Musical Genius Martyn Dies At Age 60

‘Musical genius’ Martyn dies at age 60.

Singer songwriter John Martyn, one of Scotland’s most unique and loved musical artists, died yesterday at the age of 60.

Martyn’s music defied category and the easy lines of genre, his sometimes troubled career took in folk, blues, jazz, atmospheric pop and funk, and he was widely regarded as one of the most soulful and influential artists of his generation.

Martyn, who was born in Surrey but raised in Glasgow, recently received an OBE in the New Year’s Honours for his contribution to music. He died in hospital in Ireland, where he had been living in Kilkenny in recent years.

Artists such as U2, Eric Clapton, Paul Weller and Dr John have claimed Martyn as a key influence and his masterpiece, 1973’s Solid Air, which features his best known song, May You Never, is consistently voted one of the classic albums of the past 50 years.

Yesterday a message on his website said: “With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning.”

Paying tribute to his “infuriating” friend, Phil Collins said: “John’s passing is terribly, terribly sad. I had worked with and known him since the late 1970s and he was a great friend. “He was uncompromising, which made him infuriating to some people, but he was unique and we’ll never see the likes of him again. I loved him dearly and will miss him very much.”

Rob Adams, The Herald’s folk and jazz critic, said: “I think he was a genius. It is an overused term in music, but think he was, to have come from folk singer picking through all the various musical styles he did, it really takes some talent.”

Born Iain David McGeachy in New Malden, Surrey, in 1948, his parents divorced when he was still a toddler and he was raised by his grandmother in a tenement in Shawlands, Glasgow. Over his long and varied career he recorded 20 studio albums, including a clutch of discs in the 1970s that were all considered classics. Early in his career he also made two successful albums, Stormbringer and Road to Ruin, with his then wife Beverley.

Martyn battled with drugs and alcohol dependence throughout his adult life and in 2003 he had to have his right leg amputated below the knee after a cyst burst, meaning he performed on stage confined to a wheelchair.

He said of the amputation, which led to a great increase in his weight: “It only affected me getting in and out of bed, cars and theatres.”

In an interview with The Herald in 2005, Martyn was defiantly unapologetic about his lifestyle.

“I’m not nearly as wild as I should have been, really,” he said. “Could have had more fun. A lot of people who drink should be ashamed of it, and a lot of people who f****** don’t drink should be ashamed of it. If you want to kill yourself, there’s a thousand ways to skin a cat. You’re going to go one day.”

His sometimes turbulent character was formed by his early years in Glasgow, where, he said, “you went out and kicked a few heads or you were looked on as a pansy”.

After moving to London, Martyn was the first white act to be signed to Island Records, and recorded his debut, London Conversation, in 1968.

Ralph McTell, a fellow musician, said there was always a “deep hurt” in Martyn’s music, which included lauded albums such as Grace and Danger, One World and Bless the Weather.

He regularly played concerts in Scotland and appeared at 2007’s Celtic Connections festival.

Last night John Neil Munro, who wrote a biography of Martyn, said: “It is very sad news, but not totally surprising as he has not been in good health for a long time. He was really ill two years ago but managed to pull through and he had you believing he was Mr Indestructable because he had been through so much. “He had a few enemies but he had a lot of friends, too, and a lot of people really loved his music.”

The cause of Martyn’s death was last night unknown.

Phil Miller
Glasgow Herald
30 January 2009