Although initially known as a member of progressive rock bands such as Egg and National Health, Campbell would later (in his own words) "(forswear) the genre of rock music altogether, even the experimental variety (where can one find that now?) and began to develop an interest in folk tradition and, increasingly, non-western music." Originally a bass guitarist, he is now a diverse multi-instrumentalist specialising in wind instruments from around the world, including period folk instruments. He is also a lecturer on "music in remote antiquity", and maintains a strong interest in "ways of incorporating non-western music into contemporary composition."
In parallel to his work as a musician, Campbell is a director of the Sussex-based alternative energy company Ovesco.
Born to Mary Elizabeth Shaw ("Jackie") and Lieutenant Colonel H.A.L. Montgomery Campbell of the Royal Tank Regiment ("Archie"), in Ismaïlia, Egypt, Campbell was named Martin after his grandfather, the composer Martin Shaw. The family moved to Kenya in 1951, where they lived until their return to the UK in 1962, their son having preceded them by a year.
In 1966, the family moved from Brighton to London where Campbell (already equipped with his long-standing nickname of "Mont") attended the City of London Boys School. While at school, Campbell (playing guitar and French horn) met and began to work with aspiring keyboard player Dave Stewart and budding guitarist Steve Hillage. Recruiting the latter to one of his bands prompted Campbell to switch his own focus to bass guitar.
In early 1968, Campbell, Stewart and Hillage formed the short-lived psychedelic blues band Uriel with drummer Clive Brooks. Following Hillage's departure, the remaining trio took on a progressive rock direction and changed the band name to Egg. (They would, however, briefly reunite with Hillage to record an album under the project name of Arzachel, on which each member employed an arcane surname both for fun and to get around contractual problems).
Between 1970 and 1971 Egg recorded their debut album and its follow-up The Polite Force. Campbell played bass guitar in the group (as well as singing and adding French horn) and was also its main composer, citing Igor Stravinsky as his main influence. He has, however, subsequently expressed reservations about his later time with the band (saying of The Polite Force, "I didn't enjoy the sessions which seemed to me turgid and unsatisfying. I don't like the album.") All Egg members also played and composed for the Ottawa Music Co., a large ensemble co-led by Dave Stewart and Chris Cutler between 1971 and 1972, which brought together members of Egg, Henry Cow and Khan, along with other composers and instrumentalists. Cutler recalls the ensemble playing Campbell's "Study for Four Keyboards", "Enneagram", and "Three Pieces for Wind Quartet" (and also that Campbell, during the last OMC show, "(swung) across the stage on a rope shouting 'It's a mug's game'.")
Persistently struggling to maintain their record deal with Deram, Egg amicably disbanded in 1972. By this time Campbell had become interested in mysticism and was involved in the international spiritual movement Subud. Having unsuccessfully pursued work as a plumber and as a graphic designer, he was invited to compose music for a film by director David Anderson: this in turn led to him attending the Royal College of Music, studying the French horn and composition and gaining his ARCM diploma in 1974. With mixed feelings about his academic studies, he reunited with his former Egg bandmates for their final album The Civil Surface (also in 1974), which consisted of unreleased material written in 1971–72, including what many view as Campbell's masterpiece in the progressive rock canon, Enneagram. The album was bolstered by two Campbell-composed wind quartets (which featured neither Stewart nor Brooks).
During this period, Campbell maintained a connection with the Canterbury scene movement of which Egg had been a part, playing and recording as a support musician for Henry Cow, Hatfield & The North, Slapp Happy and others. Following graduation (and after a very brief stint with Alan Gowen's jazz fusion band Gilgamesh), Campbell linked up with Stewart again in 1975, this time as part of the original line-up of National Health, Although Campbell initially enjoyed his work with the band (for which he composed several pieces including "Paracelsus", "Agrippa", "Zabaglione" and "Starlight On Seaweed"), within a year he became disheartened by its lack of success. He left the band in June 1976 after a UK tour, a radio session for the BBC and a "disastrous" performance at a one-off French festival (the latter being his final appearance with the group). Although National Health secured a recording contract following his departure, Campbell's compositions would be dropped from the set: recordings of them would not surface until twenty years later on the archive collection "Missing Pieces".
