Posts Tagged ‘John Martyn’

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John Martyn’s best songs had an intensity and raw emotional power that earned him a cult following which remains strong even today. Martyn was a musical maverick, a bitingly honest songwriter, and one of the most brilliant acoustic guitarists of his generation.

One of Martyn’s biggest technological innovations was his use of Echoplex delay, which allowed him to build layers of guitar. The technique was ahead of its time, and has been cited as an inspiration by U2’s The Edge. As well as influencing contemporaries such as Eric Clapton, Martyn’s work has earned him adoration from artists as varied as Beck, Joe Bonamassa, and Beth Orton. Although Martyn never had a hit single, some of his best songs, including the folk anthem “May You Never” and the ethereal “Solid Air,” are modern classics.

His finest work was for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, who called Martyn “a true one-take man.” Blackwell gave the musician the time and backing to create a very personal sound. Although Martyn was a powerful live performer, dazzling with his guitar work and his extraordinary smoky, sweet-voiced inflections, he instinctively understood what was needed for music to come alive in a recording studio. As a result, he left a series of enduring albums from a volatile four-decade career.

“May You Never,” “Sweet Little Mystery,” “Fine Lines,” “Don’t Want to Know,” “Couldn’t Love You More”
As a youngster, Martyn was a fan of the guitar styles of blues men such as Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James. He developed his own hard plucking, dextrous style to accompany his brooding, introspective lyrics. The combination became a trademark of much of Martyn’s best work in the 1970s. His most enduring song is perhaps the catchy “May You Never,” which appeared on the 1973 album “Solid Air”. Fellow folk guitar maestro Richard Thompson, who played with Martyn in this era, said, “you could put it into a hymn book.” Martyn’s friend and occasional collaborator Clapton covered “May You Never” on his 1977 album Slowhand.

Martyn was born Ian David McGeachy, taking his stage name when he moved from Scotland to London in 1967. He recorded accessible, melodic tunes throughout his career, including “Sweet Little Mystery” from 1980’s Grace and Danger. Martyn oozed ease, something evident on “Fine Lines,” a song which featured his ad-libbed comment that “it felt natural” – an aside retained on 1973’s Inside Out album – as he slid into a tender song about friendship and loneliness. The album was made with “no self-consciousness… probably the purest album I’ve made musically,” said Martyn.

The son of two light opera singers, John Martyn’s best songs often saw him using his voice like an instrument, especially when he was repeating phrases. He sings impressively on “Don’t Want to Know,” also from Solid Air, which was written in Hastings with the help of his first wife Beverley Kutner. Another good introduction to Martyn’s back catalogue is “Couldn’t Love You More,” from 1977’s One World, which featured his long-term collaborator and bass player Danny Thompson. On the surface, it’s a sweet romantic ballad but, in typical Martyn fashion, there is an ambiguous undertow to the tender lyrics, suggesting a lover who has nothing more to give. With Martyn, the darkness usually held back the light.

“Solid Air,” “Go Down Easy,” “Small Hours”
Martyn was a musician who brought the intensity of a live performance to studio work. “Solid Air,” the mesmerizing title track to his most popular album, was written for his friend Nick Drake, shortly after the release of Drake’s masterpiece Pink Moon. In the years since Drake’s death in November 1974, the song has turned into a kind of requiem for the talented singer-songwriter, who was just 26 when he passed away.

Martyn once said that he loved jazz saxophone players – he raved in particular about Ben Webster – and the singer’s deftly-phrased delivery gelled magnificently with the tenor saxophone playing of Tony Coe on “Solid Air.” Coe was a sought-after session man who had recorded with jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie and Art Farmer. “John Martyn would smooth in his entries like a saxophone. It was almost like an actor’s voice,” John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, the keyboard player who performed on the album told Graeme Thomson, author of an excellent biography entitled Small Hours: The Long Night of John Martyn.

“Go Down Easy” is another song from Solid Air that has an atmospheric appeal. It’s worth listening closely to the way Martyn and upright bass player Thompson interact throughout. Thompson once said that playing with Martyn was like “a natural musical conversation.” The arrangement of the song, which was recorded like a live jam session, allowed Thompson’s deft playing to entwine with Martyn’s guitar playing in what is a masterclass of intonation.

John Martyn’s best songs often had a hypnotic, free-form grace, something evident on One World, the triumphant album he recorded at Chris Blackwell’s house Woolwich Green Farm in the summer of 1977. The project started in Jamaica, involving singer and producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, when Blackwell made the rare decision to produce Martyn. He got the best out of the singer. The title track featured a haunting guitar solo, while the epic, soothing “Small Hours,” which is just under nine minutes, is one to let wash over your brain.

(“Bless the Weather,” “One Day Without You,” “Hurt in Your Heart,” “Our Love,” “Angeline”)
“Bless the Weather” is a fierce love song and a good example of the way Martyn explored the flaws and frailties of the human heart. As his career went on, Martyn’s compositions grew progressively bleaker. The man who wrote the warm-hearted “One Day Without You” (“One day without you/And I feel just like some lost ship at sea”) in 1974 was a different beast to the man who went into the studio six years later to record Grace and Danger. By that point, Martyn was trying to make sense of “a dark period in my life,” one that included divorce and addiction.

