Mad Martins

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Project Background


Mad Martins has been a long time in the making.

The project began as a collaboration between songwriter and musician Gary Miller and poet Keith Armstrong in 2002, consisting of around a dozen songs and a handful of poems making up a 90-minute set of material.

Mad Martins, in the format in which it existed at that time, was premiered at Queens Hall Arts Centre, Hexham, October 2002 as part of the Northumberland Traditional Music Festival and featured performances by Keith and Gary, accompanied by Gary's twin brother on accordion and Chris Ormston on northumbrian pipes.

“All this material was cleverly conceived and very well appreciated by the audience. A very fine experience indeed. This was a worthy and entertaining compilation. For anyone with an interest in the Martin story, it is not to be missed. A most enjoyable event in this format with all the participants making a night to remember. Congratulations to the ‘Mad Martins’.” (Henry Swaddle, World of John Martin).

 Full review here.

A handful of further performances quickly followed but due to a variety of personal circumstances, the project was shelved for a number of years before it was revived by Gary & Keith in 2011, in time for a performance at the Anchor Hotel, John Martin Street, Haydon Bridge in October of that year, as part of the John Martin Heritage Festival. In addition to performances by Keith and Gary, Chris Ormston renewed his links with the project to perform a selection of northumbrian pipe tunes at the event.

During this minor revival of the project, Gary was inspired to conduct further research into the Martin Brothers and to subsequently write an additional batch of songs, taking his tally of songs about the Martins to about two dozen.

Then, at the beginning of 2013, Gary decided it was time at last to accord the project what he felt was its rightful due and began initial recording sessions for the Mad Martins album with his friend and previous collaborator Iain Petrie producing.

These recording sessions progressed during scattered short spells throughout 2013 at Iain's studio in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, during which time around half of the project material was recorded. This included all the northumbrian pipe tunes performed by Ann Sessoms.

Then, following a 12-month hiatus, again due to personal reasons, recording resumed on the remaining material, in July 2014, at Iain's relocated studio in Spittal, Northumberland, allowing for additional musicians and performers to contribute. By this time, initial plans to release the project as a single CD had expanded to releasing the entire recordings as a triple CD with an accompanying 100-page Deluxe Book.

In April 2015, with all recording and mixing completed and the 50-track running order finalised, Gary and Iain travelled up to Slate Room Studio in Pentcaitland, to oversee the mastering of the 50-track triple album, over 3 successive days (one day for each disc respectively) by experienced mastering engineer Garry Boyle.

At this point, however, Gary was forced to abandon his own career plans, and become a full-time carer for his aging parents during what would become a 2½-year period and the project was 'put on ice' yet again.

It was not until 2017, 2½-years after the recording sessions were completed that production resumed on the CD & book project, with Illustrator and Graphic Designer Helen Temperley taking on the task of designing the artwork and layout for the whole package. The finished product was finally completed in September 2017, together with the accompanying 'Fair Flowers Among Them All (The 'Mad Martins' Instrumentals)' CD, and released as a 50-track triple CD housed in a deluxe 104-page book containing lyrics, inter-linking text and around 100 illustrations. Mad Martins received widespread criticial acclaim with a number of ecstatic reviews, as evidenced by the following select quotes...

A veritable triumph!" ***** (RnR)

"To say that this is a masterpiece is still an understatement." Rating: 10/10 (FRaME Music)

"A magnificent piece of work" (

"An extraordinary work" (Folk Radio UK)


Meanwhile, throughout 2018 and into 2019, momentum on Mad Martins stalled temporarily, while the majority of Gary and Helen's time and resources became heavily focussed on The Whisky Priests 'Bloody Well Back' Reunion Tour; alongside other major creative projects, such as 'From Coalfield to Battlefield', 'Northern Grit' and 'The Butcher Baronet'; personal projects such as Whippet Lodge; and other collaborative ventures, including Whippet Workshops.

With The Whisky Priests Reunion completed and the focus finally back on Mad Martins again, an official premiere of 'Mad Martins: The Story of the Martin Brothers' (a live performance presentation of the project in its completed format) took place at the City Theatre, Durham, as part of the 2019 Durham Book Festival, featuring the following incredible line-up of musicians...


See Photo Gallery #1 of the Premiere HERE.

See Photo Gallery #2 of the Premiere HERE.

See Photo Gallery #3 of the Preniere HERE.

See Video Gallery of the Premiere HERE.

Plans for further Mad Martins shows were temporarily postponed due to the COVID-19 Lockdown.

In the meantime, in November 2020, Gary Miller announced the development of his new band 'Gary Miller's Big Picture', with a line-up constituting many of those who had performed the Mad Martins debut show at the City Theatre. Going forward, it is therefore likely that future Mad Martins shows will be performed by 'Gary Miller's Big Picture'.

Then, in 2021, Gary issued the following statement...
"Earlier this year, I felt drawn back to Mad Martins and began thinking about how I might go about rejuvenating and relaunching it but as I creaked open the dusty door to the almost forgotten world of Mad Martins a few months ago, I was initially at a bit of a loss as to how to proceed with things.

After the promise and joy of the first live show in October 2019, which was brilliant, things got a bit 'complicated'. Then, while I was wondering how to keep up momentum for future performances, lockdown struck. So, like so many others in the same boat, I focused on other projects to see myself through, both mentally and financially and ‘Mad Martins’ returned to the back-burner.

I am glad to say that I am now in the process of overhauling and restructuring Mad Martins to reflect more where I feel things stand with it now. I have begun adding a batch of new songs and other material, broadening its scope, and am looking forward to relaunching the project with a fresh new outlook and approach.

Helen has also been working on redesigning the visual aspect of the project to make it all more vibrant and colourful, so how chuffed were we when the beautiful people at US film company Doorstop Productions fell in love with the Martins and a madman-loving partnership was born!…

Having been mightily impressed by what she had seen of her work, Doorstop Productions Creative Director and Founder, Stephanie Stender, approached Helen 'out-of-the blue' and commissioned her to create original artwork and backgrounds for the company’s latest animated film 'Rapunzle'. The birth of this wonderful collaboration led to Stephanie and animator Michael Sciortino discovering Mad Martins, and falling in love with the characters of the Martin Brothers and the concept of the Mad Martins project as a whole.

It was therefore decided and agreed by all parties that Doorstop Productions would also produce a fully animated promotional video for one of the Mad Martins songs, further strengthening the collaboration. After some discussion, it was agreed that the double track segue of 'Four Bare Walls/Escape' was the most logical choice for the animation treatment and work quickly began, with Helen illustrating characters and backgrounds. Work has steadily been progressing on each of these two film projects with the 'Four Bare Walls/Escape' animation due to be finished in 2022.

It’s exciting to witness Mad Martins expand and develop further through international collaboration and, needless to say, this has all further rekindled and reinvigorated my enthusiasm for Mad Martins and I can’t wait to share it once it’s all done."

(Gary Miller, Mad Martins Musical Director)
In the meantime, below are a few early animation test pieces...