John Martyn OBE: A Larger Than…

John Martyn OBE: A larger-than-life folk legend who ‘lived his life well.’

Tributes have been flooding on for New Malden born singer songwriter John Martyn, who died at the age of 60 last week, writes Kerry Grove.

Martyn, whose real name was Iain David McGeachy, was an award winning musician who emerged from the folk scene in the late 1960s and released 20 studio albums over 35 years. His career was launched after a performance on Kingston’s Folk Barge and he later worked with artists including Eric Clapton, David Gilmour and Phil Collins. He was appointed an OBE in the 2009 New Year Honours List. Born in New Malden on September 11, 1948, his parents separated when he was five and he spent most of his childhood with his musician father in Scotland.

During school holidays he visited his mother on her houseboat in Thames Ditton and later opposite the Ship Hotel in Shepperton, where he met actors working at the nearby film studios. As a teenager, he came back to Kingston to perform at the Folk Barge on the Thames, where he met a man called Theo Johnson who promised to make him a star and helped get him his first record contract with Island Records in 1967. His experiences in Kingston inspired him to write several of his songs, including Dusty, based on the Hampton Court Palace Fair, and Knuckledy Crunch and Slippledee-Slee Song, about life on a house boat feeding the swans.

Steve Poole from the Ram Folk Club in Thames Ditton paid tribute to his music and distinctive performances. “His style went across genres. He was an eccentric performer and I think everyone would agree that he “lived his life well,” he said.
“When I was running Dorking Folk Club in the 1980s he turned up to watch Hamish Imlach, another larger-than-life character, and he gave him moral and liquid support.”

In his later years his health deteriorated and his leg was amputated in 2003. He died in Ireland of an unknown cause on Thursday, January 29. He is survived by Theresa and his two children, Mhairi and Spencer

Kerry Grove
Surrey Comet
6 February 2009