A love letter to Martin Grech and his Open Heart Zoo
No matter how much music I hear, no matter how many things touch me profoundly, there will never be anything close to how Martin Grech’s debut album, “Open Heart Zoo” makes me feel.
I remember seeing an advert on telly for a car, a Lexus I think it was, I don’t really know much about cars, but I remember being mesmerised by the soundtrack…. I didn’t know Radiohead has a new song out? But this being 2002 I easily found out through the internet that it wasn’t Radiohead, it was this new guy called Martin Grech, and that he was from Aylesbury… like just beyond Milton Keynes so close you could take a bus there (which I did, once). So amazing was this piece of music that I rushed to our local HMV and found a 7” vinyl. Oh yes. I had a record player and I wasn’t afraid to use it. I instantly unleashed the romantic Jeff Buckley-esque vocals wash over the dining room/kitchen where my mother would play my cassettes from Bjórk and Garbage (Vespertine & Beatiful Garbage respectively) and Jeff Buckley’s “Live at Siné” CD. At first I couldn’t believe my ears, such magic rolling out of my stereo. Something that was more raw and upfront, more vulnerable than what Thom Yorke was serving on Kid A (a massive influence on me at the time).
Now there is a gap in my memory between this single and the next one which had one of the most aggressive melodic mother of all B-sides I have ever loved in my life. The track was called “Headsty” and it was an enigma. I don’t know if at this point I’d had the album or seen him live but what did happen was an unshakable bond was forged between myself and his art. What I do know is that the day he had a gig at one of the local Milton Keynes venues I was the first to know. I had a bit of a major crush on the promoter even though I knew he was straight and had a girlfriend (and he was balding, not a great look at twenty-something). When he told me he’d booked Martin Grech I was so impressed, and I’d like to think he was out to impress me (if you know me, then you know me). I remember showing up ever so early, like before soundcheck early, and sitting in the bar adjacent to the venue probably in some god-awful goth gear and enough eye-liner to cover my entire face should the temperature rise above 15c. I’m most certain it definitely did….
I saw Martin at the bar and I kinda dashed for him and held out my 7”, I probably mumbled a few words of how much he was my fave and asked him if he would sign my record, which he did. Actually… I think I’m remembering this wrong…. I think what actually happened was I gatecrashed the backstage area (as I’d played the venue a few times I knew my way around and there wasn’t any security) I found Peter Miles in the room and he must’ve seen me holding the 7” and offered to sign it / suggest that I find Martin in the bar next door…. I had no idea what he actually looked like! It’s not like Lexus has featured him the ad, and MTV + local stations were more concerned with the Limp Bizkits and Papa Roaches of the world.
He did sing my record and I remember him as being very lovely if not a bit taken aback by my enthusiasm. To me he was already a rock star. I was seriously unprepared for the live show.
By the time the show started I must have been half-cut as that was my style at the time. Drink a lot and drink it quickly. Time is always running out in a town that shuts down at 11pm precisely (unless you fancied your chances at some of the local clubs which were full of the kids who bullied you at school everyday). I remember his voice. That voice. Soaring above the opening keys to an intro titles “Feel Loved”. OMG. He is really real. The guy from the record who sounds like Thom Yorke but more vulnerable, the guy who’s from a next town over who’s in a Lexus ad, the guy who made this awesome gut shattering metal industrial song where he sounds as anguished as I feel every time I close my eyes… he is real. He is here.
Of course I fell in love, and I boy did I fall hard. I’m pretty sure to this day no other musician has had as much as an impact on me as he did. Call it being in the wrong place at the right time.