Tributes paid to esteemed music critic

Tributes have been paid to pioneering music journalist Gavin Martin following his shock sudden death. Aged 60, the Bangor native passed away last week while on holiday in the Caribbean with his partner. Gavin started his career while still at school at Bangor Grammar by co-founding the influential Alternative Ulster fanzine, which chronicled the Northern Irish punk scene of the late 1970s and lent Stiff Little Fingers the name for their most famous song. In the 1980s he joined the UK weekly music paper NME, where he gained a reputation for his acerbic and witty singles reviews, often using his platform to champion gritty soul-influenced sounds over the synthpop fashions of the era. Leaving his Ballyholme childhood behind and departing for London, his time at the NME saw him interview some of the music world’s biggest names, including penning U2’s first ever cover feature – to his eternal shame, he later quipped – and having a series of argumentative confrontations with Van Morrison that were spiky even by Morrison’s infamously tempestuous standards. Over the 1990s he became a regular name on monthly music magazines such as Vox and Uncut before becoming music editor of the Daily Mirror. Having set up home on the south coast of England with his partner Kate, he started up his own musical project Talking Musical Revolutions, a combination of Gavin’s spoken word poetics with backing from a variety of independent and underground bands, that released its debut album in 2017. He also became a frequent visitor to his home town, returning for ‘in conversation’ live events with musicians such as Mike Scott from the Waterboys, Suggs from Madness, and Slade’s Noddy Holder as part of the Open House Festival. In tributes posted on social media since his passing, Open House described him as a ‘music journalist, poet, maverick, and one of Bangor’s brightest’. “A brilliant and often brutal critic, he interviewed and wrote about most of the great musicians of his time,” stated the festival team. “While living on the south coast of England in recent years, he was a huge supporter of Open House, and hosted memorable events at the festival with several legendary musical friends. “He made his mark on the world. It will be a poorer place without him.” Bangor author Colin Bateman, an old school friend of Gavin’s, stated that ‘he was singlehandedly responsible for introducing me to the music I listen to today – turning us all onto the likes of Eddie and the Hot Rods, the emerging US punk rockers like Richard Hell and Television before championing the UK versions, the Pistols and the Damned long before anyone had heard of them’. Added Colin: “He pioneered coverage of local bands like Rudi and Protex, put on Bangor’s best ever punk gig in a church hall across the road from where I now live, featuring Ruefrex and The Doubt amongst others. “But it was as a writer and journalist that he made his mark, as founder and editor of the fanzine Alternative Ulster and then as a freelancer for the NME. I was with him while he went upstairs at the Europa to interview The Clash in 1978 and he came back down sick as a dog from smoking their funny cigarettes. “He would come round to look at my nerdy science fiction fanzines to get layout ideas for AU. Then he was taken on full time at the NME while still a teenager interviewing the stars – from Marvin Gaye to James Brown – before spending many years as music critic for the Daily Mirror. He retired fairly recently – such a great pity that he is now gone, far too soon.” Music writer and fellow NME veteran Stuart Bailie reminisced about some of Gavin’s most important work, including uncovering the hidden heroin addiction of Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan despite serious threats of legal action and withdrawn advertising from the band’s influential label. He also recalled Gavin staying up late with apocalyptic doom-rockers Killing Joke only to catch them writing letters to their mums, and the ‘raptures and uproar’ of his long love/hate relationship with Van Morrison. Said Stuart: “He had commissioned Stiff Little Fingers to write ‘Alternative Ulster’ for a fanzine flexidisc and then declined to use the track. Hailed the Undertones and then savaged Feargal in print. Insisted, alongside Dele Fadele, that the NME should confront and critique Morrissey over his waving of the Union Jack at Madstock. “He wrote the first NME cover story on U2 and then rubbished [the band’s third album] War. He was nobody’s tame journalist. His account of the U2 Lovetown tour in 1989 was luminous writing as he journeyed across Japan and communed with BB King. “Gavin’s dad fought in the Second World War and was part of the liberation of Belsen. He later became a union leader. Gavin absorbed some of that sense of mission and righteousness. Gone shockingly soon. Real gone.”