The Elvis and Cliff Richard hitmaker who sold his first song in Joburg
It was while Bill Martin was living in SA that he became convinced that his future lay in music
Bill Martin, who has died at the age of 81, rose from an apprenticeship at the Govan shipyards to the top of the charts; the prolific songwriting partnership he formed with Phil Coulter was responsible for some of the most successful and memorable hits of the 1960s and 1970s, including Cliff Richard’s Congratulations, Sandie Shaw’s Puppet on a String and even Elvis Presley’s My Boy.
In addition, the Martin-Coulter partnership created the football song, Back Home, sung by the England World Cup squad, which topped the charts in 1970, and penned major hits for the Bay City Rollers. Their big breakthrough was Puppet On A String, which secured Britain’s first Eurovision victory in 1967. A year later they almost repeated the success when Cliff Richard came a close second with Congratulations.
“We were backstage with Cliff when we were told we had won it,” Martin recalled. “It was in the bag. Then suddenly there was a phone call and a boss from the BBC turned round and said: ‘Back to your seats boys’.” It turned out Germany had done a last-minute deal with Spain to give their singer Massiel the points in return for a huge television contract [the Spanish dictator] Franco had promised them. “And what was this great Spanish song which beat Congratulations called? La, La, La. Seriously. It had 98 Las in it. It was a load of bollocks compared to Congratulations, which ended up No 1 in almost every country in the world and sold 10 million copies.”..