Insider’s Guide

JOHN MARTYN: Music for Grown-Ups Insider’s Guide No.2.

Criminally underrated in his lifetime, especially when compared to such highly praised colleagues and contemporaries like Nick Drake and Richard Thompson, John Martyn was a highly innovative vocal and guitar stylist.

More “rock’n’roll” than rock’n’roll, his death-defying escapades became legendary, as did the dichotomy between the at times disturbed and disturbing man and the moving and beautiful music he created. Assuaging his demons – whatever they were – with drink, drugs and out of control behaviour, Martyn was a deeply romantic poet whose blurred and slurred singing style challenged the listener in much the same way as Van Morrison.

Putting aside such over-anthologised gems as “Solid Air”, “May You Never” and “Sweet Little Mystery”, Martyn’s extensive catalogue is hard to fillet.

Quickly tiring of the fast finger picking style espoused by the Bert Jansch school of guitar playing (heard to good effect on his second LP, 1968’s The Tumbler), Martyn soon moved into more experimental and jazz-flavoured areas by amplifying his acoustic guitar and using distortion. Feeding his uniquely percussive guitar playing through an echoplex unit, Martyn achieved layer upon layer of startling and innovative guitar noise, best heard on live solo recordings.

There was so much more to the man’s output than those ’70s touchstone releases Bless the Weather (1971), Solid Air (1973) and One World (1977).

1981’s Glorious Fool is astonishing in its range and diversity (from the libidinous “Perfect Hustler” to the keening protest song “Don’t You Go”) and as the years rolled by, Martyn continued to experiment with sounds and textures.

Listeners should check out the intimate “Number Nine”, the trip hoppery of “A Little Strange”, the quasi religious “My Creator” and the wilfully bizarre “Back to Marseilles.”

Over a recording and performing career that spanned 40 years, John Martyn proved himself to be a soul singer extraordinaire, an artist with his heart on his sleeve, and someone who was wounded by, and yet in thrall to, love.

John Martyn: A 2CD primer

Disc 1
1) Don’t You Go GLORIOUS FOOL 1981
2) A Little Strange AND.1996
3) Seven Black Roses THE TUMBLER 1968
4) Hurt In Your Heart GRACE AND DANGER 1980
5) Parcels ROAD TO RUIN 1970
6) Perfect Hustler GLORIOUS FOOL 1981
7) Couldn’t Love You More ONE WORLD 1977
8) All In Your Favour AND. 1996
9) Walk To The Water BLESS THE WEATHER 1971
10) Don’t Want To Know (live) PHILENTROPY 1983
11) Wildflower GLASGOW WALKER 2000
12) Sunday’s Child SUNDAY’S CHILD 1974
13) Piece by Piece PIECE BY PIECE 1986
14) John The Baptist STORMBRINGER! 1970
15) The Cure COOLTIDE 1991
16) Ways To Cry INSIDE OUT 1973
17) Back To Marseilles ON THE COBBLES 2004
18) Small Hours ONE WORLD 1977

Disc 2
1) My Creator ON THE COBBLES 2004
2) A Day At The Sea THE TUMBLER 1968
3) Fine Lines INSIDE OUT 1973
4) Save Some (For Me) GRACE AND DANGER 1980
5) You Can Discover SUNDAY’S CHILD 1974
6) Suzanne AND. 1996
7) Let The Good Things Come BLESS THE WEATHER 1971
8) Number Nine COOLTIDE 1991
9) Hung Up (live) PHILENTROPY 1983
10) Please Fall In Love With Me GLORIOUS FOOL 1981
11) Stormbringer! STORMBRINGER! 1970
12) One World ONE WORLD 1977
13) Rope-soul’d SAPPHIRE 1984
14) Ain’t No Saint INSIDE OUT 1973
15) Go Down Easy SOLID AIR 1973
15) The Field Of Play GLASGOW WALKER 2000
16) Never Let Me Go WELL KEPT SECRET 1982
17) Call Me Crazy SUNDAY’S CHILD 1974

Martin Cowan
1 October 2009
Music For Grown-Ups Blog