So Far So Good

John Martyn is a genuine original and we should cherish him.

Hardly prolific (his last studio set was released in January 1975), Martyn is one of those rare artists who has displayed a talent for musically progressing from one project to the next. So Far So Good, purporting (in bombastic sleeve notes) to be a retrospective compilation, is a wasted opportunity. Whilst surely failing to appease Martyn fans, it also offers a grossly distorted picture of his capabilities to any prospective audience. That is not to decry the music contained therein (mostly excellent), merely to lament the music left out.

Eight of the nine cuts are taken from three albums and the other is a live version of I’d Rather Be The Devil. The albums involved are Bless The Weather, Solid Air and Sunday’s Child – three years of a nine year recording career.

Side one is especially disappointing. Head And Heart, with its seductive melody, hypnotic percussion, and the words falling just so, is one of Martyn’s total triumphs, but the other numbers, admirable on their respective albums, hardly represent him at his best. May You Never works extremely well half-way through the second side of Solid Air but, despite its noble sentiments, isn’t a suitable album opener; Over The Hill (with Richard Thompson’s mandolin prominent) is pleasantly unremarkable; Spencer The Rover is a melancholic, reflective traditional tune; and Bless The Weather sounds strangely stilted in this context.

Side two is an improvement, although it opens with 6 1/2 minutes of Glistening Glyndebourne. This swirling instrumental may still be an integral part of Martyn’s live performances, but he’s since recorded far more adventurous pieces.

However there can be no quarrel with One Day Without You (demonstrating his recent mellowing), Solid Air (a wholly persuasive song, owing more to jazz than rock or folk) and I’d Rather Be The Devil (urgent and evil, with superlative accompaniment to Martyn’s echoplexed guitar).

That there are no selections from Stormbringer, Road To Ruin or the devastating Inside Out is disturbing. Songs like Go Out And Get It (from Sunday’s Child) are essential to a proper appreciation of Martyn’s singular talent.

A remarkably proficient, pugnacious guitarist, his distinctive vocal delivery could be fairly described as resembling a drunk and feisty Nick Drake, his voice a sleazy surly, slurred vehicle for surprisingly soft sentiments.

John Martyn remains a major artist and So Far So Good only goes so far without being that good.

Monty Smith
New Musical Express
26 March 1977