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‘Without Steve Martland, I’d have been an accountant…’

The composer Tim Benjamin was a pupil of Steve Martland, who died suddenly last night, aged 53. He recalls how Steve turned him into a composer:




Steve Martland was my first composition teacher.

I first met him more than 20 years ago when he came with his amazing Steve Martland Band to my school, Christ’s Hospital, as part of a BBC education project. The aim of the project was to get kids new to composition to write for his band, and for that music to be eventually performed at the Royal Festival Hall. All of our GCSE music group had a go, but there were three of us who really took to Steve and his music.

He took us under his wing and we used to go and see him in the school holidays at his flat in Highbury. There we plied him with his favourite Marlboro cigarettes and he plied us with fresh coffee and we studied composition together. He was a very demanding teacher, who knew everything and was intolerant of the slightest failure, yet he was one of the most warm hearted and just plain funny people we had ever met. After our lessons we would head down to the Hope & Anchor on Upper Street and we would ply him with his favourite Stella Artois and he would ply us with hilarious stories of the music business.

Under Steve I went from having a crazy unfocused passion for writing music to learning the essential composer skills of clarity, succinctness, and direction – with no loss of enthusiasm. He also introduced me to so much cool music that I’d probably never have encountered otherwise. He encouraged me to study music after leaving school, so I went to the RNCM and later Oxford, and I have since tried to forge some kind of career as a composer. Without Steve, I’d have done none of those things and would probably have ended up an accountant…

We learned so much from him – composition and 20th century repertoire, yes, but also self-confidence and a healthy distrust of the establishment. He never charged us a penny, he always had time for us and I miss his relentless encouragement, the hour-long phone conversations, and of course the Marlboros and Stella Artois.

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  1. Michael J. Stewart says:

    Thank you Mr Lebrecht for posting Tim Benjamin’s tribute to his friend and teacher Steve Martland. I think this speaks for many who knew or had the privilege of meeting Steve Martland. He was a brilliant composer, a tireless champion of new music in its many forms and wonderful inspiration to many young composers and musicians. News of his death was a great shock to me. He will be very sadly missed. A great loss indeed.

  2. Haftor Medb√łe says:

    I remember Steve speaking so warmly of Tim and co. over cappuccinos, croissants and (of course) Marlboros at the Princess Cafe. Once we’d discussed the culture pages of the Guardian discussion would inevitably move on to the merits James MacMillan. Steve energised each and everyone that had the fortune to meet him and his music remains as a reminder to maintain cultural and political vigilance. A sad day for the voice of compassionate dissent.

  3. This article brings back so many happy – and identical – memories.

    Back when I was a naive 17 year old no-hoper of a composer, he saw some potential in my amateur compositions and accepted me into one of his Strike Out summer schools. (Fellow alumni that year included Ben Foster and Leo Abrahams.)

    He was a brilliant, charismatic teacher and – as the years went on – mate. Intelligent, controversial, hugely arrogant and bitchy and marvellous and funny.

    All us old Strike Out boys have been reminiscing about our time with him this evening. The fun, the knowledge, the politics, the talent. And yes: the Stella and Marlboros. RIP.

  4. Ben Dowsett says:

    Steve Martland really was a wonderful inspiration to many but also kind and supportive to so many fledgling composers. I have many happy memories of him – Strike Out 1, the Marlboros and Stella Artois, the anecdotes, his band and of course his music. Now a Music teacher, I play my students some of his works and each year they are amazed and want hear more! RIP Steve.

  5. Mark Stratford says:

    One report said that SM died in his sleep. Had he been ill ?

  6. Kevin trainor says:

    Was at college with Steve 78-81 in Liverpool.He was a great friend and hilarious drinking partner.Good times,great memories.Shocked to hear news of his death.Await news of his funeral arrangements.

  7. Mark Stratford says:

    The Guardian said he had a heart attack.

