Martin Cilia is Australia’s self-proclaimed premier surf rock guitarist and he certainly has the credentials to back the claim up. Growing up in Essex in the UK, Martin was exposed to the instrumental guitar licks of Hank Marvin and The Shadows at a very early age through his father’s reel to reel recordings of the band. After migrating to Perth at the age of ten, it wasn’t too long before Martin was playing professional gigs. During the 80s he performed with several bands including WA cult hero Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs, then in the 90s was enlisted to join Australian surf guitar legends The Atlantics, with whom he has recorded and toured internationally. Martin is currently enjoying playing guitar and touring with the legendary Australian band Mental As Anything and has just released yet another solo guitar album ShadowMan, a tribute to Hank Marvin and The Shadows and their unique style of instrumental guitar music. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with Martin to discuss his career and gear.
When was the first time you came across the music of The Shadows?
I grew up in England in the 60s and my father was a radio and TV technician for a company called Echo Pye, which was in Essex. He had a reel to reel tape recorder and he used to record stuff off the TV or radio and he loved The Shadows, so he used to have tapes of The Shadows playing all of the time in the house. I thought it was quite exciting, especially in the 60s. The Beatles were the big thing in England but The Shadows were always playing, so I had them always in my head.
When did you first start playing guitar?
We were in Perth. It was around 1971 and my father was repairing radios and TVs for a company called AWA and he had an apprentice who played in a band. This apprentice came around one day with his old acoustic guitar and showed me a couple of chords and that was it. I played two or three chords for six months, played them over and over. Once I realised I could learn stuff off records, I went through every record in the house, no matter what it was and tried to learn the songs, the chords and melodies. It was very gradual but I always thought you had to have sheet music to learn but one day I figured out that I could do it myself.
You preferred the instrumental music rather than the vocal hits by The Beatles?
Basically I like rhythm and melodies. I did love The Beatles, their songs were fantastic but not being a singer myself… you’re either a singer or you are not. I hear a lot of people these days who think they can sing but they can’’t and probably shouldn’t. Generally, I just liked the sound of the guitar. Maybe it’s an English thing but the English tone was different to everywhere else and I just liked the fullness and richness of it.
At what point did you get serious and start to explore what gear Hank Marvin was playing?
I used to look at the record covers and try and imagine what it was like. I got my first Vox AC30 amplifier in the mid to late seventies and I had never seen one before or know what they played like. There was an ad in the local paper and my father and myself went around to this house in South Perth and this person was playing a Vox organ through this Vox amp. I plugged my guitar in and didn’t really know what to expect. I ended up buying it and still have the same amplifier today. It is on all of The Atlantics records that I played on, so I was lucky that I got a good one straight away. With the Stratocaster, I got my first Stratocaster in January 1973, which I have also still got. I remember there was no choice about colour, it was just a matter of finding one. Hank was playing a red one and I didn’t see any growing up. I never really tried to copy the sound exactly though, I just wanted to play in that style on my own. I’d also got into Deep Purple’s Machine Head album and I loved the guitar on that. I was actually talking with Hank Marvin a couple of weeks ago, he came to a gig I was at in Perth. I mentioned that after him, the next person I noticed with that Strat, Vox thing was Ritchie Blackmore. I still reckon the Machine Head album is mostly Vox AC30s and not Marshalls, it doesn’t sound like it to me. So I said to Hank that I was a cross between the two.
That was my next question … have you met Hank Marvin and obviously you have!
Yes several times. Hank is a lovely person and I always learn something new every time I have a chat. He’s fantastic.
What was the initial thought in creating the ShadowMan album? What was the goal?
It was the record company’s idea because I had a lot of songs and a lot of demos in that style that we hadn’t released before and they came up with the name. I thought it was a fabulous idea, right up my alley. So there are 8 originals and 8 cover versions and I made sure that the cover versions had an original arrangement to them and that’s how ShadowMan came out. Now we are thinking about a ShadowMan 2. I have always written songs in the style of Hank Marvin and The Shadows, early 60s and never really had anywhere to play them, so this is a good vehicle for it.
Tell me about some of the songs that you wrote for the album that are close to your heart.
There’s the opening song called 1960. I wrote that song in the mid 80s when everyone, well the guitar players especially, the pressure was on to play with chorus sounds and long delays and I thought, well nobody is really playing melodies. So I wrote that song just for myself. I thought nobody is writing songs that I want to hear anymore, so I am going to write songs I want to hear. I wrote a whole batch of songs in the style of what I wanted to buy.
Which of The Shadows’ songs do you believe is the most perfectly written and recorded track?
