John and Danny go back a long, long way to the late 1960s. 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.” It’s just as well that I didn’t ask John and Danny when they were together as there is no doubt that a vigorous but good humoured debate would have ensued! Wherever they met, John and Danny soon forged a close friendship that continues today.
Having worked at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, with the leading ‘jazzers’ of the day such as Tubby Hayes and Alexis Korner to name but two, Danny then became a founder member of Pentangle in 1967. In 1972, he decided to leave to spend more time with his young family by which time he had already established himself as one of the world’s foremost double bass players. Danny 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. John had released three well received albums, London Conversation (1967), The Tumbler (1968) and Stormbringer (1970) which was recorded at Woodstock with his wife Beverley. In 1970 John and Beverley were working on their second album, The Road To Ruin and asked Danny to play bass on one of the songs, New Day. In 1971 John recorded his third solo album Bless The Weather at Sound Techniques in Chelsea with Danny playing bass. These were the beginnings of a long friendship which saw Danny making major contributions to Solid Air (1973), Inside Out (1973), Sunday’s Child (1975) and One World (1977), not forgetting of course Live At Leeds (1975) which to many fans encapsulates all the atmosphere, enthusiasm and improvisation of a John Martyn live performance. John said, ” I think I’ll always use Danny Thompson because he’s got real feel for my music and I’ve got real feel for his.”
John and Danny built enviable reputations as live performers in the 1970s, reputations that have been enhanced in more recent years, and stories abound of their antics both on and off the stage. “We used to drink a great deal together. I got really drunk one night and woke up and he had nailed me under the carpet. I couldn’t move my hands or feet. I was very dry and had a hangover and I said Danny, please…get me, get me a drink. So he stepped over my helpless body, went to the phone and in a very loud voice said, can I have a glass of orange juice for one, please. Breakfast for one, please. I was screaming blue murder by this time. I was furious! He met the guy in the hall, so the guy couldn’t get into the room and see what was happening. He sat in front of me and downed the orange juice and had the breakfast.”
To John and Danny music should be spontaneous, it comes from within and is an expression of what you feel, there and then. No two performances are ever the same. This live recording from Germany in 1986 sees John and Danny playing a selection of songs from John’s 1970s albums, along with two newer songs Sweet Little Mystery (Grace and Danger, 1980) and Angeline (Piece By Piece, 1986). Never taking themselves too seriously, these outstanding musicians still find the time between songs to indulge in some good humoured banter, unfortunately for Danny he didn’t have a microphone!
Such a tremendous performance makes it impossible to seize on one outstanding moment of brilliance. Bless The Weather is segued with Beverley and then Beverley with Make No Mistake and sees Danny and Victoria (as Danny affectionately calls his double bass) exploring the full acoustic range from deep to springy light notes and with some tremendous bowing on Beverley. John’s vocal outpouring of emotion on Make No Mistake and his flowing almost tidal voice on One World take the listener from a tangled web of emotional conflict to an almost hypnotic state of inner contentment. There’s a rousing rendition of I’d Rather Be The Devil and then the spacey and transcendental Outside In, about which John told me “It’s my attempt at spirituality.” An attempt!
John Martyn and Danny Thompson are two of the most innovative and talented musicians the world has known. There is a magical understanding between them and that magic coupled with their enjoyment and enthusiasm for music is captured on this recording for all to hear.