ABC head Martin Fry shares how he’s an old romantic – but his wife disagrees

For young lovers in the early 1980s, Martin Fry’s music was the soundtrack to their lives, songs like The Look of Love making him a poster boy of the Neo-Romantic.

But ABC head Martin, 63, admits “romantic” isn’t the word his wife Julie would use to describe him.

He said, “I think I’m romantic, but my wife definitely wouldn’t agree with that. ‘Why can’t you be more romantic?’ Yes, we have a lot of conversations in our house.

“And, ‘Why don’t you give me a commission?’, but if you buy a commission from a gas station, forget it. We also debated that. “

He may not be a hopeless romantic, but Martin and Julie have been happily married for 35 years.

“I’ve had a thousand curses about not being romantic enough,” says Martin.

“But that’s the great thing about being with someone for a long time, you know they can see right through you.

“You have to separate the guy in the suit singing on stage from reality. I can live with that now. I’m trying harder to be more romantic.

“I have to do something right, though, I’ve been married and happy for a long time.”

Martin with his wife Julie in 2017


Piers Allardyce / REX / Shutterstock)

Martin admits romance is not the word his wife of 35 years would use to describe him


Eugene Adebari / REX / Shutterstock)

And Martin, who is on a 40th anniversary tour of ABC’s chart-topping debut album, The Lexicon of Love, says fans are still asking for advice on matters of the heart.

He said: “I really don’t think I would go with a guy in love, but I’m an age-wise idiot now, I can do an aunt’s pain column.

“I’m not sure I’m Cupid, I’m more like Zeus. But couples often write and say to me, ‘It’s because of you that we came together’. Those songs stick with people, carrying them through the good times and the hard times.

“People would say, ‘I remember listening to When Smokey Sings when I was having kids,’ or ‘All Of My Heart when my divorce happened’. Great.”

ABC had 10 singles in the UK and 5 singles in the US Top 40, and a No1 album in the UK, between 1981 and 1990. The Sheffield band split in 1992, but Martin revived the name six years then without guitarist and keyboardist Mark White, saxophonist Stephen Singleton and drummer David Palmer.

He admits that he’s in the “nostalgia business” these days, often performing with other big 80s names, such as Wet Wet Wet Wet and Kim Wilde. But he loves his “Legend of the Eighties” status.

He said: “I’m 63 and I get to play in Leeds or Sunderland, with Adam Ant, Howard Jones or Heaven 17.

“You walk out there and there are 20,000 people singing the words of All Of My Heart back to me.

“I’m thinking, ‘People don’t usually care about old people like me, so it’s a real privilege to still be performing’.

“It’s great to be an eighties legend, like a veteran pop statesman.”

ABC’s is best known for songs like The Look of Love, the song that made Martin one of the New Romantics poster boys.


LJ Van Houten / REX / Shutterstock)

Manchester-born Martin was by day working in a baked bean factory and writing a fanzine by night before he founded ABC with Mark and Stephen.

He remembers being thrown into the world of pop music with other New Romantic bands, such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.

“You have to imagine going through that gate,” he said. You’re logging into Sheffield, then hop on the bus and head to Top Of The Pops.

“You walk in as this arrogant young idiot who thinks they can change the world and you come out like a pop star. It’s one of the most surreal experiences.”

What he didn’t take into account was how quickly they would become famous.

“In the past, we would sit in restaurants in Japan and there would be a lot of people banging on the glass window and it would start to crack,” he said.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is a pretty fictitious existence, I don’t know if I really want to live like this forever’.”

In 1986, at the height of ABC’s fame, Martin, just 27 years old, was diagnosed with a rare cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

He said: “I thought, ‘Why me?’ I was on the international stage, my career was going well, and it was suddenly taken from me. We are about to open to Tina Turner worldwide and I have to withdraw.

“I feel guilty, like I let so many people down. And it was horrifying.

“But I can’t really have those regrets. Those who come to see me today know that this is where I energize and cherish every moment. Thanks to that, I am a lot more optimistic today about life and what you can achieve.”

Album art for Lexicon of Love

Then, newly married to Julie, he beat the disease and quickly returned to making hits, including When Smokey Sings, which hit No11 in the UK and his second US Top10 hit, peaking at No5.

Martin credits his return to a waiter at a Sheffield restaurant.

At the time he was undergoing radiation therapy, and the record label bosses asked to see him, raising concerns that they would eliminate the band.

He said: “I feel like a racehorse – they just want to look at my teeth for real, I’m just an investment to them. I’m a bit emaciated.

“Then this waiter came and he was shaking, and asked for my autograph. And I could see men looking and saying, ‘Wow, he still gets it. He looks sh** but that guy wants his autograph’. I want to thank that guy.”

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Martin and Julie go on to have twins, Louis and Nancy, now 31. Martin says: “I don’t feel comfortable talking to them about being eighties legends, because they would joke about it. my dad dance.

“But we had a good time. ABC used to open doors for Robbie Williams and Robbie took my kids for a walk. Once, I brought 13-year-old Nancy with me to the United States.

“We were in the practice room and Courtney Love’s Hole band was there, so we sat down quietly in the back and they played a whole set, just us there. I told her afterwards, ‘It’s like an entire concert, just for you’.

“Nancy is more impressed with Courtney than ever with ABC.”

Four decades may have passed since Martin’s new romantic golden age, but fans all want to talk about the same thing – love. He said: “One day a black taxi driver asked me, ‘So Martin, have you found true love?’

“In Look of Love, I told my friends that maybe one day I would find true love. And I told him ‘Yes, they were right, I did’. “

ABC The Lexicon of Love Tour with Southbank Sinfonia June 17-30. See for more details.

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