By Tim Benjamin | May, 2013 (originally written for Norman Lebrecht / Slipped Disc)
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.