“One day you’re Mr Fender, the next day you’re nobody”

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

On a little street in a Dartmoor town, you’ll find the husband and wife team of Martin and Colette Brady running a quaint little shop selling some of the most charming and enticing gifts and crafts around.

As you walk in, you might be lucky enough to find Martin in the corner of the shop making some of his own leather-based items to sell. He makes them with such talent and skill, you might have thought he had done it his whole life.

However, this is very much a second career. The first one saw Martin spend almost 40 years of his life in the music business, which has led him to be able to call Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore a friend, to play guitar on an Aretha Franklin record and to having Paul McCartney make him some toast.

And all this started after a run-in with a trumpet player and a not-so-motivational chat with his headmaster.

Martin grew up in Portsmouth and, due to his dad’s naval career, Singapore, before being sent off to boarding school in Bristol where he took up trumpet playing.

“I started to play trumpet when I was 11 or 12 and I had a great trumpet teacher. He was a fabulous jazz player. Every time he came into the lesson to teach me, I said ‘Go on! Go on! Play a little jazz.’

‘So I decided I wanted to be a jazz player. I went and knocked on the headmaster’s door and, bear in mind this was a stiff-upper-lipped public school…he said ‘BRADY! Come in!’”

Martin would tell him how great a jazz player his trumpet teacher was and how he wanted to be one himself.

“He slammed his fist down on the table and he said, ‘Brady! Get out of here. Jazz is the devil’s music!’

“So I reacted to that, I threw away the trumpet, grew my hair long, picked-up an electric guitar and said **** to the world – I’m going to do what I want to do. He was responsible for getting me out of that kind of classical thing into rock and roll.”
From there, Martin would describe his life in music as like two different careers running parallel to one another: a commercial one and a playing one.

The former would start when he left school and got a job at Rose Morris, a big distributor of instruments in England, where he would sell into the music shops in the South and West of England.

He would go on to be the top salesman for them for years before being headhunted by Casio for the same role, where he would be promoted to Sales and Marketing Manager by the age of 27 and then a Director.

“We became the biggest company in the music business because keyboards just rocketed and, as Sales and Marketing Director, you got some kudos from that.”

After moving on to Celestion Loudspeakers, where he would work for six years, in 1996 Martin would eventually get to the company where he would go on to have some of his greatest successes: Fender.

“There was something at that point called Fender Europe. They wanted me to come in and manage Fender Europe from a sales point of view initially, and I grew the company by about 160% in the first couple of years and then they decided to promote me to Managing Director.”

Martin would totally revamp the sales logistics of Fender Europe, replacing many of the independent distributors with a Fender company. In 1978, Fender were making 12 guitars a day, by the time Martin left the company in 2005, they were making 2200 a day. Away from sales, though, one of Martin’s proudest achievements was his contribution to organising The Strat Pack in 2004 – a concert put together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster.

“We wanted to do something special for that guitar. Probably the most bought guitar in the world. We decided to organise a big concert at Wembley arena.

‘We invited guitarists through the ages…We started off with The Crickets, Buddy Holly’s band, but obviously Buddy Holly is dead, so someone had to take his place, so we asked Brian May.

‘We had people like Jamie Cullum, Amy Winehouse, and we had one of the biggest names in guitar history in Gary Moore…Joe Walsh from The Eagles, Paul Rogers from Free, Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones.

‘At one point, we put Brian May with Paul Rodgers, to do some tracks, and what happened was I got a message back from them saying: ‘Thanks for putting us together, we’re now going out with Queen.’

‘I then got a message saying “Thanks for putting Queen back together!’”

The concert would go on to raise £340,000 for Nordoff Robbins, a leading music therapy charity.

This was not the first time that Martin rubbed shoulders with the stars, however. Throughout his time in the commercial side of music, he had been lucky enough to meet many a music legend.
“I remember when I met Jeff Beck in Paris at the Grand Rex concert hall, he was doing a gig there, and I at the time was opening up Fender France.

