Bill Martin, who wrote some of the biggest hits of the 1960s and 70s, on the trouble with the Beatles, turning down Elton John and why he told off Jimi Hendrix for biting his guitar strings.

His rather refined accent doesn't come as too much of a surprise; the Scots songwriter may have been born in a tenement just nine yards from Glasgow's Fairfield Shipyards but he's lived in London since 1960. And a Govan cadence, you'd imagine, may seem a little discordant in London's Belgravia, where he now resides.

But there are a couple of other reasons why the man responsible for multi-million sellers such as Congratulations, Puppet On A String and Shang A Lang causes the eyebrows to lift just a little. At lunch in a Mayfair cafe, the slick 76 year-old, who once created Midge Ure-fronted pop band Slik, is wearing a Saville Row suit, hand made shirt and silk tie; you'd imagine the man who once hung out with the Beatles (he once owned Lennon's mansion, Kenwood) and banged the tambourine on Van Morrison's first three records would look a little more bohemian than merchant banker.

"I always wear a smart suit," he says, smiling and sipping a glass of wine. "I like the image that gives off."

And then there's his toughness. Songwriters are often gentle, ethereal, Donovan-like creatures aren't they? Well, just ten minutes into the conversation, Martin has the waiter by the wrist, fixed him with a Govan glare and warned the young man of the perils of removing an unemptied water glass. "You've got to remind them who's boss," he explains to me. And there's no doubt he IS the boss.

However, for the moment the challenge is to have Bill Martin talk linearly of his incredible pop journey. He's eager to chat but he shifts track more often than a drunk DJ with an twitchy finger. No sooner has he informed he was born William Wylie Macpherson and left school aged 15 to start as an Apprentice Marine Engineer in the shipyards, than he's leaping onto an Elton tale.

"I met Elton, or Reg Dwight as he was, back in 1965 when he worked as a storeroom boy for Mills Music," Martin recalls of Tin Pan Alley days, London's Denmark Street where songwriters and publishers were based and where the Scot was trying to sell his songs.

"I was at Mills' so often people thought I worked there and Elton was in charge of the print section. He wore an overall, was a lovely guy, always nice and would always open the door for you. But I wouldn't let him play at the office Christmas party. No. You see, he'd play the piano in block chords and I wanted to hear tunes. So I just told him not to bother."

Martin, you quickly learn, loves to throw in colour and opinion into the chat as easily as he'd throw a piano chord pattern together. For example? "I love Billy Connolly, whom I signed to my publishing company, but I hated Gerry Rafferty. Gerry was an aggressive bastard who wanted to punch everybody."

But how did Bill Martin progress from the less grand world of cheap upright pianos dragged up tenement stairs to sheet music and baby grands in ornate offices? It transpires, little Wylie's dad played piano very well. (His blind grandmother had been a piano teacher). "When I was a kid I said to my father 'Show me how to vamp, like Jerry Lee Lewis.' And he did. Meantime, I studied music, to Grade Eight. However, my teacher warned me; 'If you're going to keep playing Jerry Lee Lewis you'll destroy your musical career, and you're as well not coming back.' So I didn't."

The youngster began writing songs, aged ten; "Mostly religious, about angels," because, well, ten year-olds don't know much else and young Glasgow boys were seldom encouraged to become Irving Berlins or Leonard Bernsteins. Like his Govan High classmates, including Alex Ferguson, Martin joined the shipyards and played football on Saturdays. "I was known as 'The Animal'," he recalls, with a proud smile.

"I was really tough, and I had trials with Partick Thistle."

In 1958, Wylie Macpherson set off to London to seek his fortune as a songwriter. "I stayed with an aunt, and I thought Tin Pan Alley was an actual street so I spent a week not knowing I should have been looking for Denmark Street. Eventually, I found Chappels' Music Company and met a boss who said 'Kid, you're not ready.' And he was right. I didn't look the part. I was too rough and tough. So at this point my mother borrowed the money to send me to South Africa to start a new life."

