Originally from England, Martin got his first guitar at the age of 8. Soon afterwards he heard a new form of pop music called “skiffle” and took to it immediately – not realising that it was basically up-tempo folk music from the USA. He played in small rock, jazz and folk groups while still at school, and after leaving and taking up climbing and walking, he found his interest in folk music was shared by most of his companions. From the day of his first visit to a North London Folk Club he was hooked.
Martin emigrated to Australia in 1969, and almost immediately began performing. Within a year he founded and was running his own folk club and festival in Tennant Creek and became an integral part of the Northern Territory folk scene. Later while living in Perth he first met recent immigrant Eric Bogle, and was so inspired by his wonderfully written yet simply constructed songs that Martin changed his style completely, eventually leading to him becoming a songwriter.
His passion for mountains brought him over to New Zealand with his family in 1975, and he was very soon established in the remote Cardrona Valley in the high country of the Southern Alps, running a horse trekking business and a small transport company. In 1976 he organised the first Cardrona Folk Festival, which proved so successful that the event is still on the calendar every October, having become one of the highlights of the New Zealand folk music year. Soon after this he began songwriting, composing several ballads about the historic gold mining area in which he lived. One of these songs, "Gin & Raspberry" – named after a famous gold claim across the road from his house - soon became a folk club standard and has since been recorded by over a dozen musicians in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. The song was also the title track of his first album, which is still rated as N.Z’s best-selling folk album. This success led him to continue writing and recording whenever funds would allow. His third album (“The Daisy Patch”) was a finalist in the Folk Album of the Year awards in 1990, run by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ). To date he has released 9 albums of New Zealand music.
About this time he also purchased his first mandolin and mandola, and formed a Central Otago based ceilidh band called “Snowgrass”. At one gig he found himself compelled to do the dance calling when a band member left, and has enjoyed this role ever since, collecting many dances on his tours around the world.
His skill at performing and acting out humorous bush poetry has also led to him being much in demand as an MC, especially overseas where he regularly comperes large concerts at festivals such as Orkney and Shetland.
Martin Curtis loves giving live solo performances, and has toured widely throughout New Zealand in the last few years, singing his songs from Stewart Island to Cape Reinga. He has made several TV and Radio appearances in New Zealand and overseas, and has guested at most of the music festivals around the country. He also occasionally tours as a duo with New Zealand guitar virtuoso Graham Wardrop and their two-man show has received acclaim wherever they have performed.
Martin took his songs overseas with a tour of Australia in 1986, followed by an exploratory tour of the U.K. in 1987 and then a bigger tour of Britain in 1991. Since then he has returned regularly to the UK every alternate year, and in 2009 completed his eleventh and busiest tour yet. One of the more unusual highlights of his UK tours was sailing around the isolated Orkney Islands on a chartered boat for eight days with three other top Scottish acts, giving concerts each night in tiny and remote island settlements. As well as the usual folk clubs, festivals and concerts, recent tours have included performances in Austria, Norway and in many schools around the islands of Orkney, Shetland and Mull. He has also put on several shows for schools in Kent, Sussex, Hertfordshire and Somerset, a unique and rewarding experience that compliments his schools programme in New Zealand.
He has performed his songs and humorous bush poems in a wide variety of venues; from isolated islands in the Orkneys to busy cities like London, Bristol and Glasgow; and from tiny pubs in Wales and the Isle of Mull, to St David’s Hall in Cardiff, the national concert hall of Wales. On route he has given concerts in Perth, Darwin, Melbourne, Hong Kong and even Nepal. He has featured on BBC radio in Glasgow, Cardiff, Swansea, Shetland, and on Radio TV Hong Kong.
In 1998 he was commissioned by the Otago Primary Principals Association in 1998 to write the linking song for a big event at the Dunedin Town Hall, commemorating 150 years since the first settlers arrived in Otago. His composition “Otago My Home” became extremely popular and on the strength of this, he made the decision to sell his mail contracting business and go into music full time. Martin put together a special heritage programme for schools called Let's Sing a Kiwi Song, which involves the children in songs about their own country. This has taken him as far north as Northland and as far south as Bluff, and also included the release of an album and songbook of the same name. In 2005 Martin returned to the magnificent Dunedin Town Hall to perform “Otago My Home” with the Dunedin Symphonia as part of their annual Last Night of the Proms. He describes this as one of the hardest but most satisfying performances he has ever had to do, with the orchestral arrangement of his own song making it almost unrecognisable to him.
In 2002, Martin released an album of new material called Beyond a Climber's Moon. This was a collection of songs inspired by his love of travelling and mountaineering. The arrangements were much cleaner and simpler than previously, using far fewer backing musicians and the album captures much more the essence of his popular stage performances. This was followed in 2008 by another CD in similar vein called Sea to Summit and again received recognition from RIANZ by being a finalist in the Tui awards for “Folk Album of the Year.” Both these albums were recorded by and with New Zealand virtuoso guitarist and musician Graham Wardrop. “Sea to Summit” featured new original songs and included his tribute to Sir Edmund Hillary, a hero of his since boyhood. The song “Sir Ed” has since been picked up by the producers of Kiwi Kids Songs and approved for school use by the Ministry of Education. It is featured in their latest release and is being sung by children in many schools throughout the country. The same partnership with Graham has now continued with the release in 2017 of his 10th and latest album Where the Peaks meet the Skies – exactly 35 years on from the release of his very first best-selling album Gin & Raspberry. This new album features 8 original songs from Martin himself, plus several songs and tunes from other well known folk singer / songwriters. As usual the overlying theme is material about New Zealand plus a few songs about other parts of the planet that Martin also loves dearly.
In December 2003, Martin released his first DVD Otago my Home, a project that he had been working on for some years with a professional cameraman in Wanaka. This is a video of some of his Central Otago material, and is set and filmed in the very surroundings that inspired the songs. A new DVD production is still planned, incorporating many of the conservation and wildlife songs and involving filming in many isolated parts of the New Zealand mountains.
As the South Wales