I like the excitement of the early 1960-61 era. I would say that the perfect track, which I had a chat to Hank about recently, The Rise and Fall of Flingel Bunt. When I heard that song, there was something about the toughness of it … it shouldn’t work but it does. You could never record that song as good again and that’s an early ’64 recording. Hank told me with that song, he came in with the riff. They didn’t have the song rehearsed or fully written and they finished it off and recorded it on the spot. Maybe that is what it is, there’s something about that track that has that energy. That’s my favourite and is what got me into playing guitar and wanting that solid sound.
That song is on ShadowMan and you have the Mental As Anything guys playing as the band …
We’d been playing that song in the Mentals set as part of the encore. We were talking about recording because we were doing a live album and Greedy said why don’t you just do it on your album and we’ll play on it? So I said ok, so that’s how it came about.
How did you join Mental As Anything in the first place?
I had known them for a few years, come across them quite a bit. Playing with The Atlantics, we sometimes did gigs with them. Greedy was also a fan of another band I played in Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs. Greedy used to come and see Dave play. I was in Europe with The Atlantics in 2013 and that was our final tour basically. A couple of the guys were a little older and said let’s just stop playing live now while we’re ahead. I get home and there’s a message, the Mentals are looking for you, so it was really good timing. I started with them on Australia Day 2014.
How many guitars were used on your ShadowMan album?
A few but the one I used most is the 1961 Stratocaster, a white one with the original pickups which I have had for many years. It has this sound, almost compressed but in a good way and I used it with a Vox AC30. I have a few of them so whatever one sounded good on the day. For an echo I used a Klempt Echolette on some of the songs but then it stopped working, broke down so I ended up using Boss pedals, DM2 or Dm3 on the other stuff. The Echolette certainly has a sound with the valve pre amps and stuff. I’ve since had it fixed so will be using that again. I also used an original 54 Strat and I have a Candy Apple 63, all originals with 3 way switches in them. They each have a different voice but the 61 is the one I use most of the time.
Do you hope to take the album out for some shows? I know you don’t have a lot of spare time with The Mentals always touring.
I am looking at that stuff at the moment trying to get out there and play some of the songs. I have a huge back catalogue as well. Mentals are looking at touring overseas next year and I will go on the back of that and try to do some of my stuff.
When you’re playing your songs live, is the gear much different?
I wouldn’t take the old echo out on the road anymore, they don’t travel well. I’d just use a Vox AC30, the white Strat mostly and some Boss pedals, one set for a short delay and one set for a long delay.
The guitar has taken you all over the world. What are some of your more memorable experiences?
Places like Finland where you play at midnight but it still looks like 5 o’clock in the afternoon because the sun really doesn’t go down. Then there was Spain festival called the wild weekend, it was with The Atlantics. We were saying well who is going to know us here but everyone knew all of the songs and people in the front were even singing all of the ad lib guitar solos. I didn’t see that coming.
Any regret guitars, ones that got away?
There’s always a couple. I had a Gibson SG Special and I sold it in the late 70s because I needed some money to get to England. I always wondered where that is, probably in Perth somewhere. I wouldn’t mind seeing that again. But what I lost on the guitars that I sold, I gained on something else, picked up something in another area. There was a stage in the 90s where I had about 30 Strats, mostly vintage ones. I thought I am not enjoying them as much as I should and that’s when I discovered 50s Gibsons, so I started getting into those. I would swap Strats for Gibsons, so I now have a fairly decent collection of old Gibson guitars too.
How do you feel about the future of the guitar with things like hybrid guitars being released?
It’s all about sound, so it’s like the event of electricity, that changed the way guitar was played or the event of bigger amplifiers. Technology has always shaped music and always will. I think people will always want to play guitar. It’s so versatile and can do most things. It’s a bit like a modern piano but you can’t cart a piano around too easily but you can always take a guitar anywhere or find a guitar everywhere. I remember 6 or 7 years ago touring and one day I totally forgot to take a guitar with me. I turned up at this gig with no guitar and I was about an hour from home. I figured that one in five houses had to have a guitar. I went off down the street, you know, excuse me … second house, oh yeah my son has a Squire Strat, you can borrow that and it was fine. They are everywhere, so the guitar is still strong. What I am finding is that all the guitar players are sounding the same, there are no individual people from what I am hearing anyway. In the 60s and 70s there were so many individual sounding guitar players. I don’t know if that is because of equipment or everyone is learning the same way, or fashion, that has a lot to do with it.
What’s on for Martin Cilia in 2020?
A possible overseas tour. Mentals do a 100 or so gigs a year, so we are always on the road. We are going to do a new original album. We did a live dvd this year and that’s out now. There’s always something happening.
Purchase ShadowMan HERE