Campbell's final gig with National Health resulted in a total discouragement with rock music, and in subsequent years he would abandon the genre altogether, describing it as having "very limited powers of expression... a rather fixed, limited stratum of musical experience, and one that I no longer feel particularly drawn to." In 1977, he dropped his old school nickname of "Mont" in favour of "Dirk" and formed the two-guitar, flute and violin quartet Mozaic, which mostly played "pleasant, undemanding" Campbell pieces at weddings and social events. He also recorded an (ultimately unreleased) tape of other compositions, called Individual Extracts.
In 1983, Campbell developed an overwhelming interest in world music and spent most of the next decade-and-a-half mastering a wide variety of wind instruments, harps and lutes from diverse cultures around the world. This led to an ongoing career as a specialist session musician and composer for films, theatre and television, including work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and contributions to The Last King of Scotland, Long Walk to Freedom, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, State of Play, the 2008 revival of Survivors and the 2017 film of The Mummy. He has enjoyed a run of cinema collaborations with his 1970s creative partner David Anderson, including Dreamland Express, In the Time of Angels and Deutsche Post.
Campbell released his first solo album, Music from a Round Tower in 1996 (a mixture of authentic traditional instrumentation with MIDI, sampling and sequencing, plus contributions from Dave Stewart). Despite declaring in 2004 that he "personally (had) nothing to say in the western musical language" Campbell followed it up in 2009 with Music from a Walled Garden. He has gone on to record as half of The World Wind Band (the other half being fellow multi-wind player Jan Hendrickse) and currently plays and composes as part of the "non-European folk" band Kalamus, which he's described as "mostly flute and bagpipe music with percussion" and which released their first album Bronze in 2011.
In January 2009 Campbell appeared on British television as a prominent commentator throughout the BBC documentary Prog Rock Britannia: An Observation in Three Movements, reminiscing about Egg and the progressive rock movement in general.
Campbell is an extremely diverse multi-instrumentalist. During his time as a rock musician he predominantly played electric bass guitar, six-string electric guitar and electric piano, but has mostly abandoned these instruments since his retirement from rock music. He is an occasional singer and, on his solo albums, has worked with digital age music technology (sampling, programming and MIDI).
Since Campbells's reinvention as a world music and historical musical specialist, he has focussed predominantly on acoustic instrumentation and plays around forty different instruments, many of which are listed below:horns (French horn, ancient Roman cornu, animal horns, "primitive trumpets")side-blown/transverse flutes (Western concert flute, Irish flute, Indian bansuri, Fula tambin)end-blown flutes (Southeast Asian suling, Persian ney, Balkan/Turkish kavalducted/fipple flutes (tin whistle, Slovakian fujara, Kenyan filimbi, Native American flute)single reed woodwind instruments (clarinet, Egyptian/Palestinian arghul, Arabic mijwiz)double reed woodwind instruments (Turkish/Balkan zurna, Armenian duduk, European shawm, Indian shehnai)bagpipes (Great Highland bagpipe, Irish uilleann pipes, French cornemuse, Balkan gaida, Hungarian dudy, italian zampogna, North African mezoued, medieval/early English bagpipes)harps (West African kora, Gaelic clàrsach)assorted luteseast African nyatiti lyreunspecified percussion
Campbell also pursues parallel work as an environmentalist and alternative energy specialist. He is a founding director of the Ouse Valley Energy Services Company (Ovesco), which began its work by initiating a solar power station in Campbell's current hometown of Lewes and has since expanded to cover further sustainable energy projects in the Ouse Valley region.Music from a Round Tower (Resurgence RES-120-CD, 1996) U.K.Music from a Round Tower (East Side Digital ESD 81212, 1997) U.S.Music from a Walled Garden (MFA-02, 2009 - dist. Burning Shed) Worldwide.Safar (Hermes Records, 2006)Arzachel (Evolution, 1969)Arzachel Collectors Edition (Egg Archive CD69-7201, November 2007 - dist. Burning Shed)Egg (Deram POCD-1843, March 1970)The Polite Force (Deram POCD-1844, February 1971)The Civil Surface (Virgin VJD-5026, 1974)The Metronomical Society (Egg Archive CD69-7202, November 2007 - dist. Burning Shed)National Health Complete (East Side Digital ESD 80402/412, 1990)Missing Pieces (East Side Digital ESD 81172, 1996)Slapp Happy / Henry Cow Desperate Straights (Virgin, 1974) [French horn]Hatfield and the North The Rotters' Club (Virgin, 1975) [French horn]Romantic Warriors III: Canterbury Tales (Zeitgeist Media, DVD, 2015)2015: Romantic Warriors III: Canterbury Tales (DVD)