Hammersmith Odeon, London

Sunday’s Child Tame ‘N’ Tired
John Martyn, Hammersmith Odeon.

There are so many misdeeds committed in the name of ‘progression.’ I guess John Martyn must explain his present state of activity with having ‘progressed’ – a reformed folk singer, evolving through hearthside reflections soaked by the twin weakness of heart break and alcohol, floating on into the middle-aged spread of a thousand songs and impatience with everything.

Anyone can get bored staying the same – I know that. But in Martyn’s case, ‘sameness’ should never have been any kind of prison.

The Martyn of ‘Solid Air’ or ‘Sunday’s Child’, that passionately involved instrumentalist, surely knew that there was a lifetime to be spent on what he was playing then – a music of such slow, grave elegance, unpredictable pockets of ideas suddenly bursting out – a music that explored the limitlessness of melody. It was never the ‘same.’

If he got tired of playing that, then I hope he gets tired of what he’s playing now soon enough. In this dislikeable group, with its flat-handed drummer, superfluous percussionist and preposterously insensitive keyboardist, Martyn simply plugs in his heavy metal guitar.

Its tiresome, it’s lazy, it’s wasteful.

Even his vocals, which once tickled the tenuous line between the leery and the remorseful, fall from a fugitive murmur into an incessant growl. Although it’s a cheap, catch-all-criticism, this ‘not as good as he used to be’ tack, the complete dispersal of Martyn makes him someone I don’t even recognise anymore. In noting the small pleasures – Alan Thomson’s succinct bass commentary on ‘Solid Air’, and the couple of occasions when Martyn brushed up the velvet in his voice to explore again the way his ballads will open up so wide – it seems finally depressing to have to scratch around for praise for a musician whose hard–bitten grace grew so easy to like.

But then, small pleasures were always what John Martyn was about – an oblique tumble from the guitar, a singular, molten state of sounds intermingling, a tourniquet of reminiscent warmth to bind up old amorous old wounds – little felicities, deployed with generosity. Now it’s as if we’re made to struggle for everything.

And that, I suppose, is the price of progression. Phil Collins came on at the end.

Richard Cook
New Musical Express
30 October 1982

Hammersmith Odeon, London
23 October 1982