The pain came out in eviscerating confessional songs such as “Hurt in Your Heart” and “Our Love.” Martyn is quoted in Thomson’s book as saying that the songs on Grace and Danger were “probably the most specific piece of autobiography I’ve written. Some people keep diaries, I make records.”

Although Grace and Danger marked the last true high point of Martyn’s album-making, he returned to the theme of lost love with “Angeline,” on 1986’s Piece by Piece. Although “Angeline” is a more melodic offering than “Hurt in Your Heart,” it is full of passion and sorrow. Island released it as a single, but it’s worth seeking out live versions, where Martyn extended the song considerably.

(“Over the Hill,” “Dancing,” “Singin’ in the Rain”)
Although some of John Martyn’s best songs have a mordant, disturbing quality, he was also a witty stage performer, capable of recording exuberant, joyful songs. The acclaimed comedian Billy Connolly, who was a folk singer himself in the mid-1960s in Scotland, remembered Martyn as “a good laugh.”

One of Martyn’s most uplifting songs is “Over the Hill,” from Solid Air, on which Richard Thompson plays mandolin. Martyn’s song, which describes a homecoming, was written about the final part of a journey into Hastings, the train ambling through the countryside before revealing the seaside town.

Island released his 1977 song “Dancing” as a single, and this Afrobeat paean to the joys of the life of a travelling, stay-out musician, is truly infectious. Martyn was never enamored with the old-fashioned image of British folk music – which he scornfully dismissed as “the dingly-dangly-dell of life” – but he was a fan of nostalgic songs that put “a smile on your face.” He frequently performed “Singin’ in the Rain,” both live – where he encouraged singalongs – and in the studio, including his 1971 version on Bless the Weather.

(“Wining Boy Blues,” “The Glory of Love,” “I’d Rather Be the Devil,” “Spencer the Rover”)
Martyn was a gifted interpreter. He even cut a whole album of covers – 1998’s The Church with One Bell – which featured songs written by Randy Newman, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elmore James, and Bobby Charles. Martyn grew up loving Jelly Roll Morton’s “Wining Boy Blues” and he recorded his own version early in his career, along with a touching take on Billy Hill’s “The Glory of Love,” a song first made famous by Benny Goodman in the 1930s.

One of his most spell-binding performances was of Skip James’s “Devil Take My Woman,” which Martyn retitled “I’d Rather Be the Devil” for Solid Air and turned into a passionate six-minute tour-de-force, full of the electronic effects from the tape device known as the Echoplex. Although Martyn had originally played straight acoustic versions of the song – which he’d learned at Les Cousins Folk Club in London in 1969 – his recorded version was the finest example of his experiments with Echoplex, something that started with the 1970 album Stormbringer! By 1973’s Solid Air, it had become a key part of his repertoire, his skill with it even earning praise from Bob Marley. “Bob was totally blown away,” Blackwell is quoted as saying in Thomson’s book.

Although Martyn rarely covered traditional songs, his version of “Spencer the Rover,” a folk song that had origins in the northern English county of Yorkshire, is sublime. Martyn, who named one of his sons Spenser, always enjoyed singing what was, perhaps, a romanticized version of his own wild wanderings.

Martyn’s roving days came to an end in 2003, when he had his right leg amputated below the knee because of a burst cyst. He continued performing until 2008, using a wheelchair. When Martyn received a lifetime achievement award at the 2008 BBC Folk Awards, Clapton was quoted as saying that the innovative Martyn was, “so far ahead of everything, it’s almost inconceivable.”

“You Can All Join In” was a budget priced sampler album, released in the UK by Island Records in 1968. It was priced at 14 shillings and 6 pence (£0.72), and reached no. 18 on the UK Albums Chart that year

It was arguably instrumental in breaking world-class bands such as Free, Jethro Tull and Traffic to a wider audience. It represented one of the most unexpected marketing triumphs of the age — an (admittedly budget-priced) gathering of underground unknowns riding the label’s own reputation for keeping its finger on the pulse, and out-performing many of the era’s bona fide superstars. Wynder K. Frog, Art, Tramline, Clouds these were not names one normally expected to find hogging the number 18 slot on the chart.

Yet, place familiarity (or the lack thereof) aside, and You Can All Join In is one of those seamless compilations that simply cannot be improved upon. A dozen tracks highlight the best — and that is the best — of Island Record’s recent and forthcoming output, from much-anticipated debut albums by Jethro Tull, Free, and Spooky Tooth to the sophomore effort by Fairport Convention. There’s also a healthy taste of the label’s most-successful-so-far signing, Traffic, as a leaf from Steve Winwood’s back pages — the Spencer Davis Group’s “Somebody Helps Me” joins Tramline’s cover of “Pearly Queen” and Traffic’s own “You Can All Join In” (yes, indeed, this collection’s title track). one of those seamless compilations that simply cannot be improved upon. A dozen tracks highlight the best – and that is the best – of Island’s recent and forthcoming output, from much-anticipated debut albums .

