Empty Ceiling

John Martyn celebrated twenty years as a performer in 1986 and what a celebration it was! Piece By Piece, John’s fourteenth studio album was released in February on vinyl and CD, followed by a strictly limited CD release with bonus songs, a 12 inch Classic John Martyn single and, of course, the worlds first commercially available CD single Classic John Martyn in digi pack format! In a year that saw the environmental devastation of Chernobyl and the chemical plant fire in Basle that led to thousands of gallons of toxic water entering the Rhine, John added his voice to the worldwide condemnation by writing the theme and incidental music for the Tyne Tees Television environmental series Turning The Tide presented by David Bellamy.

John toured the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany, and was courted by British television making appearances on BBC2 Saturday Review and even a Yorkshire Television Kids Show – No 73. Invitations to perform at Glastonbury in June and the Montreux Jazz Festival in July followed this exclusive performance in Baden-Baden, Germany in April 1986 now available on DVD and CD for the first time courtesy of One World Records.

 Empty Ceiling DVDAlan Thomson joins John on bass and occasional keyboard, Arran Ahmun on drums and Foster Patterson on keyboards. Alan was born in Glasgow in 1960 and was plucked from his college group The Arthur Trout Band by John in September 1980 for his first professional gig. Arran Ahmun was born in Cardiff in 1956 and started playing drums at the age of 16 turning professional at 19 while working the American bases in Germany. Arran played in numerous West End shows before joining the David Knopfler Band and going on to play with Clannad on two world tours. Having also played with Gerry Rafferty and Andy Summers, Arran began a long association with John in 1986 and, along with Alan Thomson has been present on nearly every tour over the last 20 years! Edinburgh born keyboard player, Foster Patterson, wrote the title track for John’s album Piece By Piece subsequently recorded by Kenny Thomas reaching the UK charts. I asked John about the album, “It was great fun to make! I worked on it at home with Fos Patterson and then recorded in Glasgow. It was just the two of us although you wouldn’t really know from listening to it! Alan Thomson played on a couple of songs and Danny Cummings on percussion but basically it was just the two of us.”

John starts the set with Dealer playing his Les Paul before switching to a red Fender for Mad Dog Days. John plays Piece By Piece, Love of Mine and John Wayne from his latest album but despite the German Director’s enthusiastic subtitle announcing Nightline it wasn’t performed! Piece by Piece tells of the painful realisation of a love in crisis and the optimism of reconciliation. The unabashed romanticism and clarity of John’s song writing continues in Love Of Mine as John offers the benefit of his personal experience with an ex-love to his close friend. The simplicity of his lyrics is unquestionably exquisite.

She’s only going to love you ’til she breaks your heart
She’s only going to love you ’til she makes you cry
She was a love of mine.

Lookin’ On is the brutal honesty of a tortured mind and an all consuming unreciprocated love that will never be realised no matter how strong and no matter how much it is wanted.

John’s violent guitar soloing and quirky ‘running on the spot’ dance continues in John Wayne and Johnny Trip Bad (Did you spot it?) John Wayne is written about an ex-manager, John told me, “ I was in a terrible rage thrashing away on the guitar and writing this song with threatening vindictive lyrics, you know you’ve got it coming, I’ll tell it to you straight, I’m coming for you very soon! Suddenly I saw the funny side of it and realised I sounded like John Wayne as Rooster Coburn in True Grit! That’s how it happened, it’s a schizophrenic song but I love it! A satire of John Wayne and the US Military.” John’s power chords and Fos Paterson’s crashing synthesisers whip this song into frenzy. John salutes mockingly as he sings in a rage; US planes bombed Libya…the underlying absurdity of war, when will politicians realise that you can bomb the world to pieces but you can’t bomb it in to peace? John holds politicians in the lowest regard and is not frightened of making his views known, John told me, “Nothing ever changes! Songs I wrote years ago are just as relevant today, the names change but the problems stay the same.”

Maintaining integrity and avoiding the materialistic and commercial demands of the music industry is a remarkable achievement. The strength and beauty of John’s lyrics lay in their simplicity. His songs about the complex kaleidoscope of life, of faded love affairs and broken dreams are peppered with insightful observations of the world; Our World; One World.

John Hillarby, October 2006