John’s Breathing Easy

John’s breathing easy.

Back in February 1973, against heavy competition from the likes of Pink Floyd and Elton John, Island Records released Solid Air’, the sixth studio album from acoustic guitarist and songwriter John Martyn.

It proved a career defining record for the singer, which saw him step further away from his folk roots to develop the multi-layered, atmospheric fusion of blues, jazz and folk music topped by a unique vocal style that has become Martyn’s trademark.

Fast forward to 2006, when the Barbican hosted the Don’t Look Back concert series in which artists were invited to perform one complete album in a live setting, John’s performance of the Solid Air album was an unqualified success and this year has seen him take the show on a 10-date trip around the country, scheduled to stop off in Croydon tonight.

For a forward thinking artist who rarely listens to his own back catalogue, John says he enjoys touring with a reportoire of songs that were first penned in the 70s.

He said: “Actually, it has been surprisingly enjoyable. I really didn’t have to re-learn that much. Some of the songs I play as a matter of course in the regular set anyway, like the title track and May You Never.

“A couple of the songs were a bit tricky, Go Down Easy for example, but I have put a saxophonist called Martin Winning, who I poached away from Van Morrison, in the line-up and that has really helped. “The concerts so far have been great – when the audience hear things like Dreams by the Sea and Easy Blues, tracks that I don’t normally play, they get quite excited.”

Despite the original album only running for about 35 minutes, John admitted it was not too difficult to increase the duration of his live show. “Once we are warmed up, we play the whole thing midway through the show in between plenty of other stuff. Unfortunately we had to change the original running order of the album, because there are too many guitar changes, I used to make up an awful lot of open guitar tunings in those days. But it’s been cool.”

It was rumoured early versions of tracks on the album were consigned to the studio waste bin forcing John and producer John Wood started again from scratch, bringing in fresh musicians, notably bass player Danny Thompson and producing the album we now know and love in just seven days.

However, John is hesitant and diplomatic in confirming the conjecture: “We just didn’t like the first one too much. Nothing exists of those first recording sessions; the tapes were scrapped and burned, or re-used, never to be heard of again. I don’t want to name names, but the musicians were wrong on the first attempt. We certainly got it right the next time.”

Chris Groom
Sutton Guardian
31 May 2007