Bless The Weather (Remastered And Expanded)

John and Beverley moved from London to Old Town in Hastings, a move that was to greatly influence his writing. Hastings is a seaside resort and fishing town on the South coast of England “where you just can’t get away from the weather.” Island Records decided that John should revert to recording solo and Bless The Weather was completed in just three days. John Wood and John himself co-produced the album and it was released in November 1971.

Music is a constantly evolving language, a shifting landscape of creativity where artists emerge, gain recognition and often subside into obscurity. Few artists successfully transverse this creative landscape and receive the recognition for innovation that they deserve.  Remarkably talented, compassionate and often forthright, John Martyn is one such artist who has influenced and inspired whole generations of new musicians. Just when you feel that you’ve heard all he has to offer, when you’ve finally pinned down and categorised his music, he undergoes yet another metamorphosis. Folk? Blues? Reggae? Jazz? Rock? Trip Hop? Funk? John refuses to conform to any particular music genre whilst simultaneously embracing them all. His guitar playing has evolved over the years – acoustic guitar in the 60s, to electro-acoustic in the 70s with a wah wah pedal, fuzz box and echoplex, to the 80s which saw him playing electric guitar almost exclusively in a full band setting and the 90s which saw trip hop and funk enter his music.

There was no Hogwarts for John his guitar wizardry is self-taught; a truly progressive artist who has never been one to stay with a tried and trusted sound, preferring to explore, experiment and break new ground bringing new ideas, colours and textures to his music. His live performances are legendary and many of the songs on John’s studio albums have evolved from exploring and pushing back accepted musical boundaries during these free and less structured live performances.

John is an incurable romantic who sings from his heart; no other artist sings with such commitment and emotion. People fall in and out of love listening to his magical songs of deep sensitivity. John’s music is a barometer of our emotional state, our well being can be measured by the songs we listen to; passion and spirituality are at the heart of them all and in the heart of the man himself.

John Martyn was born Ian David McGeachy on 11th September 1948 in Beechcroft Avenue, New Malden, Surrey, the only son of two light opera singers Thomas Paterson McGeachy and Beatrice Jewitt. John’s parents separated when he was very young and his early childhood was spent being brought up by his father and grandmother in Glasgow. His grandmother instilled traditional Scottish values, “I was brought up with my grandmother and my father, I thought it was wonderful, I had a great time. The school was in walking distance and my grandmother being the old school kind of Victorian, she just treated me wonderfully.” His father taught him “how to fish and fuck and ride a bike!”

Glasgow was renowned for its shipbuilding and engineering industries but by the 1950s the demand for merchant and navy ships had dwindled. The declining city was a far from attractive place, and on many winter nights a thick smog enveloped the city so tightly that you could often see little more than a few yards in front of you. The old stone tenements of the Gorbals that Oscar Marzaroli had captured in his evocative photographs were being demolished and replaced with high rise blocks. John recalls it was a tough environment where “you went out and kicked a few heads or you were looked on as a pansy.”

Bless The WeatherJohn walked to school at the Shawlands Academy in Moss Side Road and later attended the Glasgow School of Art but was asked to leave after a couple of months! “I was thinking it was all going to be bohemian, listening to Rolling Stones records all day and smoke dope and drink coffee. That was going to be my life style and it didn’t work out that way.” His interest in music came from his parents but not just as a result of their profession, “my father was a bit of a raver… he had a Davey Graham record!” Davey Graham was to become one of the major influences on John’s music. I asked John about his childhood, “I was a cub scout!” He enthused. During the school holidays John stayed with his mother, “we had a houseboat on The Thames at Thames Ditton and then later opposite the Ship Hotel at Shepperton. The pub would be full of actors from the nearby film studios…a very strange bunch,” he added chuckling to himself. John saved up money from a paper round to buy his first guitar and learnt to play at fifteen years old. Aged seventeen, he left school and started to play in some of the local folk clubs under the wing of Hamish Imlach, who encouraged him to play and introduced him to many different music genres. Imlach, who could see the ability and promise in John, was born in Calcutta. He was a warm, generous man and a singer and blues guitarist with a considerable reputation.

Davey Graham, a groundbreaking musician credited with blurring the boundaries of folk, blues and jazz, was one of John’s first heroes, “he was the man who impressed me so much with his playing that I decided to go out and play myself. I had in fact heard him by 1965, and I was so impressed that I wanted to be Davey Graham or if I couldn’t be Davey Graham, I wasn’t going to be too far away from him. So I went out and bought a guitar.”