‘I went to the gig obviously and I was introduced to him afterwards as Martin, the Managing Director of Fender, and he went down on his hands and knees and said ‘I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy!’ It should have been the other way round!”

Martin and Jeff would become such good friends that Martin would be lucky enough to give him a Lifetime Achievement award a few years later.

On another occasion, he was sent down to Paul McCartney’s recording studio in Battle, to show him a new electronic drumkit.

The Beatle wandered in and asked what Martin and his colleague wanted for breakfast: “He went out and cooked us some toast and there we were sat on the edge of his mixing desk eating toast and drinking coffee with Paul McCartney!”

Despite his success in the commercial side of the music business, his first love is actually playing: “I can’t not do it. It’s like a drug.”

Martin has been playing in bands pretty much all his life: “I started off with Rose Morris in 1978 and my career ended in 2005. But throughout that whole period I was also playing. I got to play on a few albums, do some session work and run my own band.”

His greatest success though came when he was signed to Atlantic Records with his band Men on Fire.

“In the 1980s, I moved into a house in St Albans. One day, I heard this guy singing next door up in the loft and I said ‘Let’s get him over and mess around because he’s got a cracking voice.’”

The meeting was such a success that the band, with the new singer Duncan, would go into the studio and record six songs.

“We gave the recordings to a friend of ours, a singer-songwriter from America, who took it back with her and we didn’t hear anything for about six months.Then one day I was in the kitchen and my wife came out and said that there was this American guy  that wants to talk to you.”

Martin would pick up the phone to be greeted by Joe Mardin from Atlantic Records who said how much they loved the band’s music and they wanted to sign them.

“I was there with my mouth on the floor going f***. It’s that one time in your life that you get THE call.”

The call would lead on to a management deal with Arif Mardin’s group – the biggest producer that Atlantic records ever had, having produced Aretha Franklin, Phil Collins, the Average White Band and Whitney Houston, amongst others.

Martin would go to visit Arif once in New York and he remembers sitting in his lounge and seeing three rows of gold records going all around the room of all the records he had produced during his life. The band would produce some albums but would unfortunately split not long after being signed.

However, his talent has not just been confined to his own music: “I did play on a few records just partly by being in the right place at the right time. You might get one guy just saying get your guitar out while you’re here and before you know it, you’re playing on Aretha Franklin’s record ‘Think’.”

In 2005 Martin would leave Fender after almost 10 years: “I left because it became a bit too corporate and it was all about share values. I was the 14 year-old-kid with his nose pressed-up against a guitar shop window looking at Fender Stratocasters.

‘Guitarists would go without shoes on their feet for three years just to afford their Stratocaster and I believe Fender had lost their way a little bit. They had forgotten who keeps them in business and that is not the superstars, but it’s the kids on the street. They had lost their way.” Martin decided to retire from the commercial side of the industry and he and his wife chose to just get away.

“It’s quite a shock to the system when you had been in the music business for forty-odd years and you suddenly leave. Suddenly you’re Mr Fender and then you’re nothing.”
Martin and his wife would take to their yacht and spend the next six years sailing around the coast of Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa – buying a place in Sardinia during their adventure.

“We sat on the boat in Cornwall, we had sold our house, our cars, we sold everything and all we had were a few boxes left in the loft at my daughter’s house and we felt so light. It was just that fabulous freedom feeling. You’ve thrown off the shackles of the world.”

Martin and Colette would find their way back to the UK and decided to settle on Dartmoor. He decided to re-train in a manual skill, and chose leatherwork after finding it almost impossible to source quality leather goods. He would train first in Devon and then with the doyenne of English leather trainers, Valerie Michael.

However, you’ll never find him too far from his first love, having formed a new band – Diving For Pearls – with aspirations of headlining Dartmoor’s Chagstock music festival one day.

In true testament to the man, though, our interview ended not with a funny anecdote or story about himself, but rather with some advice he wanted to share: “Be driven, do things to the Nth degree and just be kind. If everyone was just a little bit kinder, the world would be a much nicer place.”

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