Born in 1955, Martin grew up in the Thames riverside town of Gravesend in Kent. From the early age of 12 he attended saturday morning art classes, first at Gravesends own school of art and then later at the Medway Art College. After leaving school he did a foundation course at Canterbury Art College, before coming to Sheffield in 1976 where he gained a fine art degree at the now defunkt Psalter Lane College of Art & Design. Although he started as a painter he transferred to the Photography course and spent a major part of his time documenting live gigs around the city and ultimately further afield. As a result he joined The Damned and The Adverts on their first Uk tour and also produced many promo shots for performers such as Roy Harper, Ronnie Lane and Nils Lofgren.
After leaving college he worked as a graphic designer for Sheffield University for about 3 months before, along with John Redfern, Chris Andrews, Adrian Vincan and Phil Mills, he became a founder member of The Leadmill. Taking on the role as ‘house’ artist, he began creating the silkscreen posters for which the venue, in those early years, became known. Initially started as an ‘arts lab’ The Leadmill promoted Theatre, Dance, and Multi-media shows, various musical genres that most other clubs (at the time) wouldn’t touch such as Punk, Reggae and Industrial Noize bands, Jazz, Blues and many older acts who were still having a hard time in the post-punk era. The complex also housed band rehearsal rooms, art studios and a fanzine, ‘Properganda’, ran community workshops, had a wholefood cafe and eventually a real ale bar and was run collectively by a motley bunch of hippies, punks and anarchist’s. It played a significant role in the city during the miners strike in the ’80’s when it hosted many benefits for both the NUM and the Forgemasters strike. However as times changed so did the Leadmill. The political stance was gradually squashed and the centre became a more commercial club, and after 12 years (1980-92) of creating posters and the public image of The Leadmill, the organisation and Martin, amicably, parted company. Martin maintained his studio for a further 2 years, but also moved on.
In 1990 he was invited by the Soviet Unions Artist Union to be guest of honour and to exhibit, at a festival of poster art in Odessa, Ukraine, where artists from all the (then) Soviet countries attended. During this, very interesting, time he visited Moscow, St Petersburg, Doneskt (once twinned with Sheffield), and Kiev, as well as Odessa, and says he lived on illicit vodka and tomatos for 3 weeks.
In 1992, still based at his Leadmill studio (which in the ’60’s had been the location of the Esquire club), he presented a multi-media event called ‘Songs of Antlers’ in both the Leadmill and Scotia Works (at that time a derelict little mesters complex located next to the club). Drawing on and exploring ancient myths and shamanic beliefs, it featured not only Sheffield circus performers, musicians and artists but also Native American, French and Russian artists he had met on his travels. In this year, while the city hosted the Student Olympic Games, he also brought over Ukranian poster artist and musician, Valeri Viter, to take part in a dual poster exhibition in Sheffields Crucible theatre, as well as holding several of his own painting shows.
From 1990-94 he ran ‘Stuff and Nonsense’, a small company, selling badges, t-shirts and stickers of his designs, aimed at the ‘new circus’ community, his biggest selling sticker being ‘Shit Happens’, and he organised 3 national juggling conventions in the city.
In ’94 along with Chris Cooper, and quickly joined by Keith Lauchlan, Jimmy Stone & ‘J.Baki’, he set up ‘The Loft’. Another small community arts project with a plethora of volunteers, it was highly productive in its 4 year lifespan. It offered office and band rehearsal space, with the largest area reserved for creating club decor. Promoting local band nights at the legendary Hallamshire Hotel, once a well known muso pub in Sheffield, with nights called ‘Off our heads and in your face’, they were reknown for their individually themed nights with decor to match. Soon they were regularly decoring other clubs promotions and went on to work alongside outfits such as Megadog, and various underground collectives across the country, organising ‘Chill out’ rooms with decor, Dj’s, musicians and performers, and their own large scale events. In 1995 Martin designed and organised the 25th anniversary celebrations for Glastonbury festival. Drawing on his own contacts with the festival, circus and of course The Loft, he took a crew of 100 (mainly from Sheffield, but also Scotland, Bristol and London) to the site for 3 weeks pre the event to build huge articulated models and design costumes for one of the festivals most famous years. It was the year Pulp took the festival by storm and it seemed the whole of Sheffield was there. From this success Martin & The Loft designed the set for Sven Vaths ‘Cocoon’ German tour in ’97’ with which they went on the road. On their return they found their base, a delapidated building they rented, had been sold for flats, and they were locked out. Always a very loose and anarchic collective at the best of times, the group disbanded and went their seperate ways.
From ’97 to 2008 Martin managed, co-managed and house managed pubs and clubs, managed bands and solo artists, and promoted gig nights, while continuing to design posters. Bands, whom he says he ‘enthusiastically mis-managed’, included the festival favourites ‘Elfin’, rhythm’n’blues rockers ‘Do$ch’, Nu-Blues trio ‘Chicken Legs Weaver’ and hard rockers ‘Crowleys Dead’, as well as solo artists Andrew Oxley, Andy Weaver and Tom Rodwell. Since then he has concentrated purely on his poster work, designing limited edition prints for artists such as Patti Smith, Heaven 17 and his old mate Richard Hawley among many, many others.
In 2008, having visited the USA many times since the early ’80’s, he achieved a lifelong dream by designing posters for the Warfield theatre in San Francisco and met many of his poster artist heroes at the Trps (The Rock Poster Society) Festival in the Hall of Flowers, in Golden Gate Park.
He has published two books of his posters, ‘Up against the wall’ (the Leadmill posters) and ‘Stick ’em up’ which covers much of his work since 1992 to the present. Over the years he has exhibited his posters and paintings, in both solo and joint exhibition’s, in Sheffield, London, New York, Vancouver, Paris and Odessa.
He has two sons, Sam and Josh, of whom he is inordinately proud, lives with his long suffering girlfriend Nicky and their dog Fly, and has a grandaughter, Eva, who is the light in his life.
‘What a long strange trip it’s been’