A short biography to introduce you to Iain David McGeachy (aka John Martyn).
In a world that lacks compassion, John Martyn and his music, is a breath of fresh air. John was an incurable romantic who sang from his heart; no other artist sang with such commitment and emotion. People have fallen in and out of love listening to the most enduring and magical songs of deep sensitivity that have been sung over his forty year plus career. A truly progressive artist John never stayed with a tried and trusted sound, preferring to explore, experiment and break new ground. His trade mark melodies and lyrics are in a class of their own and his voice which is steeped in pleasure and pain, joy and fear and love and hate, expresses emotion like no other and can reduce even the strongest of men to tears.
John Martyn was born Iain David McGeachy on 11th September 1948 in New Malden, Surrey, the only son of two light opera singers. John’s parents separated and his early childhood was spent in Glasgow, John recalls, “you went out and kicked a few heads or you where looked on as a pansy.” John learnt to play the guitar at fifteen and on leaving school at seventeen he started playing in some of the local folk clubs under the wing of Hamish Imlach, who encouraged and John to play the guitar. John was influenced by many different music genres including Debussy and soon began to explore music on his guitar. Davey Graham was one of John’s first heroes, as was Clive Palmer who founded the Incredible String Band and became a good friend. John and Clive lived together for a while in a shed near Alston in Cumbria. “Those were wild times, and Clive was a remarkable man, a great musician and down to earth, absolutely no bullshit, taught me lots of things to play.” With a growing reputation on the club circuit in the North John decided it was time to move on and he started playing in the clubs around London such as Les Cousins and the Kingston Folk Barge, and was soon signed by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records.
John’s debut album, London Conversation, was recorded in mono and released in October 1967. An album of innocent songs that won praise from the music press and launched a career that spanned five decades!
July 1968 saw John playing live for the BBC’s Night Ride radio programme and he was soon to be featured again on the same programme with the release of his next album The Tumbler in December 1968. The jazz flautist, Harold McNair, who played on The Tumbler, joined John and he performed a number of songs including Dusty, Hello Train, Flying On Home, Seven Black Roses and The Easy Blues, which was to appear 5 years later on Solid Air. The Tumbler, was produced by Al Stewart and like London Conversation, was again in the folk tradition but early jazz influences were evident, as were beautifully simple and touching lyrics in love songs such as The River and Dusty that was inspired by John’s happy memories of Hampton Court (where he stayed with his Aunt) and the annual Fair.
In 1969 John married Beverley Kutner, a singer from Coventry, who was recording at the time with producer Joe Boyd of Witchseason. John was originally hired to be Beverley’s backing guitarist for recording sessions but they were soon to record together and in Summer 1969 Stormbringer! was recorded at A & R Studios in New York and was released in February 1970. The album featured the Band’s Levon Helm on drums and other session men including the Mothers of Invention’s Billy Mundi. Would You Believe Me featured the introduction of the echoplex guitar technique that John pioneered, and which become a key part of his solo concert performances in the 1970s. John was inspired by the saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders and in particular his album Karma. “The only reason I bought the echoplex was to try and imitate Sanders’ sustain on my guitar.”
Woodstock was a great experience for John, “Hendrix lived virtually next door. He used to arrive every Thursday in a purple helicopter, stay the weekend, and leave on the Monday. He was amazing…a good lad.” John felt that Stormbringer! was just a little bit ahead of its time, saying “…a whole lot came from that record…like people started using drum ideas and stuff, and nobody had really thought of using drums with acoustic instruments before. But it’s difficult to say that sort of thing without being conceited.”
John and Beverley’s last album together was The Road To Ruin, which was released in November 1970. John had disagreements with Joe Boyd over the production of this album and, because of the numerous overdubs; John felt that the recording lacked spontaneity. The album featured the introduction of Danny Thompson who played double bass on the song New Day.
The Road to Ruin, John explained ” is really an adolescents’ views of mortality, you know the idea, isn’t all fun, we’re all doomed but we may as well enjoy it: we’re all going one way, but we may as well get down to it while we’re here.” The album was well received, “The Road To Ruin stands apart from other John Martyn albums…it enjoys distinctly jazz instrumentation in what is basically a rock format,” wrote Zig Zag Magazine.
John and Beverley moved from London to Old Town in Hastings, a seaside town “where you just can’t get away from the weather”, and John adopted two year old Wesley, Beverley’s son by a previous relationship and soon became the father of My Baby Girl, Mhairi in February 1971.