John’s first gig was somewhat unexpected; “Josh McCrae got drunk in the pub and could not appear. So I was given the gig, because I was the only one in the audience who could play the guitar and sing. And about four months after that I played in a place called The Black Bull in Dollar, which is outside Stirling. I got eleven quid for it, that was wonderful.” Clive Palmer, who owned Clive’s Incredible Folk Club in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, founded the Incredible String Band with Robin Williamson in the mid 1960s and became a good friend of John’s, “the best banjo player I ever heard and a lovely man.” John and Clive shared a flat and frequented the music pubs and clubs, “Those were wild times, and Clive was a remarkable man, a great musician and down to earth, absolutely no bullshit, taught me lots of things to play.” They subsequently lived in a dilapidated cottage in Cumbria, John recalls, “there was no electricity, no running water, but we played all day. You walked out the front and there was nothing. Just the moor. And a spring for your water. Fine days.”

With a growing reputation on the club circuit in the North John decided it was time to move on and travelled to London. There was a booming and vibrant music scene with new clubs opening all the time, “I was dossing in London, sleeping in Trafalgar Square and getting moved on by the fuzz.”  He took the name John Martyn at the suggestion of his first agent Sandy Glennon. His new surname came from the makers of his favourite acoustic guitars; substituting the letter “i” for a “y” and the first name John for no other reason than it seemed plain and simple. John started playing in the clubs around London such as Les Cousins in Greek Street, Bunjie’s and the Kingston Folk Barge.  “I was playing a club called Folk Barge in Kingston, and a fat man called Theo Johnson came up to me and said, ‘I will make you a star.’ Literally, quite literally! Verbatim! And I said, ‘Go ahead then,’ and he took the record to Chris Blackwell, he made a demo disc of two songs, and introduced me, and there you are!” Les Cousins, John recalls, was “a real buzz, a wonderful place.” Chris Blackwell, the son of a plantation owner, founded Island Records in Jamaica in 1959. The label took its name from the Alec Waugh novel Island In The Sun and early releases were by West Indian musicians, John reputably being the first white artist to sign to the label. Blackwell recalls, “I liked him and loved his voice so I signed him.”

London Conversation (IMCD319) was released when John was just nineteen years old and a little over a year later his second album The Tumbler (IMCD320) followed. John and Beverley’s Stormbringer (IMCD317) and in particular the songs Would You Believe Me and The Ocean featured the introduction of John’s echoplex guitar technique which was to play a key role in his studio albums and concert performances in the 1970s.  John was inspired by the saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and in particular his album Karma. “The only reason I bought the echoplex was to try and imitate Sanders’ sustain on my guitar.”  The Road to Ruin (IMCD318), released in November 1970, was to be John and Beverley’s last album together. John had disagreements with producer Joe Boyd of Witchseason Productions over the album and, because of the numerous overdubs, felt that the recording lacked spontaneity.

John adopted two year old Wesley, Beverley’s son by a previous relationship and soon became the father of Mhairi in February 1971.  The family home was in Cobourg Place in the old part of Hastings.  Island Records decision that John should revert to recording solo didn’t please him, “they didn’t want to hear Beverley sing, which is a terrible thing, I still think they’re extremely wrong.” With a young family to look after this was a forced career break for Beverley. John felt Bless The Weather was “very innocent, very beautiful and a pleasure to make.” “Most of the songs on Bless The Weather were very quick. I’d been writing songs in the studio on the day they were recorded. It’s much nicer like that…to be spontaneous. There was no re-writing, it just came out very naturally. I much prefer that approach” said John, “People kind of sat up and took notice of me after that album, I don’t know why.”

Bless The Weather, a beautiful and heartfelt album, was recorded at Sound Techniques in Chelsea. Danny Thompson played bass, Richard Thompson, Tony Reeves (Colosseum), Ian Whiteman and Roger Powell (Mighty Baby) all contributed. Danny Thompson had played at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, with the leading jazzers of the day such as Tubby Hayes and Alexis and then became a founder member of Pentangle in 1967 establishing himself as one of the world’s foremost double bass players. He had pushed back the contemporary boundaries of folk music with Haitian Fight Song and innovative solos on other Pentangle songs at a time when it was unheard of for a Double Bass player to play a solo. Danny had played on The Road To Ruin and this was the beginning of a long friendship that saw Danny go on to play on Solid Air (IMCD274) and Inside Out (IMCD322) in 1973, Sunday’s Child (IMCD323) in 1975 and One World (Deluxe Version 981 922-2) in 1977 not forgetting of course Live At Leeds (One World Records OW107CD) in 1975 which encapsulates all the atmosphere, enthusiasm and improvisation of a John Martyn live performance.

I asked Danny how they came to meet, “I met John out in Newport Folk Festival [Rhode Island in the USA] when I was with Pentangle, and he said do you fancy getting together?” John has a different recollection “I can’t remember how I met him now, I think I might have met him at a place called The Three Horseshoes in the very early days of The Pentangle in Tottenham Court Road. I think I met him there once or twice and we liked each other. He was probably just high for the session and ever since then we just got on like a house on fire. Great bloke.”