The early ’70s were the golden age of British record-label samplers, with Island themselves following through with three, Vertigo weighing in with the legendary “Suck It and See”, and CBS’ redoubtable Fill Your Head With Rock ranking among a myriad others. None, however, echoed either the success or the resonance of You Can All Join In. 

The Cover Designed by Hipgnosis and although not as imaginative as some of their later work, the front cover photograph was taken in Hyde Park and is said to feature “every single one of the Island artistes … bleary eyed after a party. The rear cover consists merely of a track listing and monochrome images of the covers of eight of the sampled albums .

  1. Clive Bunker, 2 Neil Hubbard, 3 Gary Wright 4 Glenn Cornick 5 Bruce Rowland 6 Martin Barre 7 Mick Weaver 8 Ian Anderson 9 Patrick Campbell-Lyons 10 Ashley Hutchings  11 Alex Spyropoulos 12 Chris Wood 13 Richard Thompson 14 Ian Matthews 15 Steve Winwood 16 Ian A. Anderson 17 Jim Capaldi 18 Mike Harrison 19 Martin Lamble 20 Simon Nicol  21  Harry Hughes 22 Rebop Kwaku Baah 23 Chris Mercer 24 Simon Kirke 25 Paul Rodgers 26 Billy Ritchie  27 Andy Fraser 28 Ian Ellis 29 Sandy Denny

It was combined with the follow-up, Nice Enough To Eat for a CD Re-release in August 1992 entitled Nice Enough To Join In (Island Records IMCD 150).

Side One

  1. “A Song For Jeffrey”  Jethro Tull – (Alternative mix, original version from This Was) (ILPS 9085)
  2. “Sunshine Help Me”  Spooky Tooth – (from It’s All About Spooky Tooth) (ILPS 9080)
  3. “I’m a Mover” Free – (from Tons of Sobs) (ILPS 9089)
  4. “What’s That Sound” Art – (from Supernatural Fairy Tales) (ILP 967)
  5. “Pearly Queen” Tramline – (from Moves of Vegetable Centuries) (ILPS 9095)
  6. “You Can All Join In”  Traffic – (from Traffic) (ILPS 9081T)

Side Two

  1. “Meet on the Ledge”Fairport Convention – (from What We Did on Our Holidays) (ILPS 9092)
  2. “Rainbow Chaser”  Nirvana – (from All of Us) (ILPS 9087)
  3. “Dusty”  John Martyn – (from The Tumbler) (ILPS 9091)
  4. “I’ll Go Girl”  Clouds – (from Scrapbook) (ILPS 9100)
  5. “Somebody Help Me”  Spencer Davis Group – (from The Best of the Spencer Davis Group) (ILPS 9070)
  6. “Gasoline Alley”  Wynder K. Frog – (from Out of the Frying Pan) (ILPS 9082)

If you’re in or around the Yorkshire area or even farther afield, I feel quite honoured to be asked to play at this very special event on the 27th of June. A certain Must to catch the incredible Blue Rose Code.

There will be special guests and it’ll be a grand ol’ knees up, lots of JM songs performed. Fans, musicians, everyone is invited to come and play and share the big man’s music. Sessions, workshops, all that good stuff. Really can’t wait.

A Very Rare & Special Night, When Close Friends & John Martyn performed in a small venue The Lerwick Folk Club with 280 seats which then became A Part Of Musical History with Stamping Feet On A Foggy Night In August at The Garrison Theatre, Lerwick, in The Shetlands.  John Martyn “Time Will Break Your Heart, Your Love Will Carry On”.

John Martyn – May You Never performed on the [1973] Old Grey Whistle Test, John Martyn was one of the UK’s most respected singer-songwriters. Born Iain David McGeachy in 1948 he changed his name to John Martyn when he took his first tentative steps in the folk clubs of Glasgow and London in the mid 1960s. He soon came to the attention of Chris Blackwell at Island Records who signed him to the label in 1967.” May You Never” is one of the best of John Martyn.

Words by Robin Frederick, John Martyn recorded my song “Sandy Grey” on his first solo album, a generous act that helped to give me the confidence to keep on writing. I wanted to close the circle… from 1967 to 2009. Yes, I did write the song originally for Nick although it’s not specifically “about” him – there are no biographical details in that song! It was more about an emotional reaction to something he did. I met John Martyn shortly afterwards and played the song for him . He quickly decided to put it on the “London Conversation” album which he was then recording. It was an impulsive and generous thing to do which was very much John’s style, even then at 18 years old we were friends. John’s beautiful song “Solid Air” was written for a Nick. If you’re interested, you can find out more in Patrick Humphries’ biography of Nick Drake.

“Sandy Grey” (Acoustic Mix)” by Robin Frederick

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this gorgeous cover version from Edinburgh born Ross Wilson, aka Blue Rose Code with bass player Danny Thompson,always at the edge of Contempoary Folk sounds like a meeting between John Martyn and Van Morrison. Blue Rose Code previously toured with Lau and recently co headlining with Bella Hardy. His second album “The Ballad Of Peckham Rye” was released recently