Too rough? It's hard to imagine looking at the silver-tongued silver fox before me, a man who now gives talks on cruise liners about the music business. But Martin was (and still is) hard. And determined. The new life in South Africa didn't alter his desire to become a song writer and he wrote a song for pop sensation of the day, Adam Faith. He then 'stalked' legendary record producer Micky Most, who was living in South Africa at the time. "Every time Micky knew I was in the building, he ran out the back way."

But The Animal's perseverance paid off. "I sold the song and made enough money to get back to London where I got to write the B sides of the Bachelors records, making sixty quid a week from my royalties. I was in."

However, Wylie Macpherson was out. This was 1963, the dawn of the Swinging Sixties, and the songwriter was told he had to change his name to 'something more showbiz'. "Someone said 'Call yourself Bill Martin, it's got ten letters, just like Chuck Berry, Cole Porter and John Lennon. It was only later I realised that people like Oscar Hammerstein had way more than ten letters."

The Lennon reference prompts a track shift. "John was very caustic, very witty with a hurting way that would kill people. The best Beatle was George. But Ringo? All he had was a good cowboy name for America. And Paul was the PR guy. Never said a word out of place. But the problem was although he wrote some of the best songs ever, no one told him when he was writing rubbish." He adds, on a McCartney roll; "Now his voice has gone. And how many colours are in his hair now? He needed someone to tell him the truth. He still does."

Bill Martin doesn't hold back his opinions, some rather caustic. "I never liked Judy Murray until she appeared on Desert Island Discs saying she loved Shang-A-Lang," he offers, then suddenly jumps a decade to talk about Scots talent he'd later develop such as Midge Ure. "Midge is talented, but not as talented as he thinks he is. His band colleague in Slik, Jim McGinley, was a far better singer."

But let's get back to the Sixties, Bill. How tough was it to make it, to go on to win three Ivor Novellos and two Eurovision Song Contests?

"I was a hopeless shipyard engineer but a talented songwriter and a natural salesman," he offers. "For example, in the early days, I'd sell songs to the likes of music publishers Box and Cox, Publishers. This pair once had a hit with Yes, We Have No Bananas and I knew they liked novelty songs, so one day I went in and pitched them a song - not even written - but with the title When Banana Skins Start Falling, I'll come Sliding Back To You." He adds, laughing; "They gave me twenty five quid for that one."

In 1965, Martin was still hard and aggressive but the 'rough' image disappeared when he discovered smart suits. He also teamed up with Irishman Phil Coulter. Martin was always the early morning starter, the ideas man while Coulter was the 'finisher'. "Phil was great in the studio with the songs," he says. "I liked coming up with things and moving on. I have a butterfly brain that moves from subject to subject so I needed someone to complete the process. That was Phil."

The pair had their own little Baker Street office in which they would write Monday to Friday. "We had two chairs, a piano and a wash hand basin. We used to p*** in the sink. But we were good. We'd write six songs a day and I sold lots of them." Their talent saw the pair offered the chance to write for Eurovision in 1967. "Puppet On A String romped it, putting us right on the map," he says, his face beaming. Sandi Shaw, who famously sang it shoeless, said later she hated the song but Bill Martin could have have cared less. He and his partner followed it up with Congratulations, which sold 10m records, and Cliff Richard loved them for it.

"Phil had written this song called I Think I Love You, sang it to me and said 'What do you think? I said 'It's bollocks! You don't go up to someone and say "I think I love you".' (This was way before David Cassidy's Partridge Family would prove that song title could work). So I suggested another five syllable title, Con-gra-tu-la-tions. It still makes us money every time it's played."

How much money, Bill? "When Irving Berlin was asked what he made out of White Christmas he answered 'Do you know the song?' And that tells you all you need to know."