John’s unique fusion of folk, rock and jazz, his fascination with electronics and its boundless possibilities were becoming more obvious in his music. This experimentation began to distance him from the folk scene as he continued to break all the rules using the echoplex to build layers of rhythmic sound, “The echoplex I’m in love with, it’s a wonderful machine!”  . Glistening Glyndebourne showcased John’s technique of playing acoustic guitar through the echoplex to stunning effect. “A masterpiece…John continues to stay several steps in front of his contemporaries with tracks like Glistening Glyndebourne!” Wrote Sounds magazine. The inspiration for the instrumental came from an opera festival that was held near John’s home in Sussex, “There was this small country station, and hundreds of people in evening gowns and dinner jackets poured onto the train, it was so formal and I think music should be informal. I wanted something very loose that could change every time I played it.”

The calm and floating Go Easy, the organic and joyous celebration of spirituality Walk To The Water and anthemic Head and Heart instill a feeling of inner contentment, “Bless the Weather is the purest record I ever made.” For the first time we can also hear a version of Head and Heart recorded with a band during the sessions on 17th May 1971.

There’s just no way to say how much I love you
You never made me cry
And that’s just fine
Only got my fear
To put above you
You know we all get scared from time to time.

Love me with your head and heart
Love me from the place it starts
Love me from your head and heart
Love me like a child.

There’s just no way to play the things I’m feeling
No way to tell you all the things you mean
Everyday I only feel like stealing
Away to where I know I can be clean.

Love me with your head and heart
Love me from the place it starts
Love me from your head and heart
Love me when I’m wild.

Laying down the ways to say I need you
Scared of looking tall and feeling small
Running through the days I have beside you
Scared of being wrong and that’s it all.

Love me with your head and heart
Love me with your very self
Love me with your head and heart
Love me like a child.

There’s just no way to say how much I love you
You never made me cry
And that’s just fine
Only got my fate
A bird above you
You know we all get scared from time to time.

Love me with your head and heart
Love me from the very start
Love me with your head and heart
Love me like a child.

In November 1971 John went into the studio to record a version of May You Never featuring drums and back-up guitar. John told me, “John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick played keyboards and Kossie played guitar…” At the time John didn’t like the way the recording turned out and left the producer to overdub and piece it all together. May You Never was released as a single in 1971 (WIP6116) but it didn’t sell well and was subsequently re-recorded and appeared on the 1973 album Solid Air becoming one of John’s most popular songs. “It always goes down sickeningly well!” The single version is now available for the first time on this expanded and remastered release.

John had met Paul Kossoff (Free) in Scandinavia when they were both touring, John admired his music and the two became good friends. The same session in which May You Never was recorded saw them jamming and feeding of each others creativity resulting in the incredible 18 minute long instrumental Time Spent Time Away recently unearthed and released on Free’s Boxed Set Songs of Yesterday (IBXCD3). A short version called Time Away appeared on Kossoff’s Back Street Crawler album (IMCD084) in 1973. In the years that followed John attempted to help Kossoff through the drug related health problems that were blighting his life and for a while Kossoff lived with John and Beverley at their home in Hastings. Sadly his battle against drug addiction was unsuccessful and he died on 19th March 1976 of heart failure aboard a flight to New York.

The heartbreaking and painfully simple Bless The Weather features awesome vocals and playing by John, and Danny Thompson is at his note bending best.

Time after time I held it
Just to watch it die
Line after line, I loved it
Just to watch it cry.

Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you away
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you home.

Wave after wave, I watched it
Just to watch it turn
Day after day I cooled it
Just to watch it burn.

Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you home
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you away.

Pain after pain I stood in
Just to see how it would feel
Rain after rain I stood in
Just to make it real.

Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the day you go away
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you away.

Time after time I held it
Just to watch it die
Line after line, I held it
Just to watch it cry.

Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you away
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you away.

John’s rendition of Singin’ in the Rain by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed (made famous by Gene Kelly in the 1952 film) closes the album. Bless The Weather proved very popular receiving enthusiastic reviews from his fans and the music press. John appeared on a Live In Concert show that was held at the special request of BBC Radio 1 on 30th December 1971. He performed Head and Heart, Singin’ in the Rain (with obligatory audience participation), Bless The Weather and a very early version of Outside In.

Bless The Weather is an uplifting and inspiring collection of songs about love and the happiness it brings; a very different album both musically and emotionally to Solid Air, perhaps John’s best known album, which followed in 1973. “

…music is a balance between head and heart and that’s what I try to make my life, a balance between head and heart.”

John Hillarby, September 2005