John Martyn, Dome Concert Hall, Brighton…

John Martyn, Dome Concert Hall, Brighton, Nov 7.

Grace And Danger was the highly personal album that marked John Martyn’s divorce and saw him leave Island Records in 1980. But its difficult conception hasn’t stopped the 60-year-old singer-songwriter returning to it for his latest UK tour, following a successful trip around the country playing his classic Solid Air album last year.

“Grace And Danger was a bit miserable,” admits John from his home in Ireland. “I always thought it was, but when I had to listen to it for this tour it’s actually quite cheeky in places.” The album was written and recorded around the time John’s marriage to his wife and early collaborator Beverley broke down.

Island boss Chris Blackwell was a friend of both John and Beverley, and initially refused to put the album out, delaying its release for a year. He succumbed to pressure after, in John’s own words: “I freaked: ‘Please get it out! I don’t give a damn about how sad it makes you feel, it’s what I’m about, the direct communication of emotion.'”

An additional reason for the delay was the timing, as John admits now: “Punk was the big thing. If you contrast it to this record they were two very different approaches to life.”
He is looking forward to returning to the album and performing the full record in order. “I like the songs,” he says. “Baby Please Come Home is the most miserable song ever, but I haven’t played it for 20 years.”

The touring band is currently in rehearsals, and features lots of old friends including long-time bassist Alan Thomson. But the tour is unlikely to be as event filled as John’s previous jaunts in the 1970s with collaborator Danny Thompson.

“It was a good time,” remembers John. “We didn’t have to rehearse, we could pick up our instruments and go for it. It was very spontaneous, very happy and mostly drunk – though not on stage. There were a couple of shows, though, like when Danny fell through his double bass and smashed it to splinters. I just heard this fizzing noise behind me, then saw him crawling on the stage and pulling my leg saying: ‘I f***ing love you’. It was all Billy Connolly’s fault, he drank him s***less!”

As well as a few old favourites the show will feature songs from John’s long awaited follow up to 2004’s On The Cobbles, a record which has been delayed five years partly because of health reasons. In 2006 the guitarist’s right leg was amputated below the knee after a burst cyst.

“It’s influenced my career somewhat,” he says with typical self deprecating humour. “My vices had to change and I couldn’t get into the studio. I’m greatly recovered now, in fact I’m downright chirpy.”

The album itself is now almost complete, apart from three vocal tracks.
“They are all p*** takes on losing my leg,” laughs John. “There’s a couple of nice love songs, a Phil Collins song called Cannot Hold Back The Years, and a song Heaven Is On Earth about the love of my life, Theresa. It is a mixed bag of stuff.”

John is currently planning to put together a home studio, although that idea will have to wait until after the tour. With his 60th birthday just gone, and a slew of lifetime achievements heading his way from the likes of Mojo and BBC Radio Two, Martyn is not entertaining thoughts of stopping now.

“It has been a year of awards,” he admits. “It’s been a gas, man. I didn’t know there were so many red carpets in the world! It gives you a right boot up the arse. You want to say: ‘Hold on lads, I’m not dead yet!'”

Support from Jersey Bud.

Starts 8pm, tickets from £20.50.

Duncan Hall
The Argus
7 November 2008