The Island Years

The Island Years

TURMOIL SPILL

Mammoth boxset charting the uncompromising highs and harrowing lows of the folk pioneer.

The Island YearsIn January 2009, shortly after receiving an OBE for services to music, the former lain McGeachy died of pneumonia and kidney failure, aged just 60. With his prodigious capacity for drink and drugs (his heroin and acid periods ran concurrently), the car crash which fractured his neck and the burst cyst which led to his right leg being amputated below the knee, it’s a wonder John Martyn made it that far.

This lovingly packaged box isn’t the whole tale. There were two ’80s albums for Warners sandwiched by Island stints and more after the final parting. This, though, is the music – all the Island albums, plus dozens of extras -for which this most uncompromising of artists will be remembered.

Even on his debut album, 1967’s London Conversation, there were hints of Martyn’s hero Davey Graham, Eastern mysticism, reggae and jazz. A year later, Van Morrison followed the same path on Astral Weeks. By 1971’s Bless The Weather he was paving the warm but wildly experimental path others from Talk Talk to Radiohead would follow, alongside a pastoral streak so deep that much of 1977’s One World was recorded alongside a Berkshire lake. Lyrically, he was equally adept at both the mumbled hush of pure romanticism that sweetened his best-known song, May You Never, and the roar of excruciating pain that drove his harrowing divorce album, Grace And Danger.

When we leave him in 1987 as he departed Island on their unfathomable rejection of The Apprentice, Martyn had established a body of work that defined “uneasy listening.”

Magnificent. *****

John Aizlewood
Q Magazine
1 November 2013