Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

John Martyn has mortality on his mind. “I spent last night praying for death,” he told the crowd at this most eagerly awaited of Celtic Connections shows, before speculating that he might just expire on stage right in front of them. There was the sense that, provided he had completed the promised rendition of his classic album Solid Air before keeling over, some of the audience might die happy beside him, although the hacking laugh which accompanied most of his droll pronouncements warned them – as if this capacity hall of Martyn acolytes needed warning – that the gentle soul voice which recorded Solid Air more than 30 years ago is much changed by plenty of hard living in the interim.

As always, Martyn did things his way, which meant performing the album in non-running order, in a manner of his choosing, if he chose to play tracks from the album at all. Enunciation is no longer his strong point and it was not that easy to appreciate what this music means to this older, grizzled Martyn when there were times you could barely discern the lyrics. However, his impressionistic, muttered scatting style communicated feeling, complemented by the subtlety and warmth of his band’s playing.

The layered atmosphere of Man in the Station and the jazz-funk richness of I’d Rather Be the Devil were expertly realised. Martyn’s switch from electric to acoustic guitar heralded the album’s best known tracks. Don’t Want to Know and May You Never were delivered simply and with delicacy, while the title track confirmed that, though Martyn may be a gruff character with a rollercoaster past and a villainous sense of humour, he is still capable of producing the aural definition of mellow.

Fiona Shepherd
The Scotsman
31 January 2007

29 January 2007
Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow