1973 was a remarkable year for music, but few had a greater annus mirabilis than folk alchemist JOHN MARTYN who devoted the year to the crafting of two strange masterpieces. On the 40th anniversary of Solid Air, MAT SNOW speaks to friends, fellow travellers and bruised survivors to discover the pain, power, joy and sadness behind a master musician’s quest for freedom.
QUADROPHENIA AND CATCH A Fire. Innovations and A Wizard, A True Star. Tubular Bells and Raw Power. Dixie Chicken and Dark Side Of The Moon. Band On The Run and Berlin. For Your Pleasure, Let’s Get It On, Countdown To Ecstasy.
Just off the top of your head, 1973 was a vintage year for the album. And then there’s Solid Air by John Martyn.
Released exactly 40 years ago, here was a platter to warm the cockles of the college circuit cognoscenti, a dope-head’s delight which bottled a moment; a moment which then faded with its generation to become a period piece with only the faintest afterlife beyond its particular time and place. Or so it seemed. Then, in the 1990s, Solid Air found fresh followers. Paul Weller and Beth Orton were among those to praise it as not only an ancestral voice of the chill-out/trip-hop thang but also as compelling a constellation of songs as ever to coruscate head and heart. Nor has Solid Air ceased to resonate since, not least its title track, a mirror held to the troubled soul who inspired it, Nick Drake, whose rediscovery by new generations paralleled that of his friend John Martyn. But where the stage-shy Nick Drake hid from view, condemning his three