Martin Bedford has always had leanings towards the visual. He attended Saturday morning art classes from the age of 12, first at Gravesend, Kent’s own School of Art and then later at Medway Art College. On leaving school, he attended Canterbury Art College, before coming to Sheffield where he gained a fine art degree at Psalter Lane College of Art & Design. After moving from studies in painting to photography, he then began documenting live gigs all over the UK. He joined The Damned and The Adverts on their first UK tour and also produced many promo shots for performers such as Roy Harper and Ronnie Lane. He has since promoted, created, managed and co-ordinated many events in Sheffield and further afield, many of them captured for eternity in silkscreen and ink.
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 exhibitions, in Sheffield, London, New York, Vancouver, Paris and Odessa. His latest and much anticipated exhibition, 40 Years of Rock and Roll: The Posters of Martin Bedford will open on 2nd December in Sheffield.
You lucky people. Now, sit back and learn something.
You’ve got a huge history of involvement with Sheffield music – The Leadmill, Honey Bees and everything in between. Can you share a little of how that all came about?
I got involved, well I fell in love with music and particularly with the artwork around it when I was a kid in the early 60s went to art college – continually – that’s how I came to Sheffield. I came to Psalter Lane art college – when I was there I gravitated towards doing photography all on the old analogue stuff and ended up touring with bands. When I left college, with a group of friends we started the Leadmill and since then I haven’t looked back or forwards or sideways.
Who did you start the Leadmill with?
There was a whole load of people involved cos it was very much done in a very DIY hippy punk attitude – it was all miscreants in the area and it was a loose underground community that brought it together. There were several people that became mainstays: Adrian Vincan who’s now an MBE I think, Phil Mills who actually owns it now, Chris Andrews and John Redfern and myself: we were the initial official committee – as there had to be a committee – there had to be a group talking to the council and stuff like that, but it was brought about by a huge amount of volunteers. Early bands: well Pulp were down there all the time, The Fall seemed to live there, and we had a lot of the cutting-edge bands of the time, Dead Kennedys and all that – a lot of the old hippies like Roy Harper giving us support and a huge support from the Rastafarian community. So, you know we did a lot of reggae gigs and I really miss that a lot of the diversity has gone – back in the 70s and 80s the white rock punk community were mixing easily with the reggae ska community and it was fucking brilliant. But unfortunately … it’s another thing I blame Thatcher for, but I blame Thatcher for the death of the dinosaurs so …
Which reggae bands were you into?
Prince Far I – yes; Aswad were shit hot at the time until they got all lover rock – I wasn’t so keen on that myself – King Tubby, Zvuloon Dub System – fantastic stuff – and Steel Pulse.
Do you have iconic moments in your career to date? Moments in your career so far where you’ve had to catch your breath?
That’s a bit of a difficult one if you’re looking back 40 years!
I know – I’m sorry!
To harp on about the Leadmill: Dead Kennedys blew my mind. It was the first time I’d ever seen anybody stage dive – I was at the front with other volunteers being security (haha) i.e. trying to stop the punks climbing on the stage – when all of a sudden, this guy just flew across my head and it was Jello Baifra – and I thought shit someone’s got on the stage and thrown him off but just stage dived in to the audience. At the end of the night I washed my hair in the sink and threw my t-shirt away as I was absolutely covered in gob.
I know – but it was one of the most amazing gigs I’ve ever been to. As far as involvement goes there’s been loads I’ve scene and been involved in. As a punter – one of the first gigs I was ever taken to? Howlin’ Wolf – and that will always stick in my mind. Seeing the Axis: Bolder than Love album cover first time I didn’t even have to listen to the record. I loved the album cover. I just thought – I can do that. I played the record. It was Hendrix. Then, you know – If Six Were Nine – from Easy Rider, it changed my life. ‘Hey Mr Business Man – you can’t dress like me.’ That’s it. Fine. That’s it. I’m made. I know what I’m doing for the rest of my life.
Where do your influences come from in your art work? Hailing back of course as I know you’re always evolving as an artist but where do you look to for inspiration?
