Biography Part 3
John’s time in Jamaica clearly influenced his next album, One World, which sold well charting at number 54 and became a true favourite with the critics and fans alike. In the summer of 1977, Chris Blackwell asked producer Phil Brown to work with John, and the Island Records mobile studio was set up on Saturday the 16th of July 1977 and One World was recorded in three weeks in the courtyard of a house in Theale, Berkshire. The house was in the middle of a lake and equipment was set up on each side of the lake so that it picked up the sound of water lapping, and a distant ‘strangled’ sound on the guitar which was perfect for lead solos. Most of the recording was carried out between 3am and 6am and these quiet hours before dawn created the most magical atmosphere for recording, resulting in two of John’s most popular songs One World and Small Hours. An album of contrasting music from Big Muff, which was co-written by dub master Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, to the enchanting Couldn’t Love You More and the echoplex extravaganza Small Hours. “Guaranteed to chill your spine.” – said Melody Maker.
1978 saw the release of In Search of Anna, a film produced by Esben Storm which tells the story of a newly released convict trying to pull his life together, who returns home to find that his girlfriend, Anna, has vanished. John wrote the theme tune Anna (which was based on Small Hours) and some of the incidental music. Dealer and Certain Surprise also featured in the film along with other music by AC/DC of all people!
John played rhythm and lead guitar on Neil Ardley’s Harmony of Spheres in 1979 and played on television on a South Bank Show special about the album, but it was October 1980 before John’s next album Grace And Danger was released. John’s marriage with Beverley had finally broken down and the album is a collection of very powerful, personal and painful songs. John Giblin played bass with Phil Collins on drums and backing vocals, John and Phil were both going through divorces at the same time and this strengthened their friendship. The album was delayed for a year by Chris Blackwell, who was a close friend of John and Beverley’s, and who found it too openly disturbing to release. John later said that it was “probably the most specific piece of autobiography I’ve written. Some people keep diaries, I make records.” Two of the songs were also used in films. Save Some (For Me) in The Morning After in 1986 about a woman who wakes up with a hangover and no memory of how she ended up in bed with a dead man! Sweet Little Mystery in Mad Dogs and Englishmen in 1995 a thriller about an aristocratic Englishwoman who is addicted to heroin. By this time John had become bored with the limitations of the acoustic guitar and solo performances and started to concentrate on electric guitar with a full band setting for his music.
John was now living in Moscow, a hamlet in Scotland and was looking after his ill father. He left Island to sign up with Warner Brothers. John and Phil Collins had become close friends and he produced John’s next album Glorious Fool. Released in September 1981 with its satirical title track dedicated to Ronald Reagan, the album charted for seven weeks, reaching No.25. Amsterdam was written for a friend who had fallen in love with a hooker, Don’t You Go, is an anti-war song and a new version of Couldn’t Love You More saw Eric Clapton on guitar. Melody Maker reviewed the album “The accolade genius doesn’t often apply in popular music.” And, “Only Tim Buckley ever dumped this much sex on to vinyl.” John embarked on a massive tour and Alan Thomson joined the band on bass guitar.
Well Kept Secret was released in September 1982 and reached the top 20 in the album chart. During the recording John accidentally impaled himself on a fence near his home in Scotland and punctured a lung. “The songs are warm and intelligent and a majority of Well Kept Secret is pacier and louder than he’s ever been on one album before…it’s a good record, a class record.” Said New Musical Express. John’s trademarks of sensuality and emotion are present particularly on Never Let Me Go, with Ronnie Scott on tenor sax, Could’ve Been Me and Hung Up. John and his band embarked on a thirty-date UK tour. To coincide with the release of Well Kept Secret, Island released The Electric John Martyn on 12th October 1982. The tracks included the US mixes of Dancing, Certain Surprise and Dealer (from the American version of One World), the single version of Sweet Little Mystery and the 12 inch dub version of Johnny Too Bad.
In 1982 the BBC released video John Martyn In Vision containing live performances from their archives from 1973 to 1981. John then left Warner Brothers and was without a recording contract. In November 1983, John who had recently married Annie Furlong, released Philentropy. “I had some tapes of a Brighton Dome gig and a Bristol gig and I just thought I’d make a live album out of it.” Philentropy is considered by many to be one of John’s best live albums. “A faithful memento of Martyn at his live best – jazzy, sharply recorded, Philentropy stretches Martyn’s voice from poisonous howl to besotted slur – low key but ever so seductive.” – Melody Maker.
John returned to Island Records and recorded Sapphire at Compass Point studios in the Bahamas. The recording did not go well, “…the production team had all fallen out, no-one was taking responsibility for anything, too much rum was being consumed all over the place, so I got Robert Palmer in who brought in some other excellent musicians, and that was it… it was all down to Robert in the end.” The Guardian newspaper said, “…John Martyn strikes the perfect balance between virtuosity and modernism. Put simply he is in a league of his own. Synthesizers were strongly in evidence for the first time and John’s guitar was down in the mix. Rope Soul’d, a song about nothing more simple than beach shoes and Fisherman’s Dream became instant favourites along with John’s heart on sleeve rendition of Arlen and Harburg’s Over The Rainbow.