Music Legend John Martyn Dead Aged 60

Music Legend John Martyn Dead Aged 60.

THE music world was yesterday mourning the death of legendary singer-songwriter John Martyn.

Martyn, who was 60, was a true innovator who fused folk, blues, jazz and funk to create a unique style in a career that spanned five decades. He got an OBE in the 2009 New Year’s honours list.

The cause of death is unknown. Martyn’s website said simply: “With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning.”

Martyn emerged from the London folk scene of the 60s and his hulking good looks, virtuoso guitar skills and soulful voice led many to predict he was a future superstar. But his dogged refusal to bow to musical trends meant he was destined never to be a chart-topper. Nevertheless, albums such as Solid Air and One World are regarded as classics and Martyn has been cited as a major influence on stars as diverse as U2, Portishead and Eric Clapton. He also performed with Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, Ringo Starr and reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry.

His friend Phil Collins said yesterday: “John’s passing is terribly, terribly sad. He was uncompromising, which made him infuriating to some people. But he was unique. I loved him dearly.”

Martyn was a notorious womaniser and had a prodigious appetite for drugs and alcohol. It meant live performances were often erratic as moments of inspired genius were interspersed with incoherent rambling. He was once so drunk at a concert in Spain he fell off stage. He said afterwards: “I still got three encores.” But Martyn was always refreshingly honest about his drug and drink intake. He told one interviewer: “If I could control myself more, I think the music would be much less interesting. I’d probably be a great deal richer but I’d have had far less fun and I’d be making really dull music.”

Inevitably, the substance abuse took a toll. His weight ballooned and in 2003 his right leg was amputated after a large cyst burst. In later years, he performed from a wheelchair. The drugs and drink also contributed to the break up of his marriage to singer Beverley Kutner. The split was recounted in searingly honest detail on album Grace and Danger.

Martyn was born Ian David McGeachy in Surrey but grew up in Scotland. In his teens, he moved to London and became a star of the bustling folk scene. As a live performer, he gained a reputation for innovation, refusing to be bound by the strictures of traditional folk music. He pioneered the use of a tape device known as the Echoplex. Martyn used it to repeat notes he played on guitar creating dense layers of sound and unusual harmonies. In 1969, he married Beverley and for a while they lived close to Bob Dylan at Woodstock near New York. He later said: “Jimi Hendrix owned a house over the road. He used to fly up every Thursday in a purple helicopter.”

Martyn cemented his reputation with 1973’s Solid Air. It was described as the “musical equivalent of a reassuring hug” by the magazine 0, which voted it 67th best British album of all time.

Gavin Martin
The Daily Mirror
30 January 2009