  8. Daniel Rodger says:

    Thanks for the article. I was shocked and saddened to hear the news yesterday. I met Steve Martland in 1990 on a 2 week composition course on the Island of Hoy that I had the privilege of attending, held by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Steve Martland. He invited me to visit him later in the year at his flat in London. I still have his scores of Drill, Crossing the Border and Shoulder to Shoulder. He was inspirational. My thoughts and prayers are with any family he leaves behind.

    RIP Steve

    Romans 14:7-9
    7 None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living

  9. Tony Clamp says:

    Like Kevn Trainor, I am shocked and saddened to hear this news, which I’ve only just heard.

    I too enjoyed Steve’s company during my time in Liverpool in the late 70s and early 80s. We were fellow founding members of the executive commitee of the LIHE Socialist Society, and I have fond memories in particular of attending student demonstrations with Steve during febrile political times. Even then, he had a detailed knowledge of some of the best places to socialise in central London.

    I have followed his career with interest, and, I am sure along with many others who knew him during this period, I was not surprised to see him have a powerful impact on music, such was the force of his personality and his commitment. Most amusing was to see him as a “talking head” on TV coverage of the Proms, an “establishment” institution of which kind he was so eloquently critical.

    I frequently considered getting in touch with Steve in recent years, but failed to do so, despite my wife’s encouragement, and him being easy to locate. That’s my loss, I’m afraid.

    If it’s not too late, could someone please post details of the funeral, as and when they are known?

    Tony Clamp,

  10. mike chapple says:

    My brother and I were shocked to hear of Steve’s death. We were big mates with Marto, as we knew him, when he was studying in Liverpool and had some pretty wild nights out on the ale with him. I always remember having to hold him back from a test drive with a new pair of Dr Marten boots on the windows of Beaver Radio music shop in the city after seeing Madness at Eric’s in the late 70s!. Aside from his musical talents, he’ll by remembered by us and other fellow Liverpudlians as a lovely bloke with a playfully camp sense of humour, offset by seriously compassionate ethics about helping those in disadvantaged circumstances. RIP Steve. We’ll try and make it down to his cremation at Golders Green on May 31st.

  11. I hope it will be ok if I attend Steve Martland’s cremation on May 31st at Golders Green. Steve was 17/18 when I met him and we worked at the Department of Employment in Birkenhead. I was working on a census of employment and Steve was working in the general office. During his breaks Steve had to walk through our working environment. I struck up a relationship with him. I gave him nought for personality but 11 out of ten for his legs. And that was it. We spoke the same language. I so admired him. He taught himself music A level. I spent a remarkable weekend with him in Walthamstow!!!! He bought me a wonderful Ossie Clark dress in the market. We went to a Tippett opera at the Royal Covent Garden, then spent time selling Socialist Workers newspapers to passers by. There is much more but I prefer to keep that private….. I tried to keep up communications with Steve but our paths went separate ways. The news of his death is just so sad and so shocking. I just feel it was a true honour to know him. From the start, I knew this chap was special. Claire

  12. KEVIN CHAPPLE says:

    I posted a comment last Friday just after my twin brother Mike(without even knowing he’d sent one) but it doesn’t appear to have registered.I was totally shocked by Steve’s death.I went to College with Steve like Tony and Kev T .Steve was great company and his laugh was infectious.We had some good times round Lark Lane- down The Albert ,Masonic and Keith’s Wine Bar.He was a totally genuine and generous bloke( in fact I still have two LFC mugs he gave to us in 1979!)Mike was right about the Madness gig in the same year -Steve was literally bouncing on air that nightWe lost touch after Uni.I tried to contact him about tenyears ago via Factory Records, with no luck.Thanks for your company ,Steve.Many will be shocked by your passing.

  13. Keith Scobie-Youngs says:

    I met Steve in London during the mid eighties whilst sharing a flat with Mark Antony Turnage. He became a good friend, but sadly when i left London in 1990 we lost contact. I still followed his career and brought his CD’s to go along side the Factory white discs he gave me during those London days….
    I do regret not making the effort to make contact again as the years passed, but I have those memories of a funny guy, who’s music is still and will ever be, a joy to listen too….

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