Live At Leeds

John Martyn; BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert
John Martyn; Live At Leeds

Most of the acoustic singer-songwriters who emerged on the British rock scene of the late Sixties have moved gently into the folk camp. Not so John Martyn, who has built a loyal cult reputation for almost 25 years of recordings which range from traditional folk material to jazz-rock and dub experiments in sound.

The BBC concert set charts the breadth of his work very effectively, beginning with an acoustic ‘Bless The Weather’ from 1971 in his original style, and ending with fifteen minutes of ‘Outside In’ from a 1977 Radio 1 appearance. The latter epitomises Martyn at his most eclectic, relying on heavily echoed guitar to set a pulse for his music, over which he and his musicians can improvise. Martyn is a fine guitarist, but his most flexible instrument is his voice – one minute achingly pure, the next slurring and teasing like a veteran soul singer.

The bulk of the BBC set comes from a 1986 concert, by which time Martyn had settled on a larger, more orthodox backing group. In the studio, this combination sometimes makes him sound like a more soulful Phil Collins; in concert, where he can indulge his artistic whims, it simply allows him more room to toy with the echo-plex effect and turn his vocals into a vehicle for jazz phrasing rather than words.

Live At Leeds, taped in October 1975, is the first U.K. CD release of a limited edition record which Martyn issued from home in the late Seventies. It’s split neatly between his two main approaches of the time, with ‘Outside In’ running to some nineteen minutes, thanks to peerless support from Danny Thompson and John Stevens. The versions of ‘Solid Air’ and ‘Man In The Station’ which follow are near-definitive, while the pinnacle of a great album is ‘Make No Mistake’, with Martyn vocalising like a natural-born son of Van Morrison and Marvin Gaye in a fluent outpouring of emotion. (PD)

Anonymous
New Musical Express
18 April 1992