The big money keeps coming in because Martin learned that when you sold a song to a Sixties music publisher, the royalties paid were tinier than Chrissie Shrimpton's mini skirts. "All the Beatles got for Please Please Me was £880, because of the publishing deals across the world, where every country takes a cut and you're left with a penny on a record. So I knew I had to publish my own songs."

He adds, his voice tougher than any of the metal plates he once riveted; "The music publishers were thieves. Some of them even sneaked their names onto songs, so's they'd get a share of the royalties. I was once with a publisher who called himself (ironically) Honest John Turner, who slipped his name onto the contract for Puppet On A String. He didn't assume writers would study contracts - but I did - and told him to get it off. If I'd signed, I'd have lost a fortune."

Instead, Martin made fortunes and bought big cars and big mansions. He spent his days and nights in London's west end. He courted success - and women. Not surprisingly, his marriage to Glasgow-born sweetheart Margaret, the mother of his two children, broke up. Like every good songwriter however, Martin turned his personal experience into a poignant lyric. The result was the 1968 Cilla Black hit, Surround Yourself With Sorrow. (Martin would go on marry Jan; the couple are still happily married.)

But in the Seventies, Martin and Coulter's songwriting and publishing business success rolled on. They failed with 'brilliant' Scots band, The Beatstalkers, but had huge success with Billy Connolly, and glam rock band Kenny, who had hits such as Fancy Pants.

And there were the Bay City Rollers of course. But where did the daftness that is Shang-A-Lang come from? "I was trying to write a lyric that reflected the shipyard noises I'd grown up with," he says, laughing. "But I couldn't use 'Clang, clang, clang went the hammer . . . So it became shang-a-lang. And it worked." Not half. Other Rollers songs the pair came up with such as Saturday Night sold 12m in Japan alone.

The hits continued, another Eurovision win with Dana's All Kinds of Everything and meanwhile Bill Martin also published Van Morrison songs. "I was the one who told Van to always appear in public wearing a black hat and black frock coat. And he's done it to this day. He doesn't give a shit about anyone but he does like me, and I get invited to everything he does in London. And I got him back in the charts with Bright Side Of The Road."

Martin success however didn't result in the drugs related madness so many succumbed too. "My mother brought me up too well for that." But in 1976, his professional life took a serious scratch when he and Coulter split. Why? When Martin tells the story it's about how Phil Coulter's love life got in the way, Coulter became 'obsessed with a woman he would later marry.' Why this mattered so much is unclear, but regardless, their company was sold to EMI and both made fortunes.

What is clear however is Bill Martin is a massive success story, highlighted by his 1975 hit My Boy for Elvis. He's more resilient than a dozen CDs moulded together and he's worked tirelessly for charity and thoroughly deserving of his MBE. Yet, strangely, Glasgow is still to honour it's songwriting legend with a Honorary Degree. How could his home town ignore the man who wrote the cool background music for the Batman TV series? "I don't know," he shrugs. "It's a good question."

Perhaps the fact he hides his modesty well has been a small factor. "I was assessed at school in Govan aged eleven," he says apropos of nothing at all, yet offering an example. "Fergie and I went to the dopey section. But what do teachers know? I was a brilliant publisher, a great motivator, and I gave my all in life."

Does he have regrets? Not many. He concedes, perhaps, he should have let the Rollers writer their B sides, "to keep them happy" and maybe he should have signed Lulu when she was still with the Luvvers. But then again . . . "I'm not a man to live in the past," he says, smiling. "It's always about looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

There's no doubt the autobiography he's now writing will be great. Bill Martin has hundreds of stories to tell; "I once told Jimi Hendrix off for biting his guitar strings. I said 'It's a f****** stupid thing to do, Jimi'." He's entirely engaging, (although young waiters may not always agree) outgoing, and how can you not enjoy the company of someone so vibrant, who believes in himself so implicitly?

"I'm a salesman, you see. I'm a hustler," he sums up, smiling, his chest almost visibly rising. "I knew everyone. I still do. That's why I'm still a success."