I can’t deny it – I have a huge amount of heroes. It starts with the 1950s movie posters to the psychedelic stuff particularly from San Francisco – a lot of the guys have gone now who I know – and that’s good we’re all dying off – everything. Everything from Art Nouveau right through to the punk stuff, I love the cut-up stuff, back at the Leadmill – I hate to keep going back to that …
No please do …
Well, I’d get the info in the morning and by the end of the afternoon they’d be out on the streets. We were silk screening them at the time. That means I’ve got two hours max to put something together, the first idea has got to be the idea you go with, you know, it was very DIY – and I know I’m an old hippy but I’m an old hippy with attitude. I never called myself that – I consider myself an anarchist not in the term that a lot of people use it. But I really liked the whole punk ethic of ‘get up and do it.’ But they weren’t the first to do it.
You were doing it well before then.
Well, people were doing it well before that. William Burroughs doing cut ups – how much more punk can you get?
Who are your favourite bands of all time and who are your favourite bands currently?
Oh god – okay completely off the top of my head: Howlin’ Wolf, Grateful Dead, Little Feat, Jimmy Hendrix obviously, people like Iggy Pop, The Deviants, MC 5ive-O – I love the MC 5ive-O. But new bands? How new do you want to get? In Sheffield there are Blind Saints, Fargo Railroad Company, Vegas 6, Teeth, Black Thunder Revue – there’s loads out there and they’re so diverse. Then we’ve got our imported Texan, Ash Gray – fucking brilliant.
There’s such a lot of amazing talent here isn’t there?
Yep. And there always has been. It really upsets me, one thing that really does upset me is when people say ‘Oh I wish I’d been born then because everything was happening.’ And I say ‘Do you go out and see bands? Because if you don’t you wouldn’t have gone out and seen those bands back in the day either. So, you’re talking shit.’ There’s so much happening right here, right now. I like the past. I’m glad that I was there but I don’t want to live there anymore. I want to live right here right now and in the future and if you like music then go out and see it. You might be surprised.
Your work has had political involvement and charity involvement over the years – your work is synonymous with that. You’re very well known for your charity work and your left of centre views. Can you talk a little about how things are going at the moment for our poor country?!
I don’t align myself to any political party per se. However, if I was to make a stand I’d align myself to the left. I admire Corbyn; I admire Michael Foot; I admire Tony Benn. Now whether they are capable of galvanising the entire nation to believe in what they are talking about I don’t know, but they’re moral and just people as far as I’m concerned. However, I’m not going to tie myself to the Labour Party or anything like that. I think when it comes down to it, it’s just a matter of decency. Some people would call it Christian values. I don’t, but – Treat other people how you would want to be treated. Treat them decently. What’s so wrong about that? And if I’m in a position to donate some of my time to do something that’s my choice. What annoys me is when people assume you’re going to do it. I’m happy to do freebie work that I personally support. I’m not waving a flag and I’m not asking anyone to follow me.
Leading on from that, you very kindly donated your time and you created a fabulous poster for our MAH gig. Why is that a cause that you felt you needed to be involved with?
You only have to look around you, around this town, this city alone let alone anywhere else. It is marked. It is there. You walk past somebody every day in a crumpled sleeping bag sleeping in a doorway. Why aren’t people asking, ‘Why’s that happening?’ Rather than saying, ‘It’s because they’re immigrants, it’s because they’re skankers, they’re scroungers, they’re junkies, they’re whatever … No. That doesn’t just happen. People don’t choose that as a way of life. As far as supporting an effort like this, yes. Again, it’s a moral duty.
What are your views on the current music scene in Sheffield with venues struggling to bring an audience and keep running?
It’s as alive as it’s ever been. When people say, ‘Oh it was great when Pulp were around …’ Do you know how Pulp started? They were playing shitty little pubs and in the Leadmill – they were living there! And people would laugh at them thinking they were some quirky little local band, you know. The thing is – make your opinions about whether something good is happening or not, but are you actually going out and supporting them? If you don’t go out and look, if all you’re going to do is wait for enough people to say, ‘This band are really good’ and then go out and buy an album thinking, ‘ it’ll look good in my record collection’ or ‘it’ll look good on my coffee table.’ Well, no. Fuck off. Go and see the bands. Go and support them.
Celebrating 40 years of the man behind that striking identity of The Honey Bee Blues Club, The Leadmill and every bill board in Sheffield. A retrospective collection of Martin’s finest work. With music from one of his current favourite artists Benjamin Bassford, this promises to be an evening not to be missed. December 2nd at The Closed Shop, Sheffield. https://www.facebook.com/events/134374290644982/