For young lovers in the early 1980s Martin Fry’s music was the sound-track to their lives, songs such as The Look of Love making him a poster boy of the New Romantics.
But ABC frontman Martin, 63, admits “romantic” is not a word his wife Julie would use to describe him.
He says: “I think I’m romantic, but my wife would definitely disagree with that. ‘Why can’t you be more romantic?’ Yes, we have a lot of those conversations in our house.
“And, ‘Why don’t you give me roses?’, but if you turn up with roses from the petrol station, forget it. We’ve had arguments about that too.”
He may not be a hopeless romantic, but Martin and Julie have been happily married for 35 years.
Martin says: “I’ve had thousands of gripes about not being romantic enough.
“But that’s the great thing about being with someone for a long time, you know they can see through you.
“You have to separate the guy in the tuxedo singing on stage with the reality. I can live with that now. I am trying harder to be more romantic.
“I must be doing something right though, I’ve been married, and happily, for a long time.”
And Martin, who is doing a 40th-anniversary tour for ABC’s chart-topping debut album The Lexicon of Love, says fans still ask for advice on affairs of the heart.
He says: “I really don’t think I’m to go-to guy on romance, but I’m a wise old fool now, I could do an agony aunt column.
“I’m not sure I’m Cupid, I’m more like Zeus. But couples often write and tell me, ‘It’s because of you we got together’. Those songs stick with people, they get them through good times, and difficult times, too.
“People will say, ‘I remember hearing When Smokey Sings when I was having a baby’, or ‘All Of My Heart when my divorce came through’. It’s wonderful.”
ABC had 10 UK and five US Top 40 singles, and a No1 UK album, between 1981 and 1990. The Sheffield band split in 1992, but Martin resurrected the name six years later, without guitarist and keyboardist Mark White, saxophonist Stephen Singleton and drummer David Palmer.
He admits that today he’s in the “nostalgia business”, often performing with other big Eighties names, such as Wet Wet Wet and Kim Wilde. But he loves his “Eighties legend” status.
He says: “I’m 63 and I get to go out to a field in Leeds or Sunderland, with Adam Ant, Howard Jones or Heaven 17.
“You step out there and there are 20,000 people singing the words of All Of My Heart back at me.
“I’m thinking, ‘People aren’t normally interested in old fellas like me, so it’s a real privilege to still be performing’.
“It’s nice being an Eighties legend, like an elder statesman of pop.”
L J Van Houten/REX/Shutterstock)
Manchester-born Martin was working in a baked beans factory by day and writing a fanzine at night before he founded ABC with Mark and Stephen.
He remembers being thrust into the world of pop along with other New Romantic bands, such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.
He says: “You’ve got to imagine going through that portal. You’re signing on in Sheffield, then jumping on the bus and going to Top Of The Pops.
“You go in as this arrogant young idiot who thinks they can change the world and you come out as a pop star. It was one the most surreal experiences.”
What he hadn’t factored in was how famous they would quickly become.
He says: “Back in the day, we’d sit in restaurants in Japan and there would be so many people crushing on the glass window looking in that it would start cracking.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is a pretty unreal existence, I don’t know if I really want to live like this forever’.”
In 1986, at the height of ABC’s fame Martin, aged just 27, was diagnosed with the rare cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma.
He says: “I thought, ‘Why me?’ I was on the international stage, my career going well, and it was suddenly taken away from me. We were about to open for Tina Turner worldwide and I had to pull out.
“I felt guilty, like I’d let a lot of people down. And it was terrifying.
“But I can’t really have those regrets. People who come to see me today know that’s where I get my energy from, appreciating every moment. Because of it, I’m a lot more positive today about life and what you can achieve.”
Then newly married to Julie, he beat the disease and was soon back making hits, including When Smokey Sings, which reached No11 in the UK and was their second American Top10 hit, peaking at No5.
Martin credits his comeback to a waiter at a Sheffield restaurant.
At the time he was having radiotherapy, and record label bosses asked to meet him, prompting fears they were going to ditch the band.
He says: “I felt like a racehorse – they just wanted to look at my teeth really, I was just an investment to them. I was a bit emaciated.
“Then this waiter came over and he was shaking, and asked for my autograph. And I could see the guys looking and saying, ‘Well, he’s still got it. He looks sh** but that guy wants his autograph’. I want to thank that guy.”
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Martin and Julie went on to have twins, Louis and Nancy, now 31.Martin says: “I’m not as comfortable about talking to them about being an Eighties legend, because they would joke about my dad dancing.
“But we have had some good times. ABC once opened for Robbie Williams and Robbie let my kids walk his dog. Once, I took Nancy, who was 13, with me to the States.
“We were in rehearsal rooms and Courtney Love’s band Hole were there, so we sat down quietly in the back and they played a whole set, with just us there. I said to her later, ‘That was like a whole concert, just for you’.
“Nancy was much more impressed with Courtney than she ever was with ABC.”
Four decades may have passed since Martin’s New Romantic heyday, but fans all want to talk about the same thing – love. He says: “The other day a black taxi driver asked me, ‘So Martin, did you find true love?’
“In Look of Love I talk about my friends saying that maybe one day I’ll find true love. And I told him, ‘Yes, they were right, I did’.”
ABC tour The Lexicon of Love with the Southbank Sinfonia from June 17 to 30. See gigsandtours.com for details.
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