and they were married within a year. For a teen heartthrob who had to stay in his hotel to avoid being mobbed by fans, getting married wasn't the best career move. But Marty has spoken about being lonely and feeling isolated as a rock and roll star, and family life was exactly what he wanted and needed. He says Joyce has always been financially shrewd and that her instincts are always right.
After a string of hits beginning with his breakthrough song Endless Sleep in 1958 and followed by Donna, Teenager in Love and Sea of Love he wrote his own hit Bad Boy. This led to songwriting for other artists. With I'm a Tiger for Lulu, Ice in the Sun for Status Quo and Jesamine for The Casuals in the charts at the same time, a new career was opening up for him.
'Because the hits came in, suddenly they realised they had a hit writer and so one of the major companies said "we're going to sign you and we'll buy you the house" and at that time I didn't have enough money for this house. I was just a bit short. But Joyce said, "No, don't do that. You're going to be worth more than that. Just keep your independence." So I didn't sign. And of course when Kim's career started, that's when it really paid dividends. I was free. We had our own company which we formed with Rak Records and Micky Most.'
And just in case anyone completely missed the 80s, Kim Wilde's 1981 hit, Kids in America, written by Marty and Kim's brother Ricky, was one of the biggest selling songs of the decade and launched her career.
Marty has the creative flexibility of a serial entrepreneur. He switched from skiffle to rock n roll because that's what people wanted, and he later moved from recording covers to writing songs for himself and other artists. Now he's in a position where he can pick and choose what he does.
'This is one of the most relaxed times of my life in many ways because I just try to enjoy life and I don't want pretence.'
When I ask him why he moved to Hertfordshire in the first place, he says that before he started writing songs for other people, he was at a very low point in his career. The Beatles had arrived and the lust for British rock and roll had waned. In order to support the family, he and his band the Wildcats were travelling all over the country, often to clubs in the north of England, to do cabaret style gigs. Living in south London, he would do long drives in a van with the band and the instruments. His hairdresser, who lived in Hoddesdon, gave him the idea of moving to Hertfordshire to make destinations like Liverpool, Manchester and the north east more accessible. Turns out it was another great choice.
Talk turns to Christmas. He's not sure whether the whole family will be coming to them on Christmas Day but he loves the holidays, saying that we all need a time to switch off from the stresses of contemporary life.
'I think Cliff Richard summed it up in one of his songs. It's a time for giving. It's also a time for children. I love seeing children's faces at Christmas.'
Marty shows me a photo of himself as a young child. He is about three and is standing with his mum and dad, dressed all in white. His father was a sergeant training recruits for the army and was sent from south east London to Salcombe, Devon, and Capel Curig in Wales. Marty says that being evacuated during the war helped to nurture his love of the countryside, something he was happy to rediscover when he moved to Hertfordshire.
And it was the army that first sparked his love of singing - and performing.
'I had this white coat, white beret and white shoes. Dad would be with the army boys and they would wrap me in an army coat and I used to sing The Son of Sergeant Smithy and I loved it. I learned to play the ukulele when I was 11 and my father was a driver on the buses and on trams and they used to have weekends when we'd go down to Southend or Margate. I would take my ukulele and I used to sing all these songs. I could see people were enjoying it and I'd work even harder and sing more songs. I wouldn't just be this dunce who couldn't understand mathematics and couldn't understand things in school.'
Marty is a gifted storyteller and he brings his memories to life with colourful images. Whether he's remembering how he and his mother ran away from a doodlebug's flames to the safety of an Anderson shelter close to the Greenwich Granada Theatre, or singing for £1 and a bowl of spaghetti in the Condor Club in Soho, you feel that you're there. He tells me he has been invited to do a theatre Q&A: An Evening with Marty Wilde. I think he should do it. It would be a sell-out.
He confesses that he doesn't always hold himself in high esteem and that he appreciates the faith that Joyce has in him.
'I haven't got the world's best voice, but I remember that feeling of singing and performing from when I was a child. It gave people great happiness. And if you can give people some happiness and make people laugh, that's something.'
Marty's key dates
1939: Born Reginald Leonard Smith on April 15 in Blackheath, south east London.
1957: Signs contract with Larry Parnes, Tommy Steele's manager. Renames Reg Marty Wilde.
1958: Endless Sleep gets to number four in the charts.
1959: Donna, A Teenager in Love, Sea of Love and Bad Boy are all in the UK charts.
1959: Marries Joyce Baker, one of the Vernons Girls, a group of singers and dancers which originally started as a choir at the Vernons Pools company in Liverpool.
1969: Views and falls in love with a house in Tewin.
1981: Kids in America, co-written with son Ricky, reaches number two in the UK charts and launches the music career of daughter Kim Wilde.
2017: Included in the Queen's New Year's Honours list and awarded an MBE for services to popular music.
2019: UK tour, celebrates 80th birthday, and Dreamboats & Petticoats Presents: The Very Best of Marty Wilde reaches number seven in the UK album charts.
2019/20: Launch of new solo album Running Together.
2020: Marty Wilde UK tour.