Live At Leeds (Deluxe Edition)
Today Leeds, tomorrow the World!
Good musicians are commonplace, good singer and songwriters less so, but a pioneer whose absolute imagination and genius changes the sounds and textures of music forever is rare indeed.
Most of the acoustic singer songwriters who made a name for themselves on the folk club scene of the 1960s stayed there, happily producing quality music in the folk genre. Not John Martyn. His acclaimed invention of the backslap guitar technique, idiosyncratic tunings, pioneering use of the echoplex and autobiographical songs of a soul tormented by anger, sadness and fear, and the delights of joy and love in his life, secure his place as a legendary maverick and trailblazing musical genius.
In the same year that Patti Smith released Horses, Pink Floyd; Wish You Were Here, Dylan; Blood on the Tracks and Led Zeppelin; Physical Graffiti, John released his eighth studio album Sunday’s Child. Yes 1975 was a good year for music!
To promote Sunday’s Child the 26 year old John commenced a 21 date tour of the UK on Saturday 18th January with a blistering two and a half hour concert at Lancaster University. As if to bring anticipation to a crescendo, on the eve of the tour BBC Radio 1 broadcast The Old Grey Whistle Test performance by John that had been recorded earlier the same month on 7th January, with John performing five songs from Sunday’s Child an album that he described as, “the family album, very happy, purely romantic.”
John was joined for the eagerly awaited tour by Danny Thompson on acoustic bass and John Stevens on drums, with ex-Free guitarist Paul Kossoff making a guest appearance for the last few songs at a handful of gigs, including this one, the penultimate gig of the tour at Leeds University on 13th February 1975.
The concert was recorded at John’s request by Island Records on their state of the art mobile unit in 16 track stereo on 2 inch reel to reel tape machines running at 15 inches per second. Top drawer equipment in 1975 and the unit was manned by the equally impressive engineer John Burns assisted by Brian Pickering.
Burns started his recording career with Jethro Tull and his early work includes sessions with many of the headlining 1970s bands; Traffic, Mott the Hoople, Fairport Convention, Curved Air, Deep Purple, Marc Bolan and T-Rex, Jeff Beck, and of course John Martyn for sessions in the summer of 1972 that later developed into the album Solid Air. Perhaps his biggest contribution is to the music of Genesis, with the young Burns recording their Foxtrot album and making such an impression that he was subsequently asked to produce Selling England By The Pound, Genesis Live and the band’s magnum opus, The Lamb lies down on Broadway, before going on to work with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Motorhead.
Whilst the recording equipment was state of the art, the facilities in The Refectory at Leeds University were not ideal. During the day it was the main canteen serving hot and cold food, but by night it was transformed into one of the largest music venues in the North with a capacity of 2,100 people. Since the late 1960s The Refectory had been host to Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Elton John and The Rolling Stones to name but a few, and John had played there with Sandy Denny in November 1972 as well as a solo performance in October 1973. One of the most famous live albums ever made was recorded there on 14th February 1970; The Who, Live in Leeds. There must have been something about playing at Leeds in the 1970s that brought the best out of musicians; it certainly brought the best out of The Who and John!
Engineers Burns and Pickering were parked outside in a trailer, some distance from the performance hall connected by a multitude of cables but unable to communicate with the musicians inside! “Hello you chaps out there in the recording studio this is me JM talking to you! There’s no way I can talk to you. Is there? Can I get a pair of headphones clued up to the fucking recording mob? Can I? I want to hear them, they might be speaking about me my behind my back in front of my very nose! Silence please, good luck studio here we go…”
The tiny dressing room resembled an off licence, with barely enough space for the booze and a few chairs never mind the entire band! But what it lacked in facilities it more than made up for with its reputation for top bands and a great atmosphere.
“No beer, don’t be ridiculous man there must be some mistake!”
Sharing the stage and dressing room with John was drummer John Stevens who was born in West London, England on 10th June 1940. Stevens had an outstanding reputation as a leading free jazz drummer and is widely known for his work with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble that he co-founded in the mid 1960s with Trevor Watts. Stevens (who died on 13th September 1994) was a gifted percussionist and cornet player, and by the mid 1960s was regularly playing at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. Stevens loved to improvise and explore music and this brought him to John’s attention as well as through their mutual friendship with the renowned saxophonist Dudu Pukwana. “I was invited to play with John Martyn. That was influential and refreshing. I’ve always been glad to get opportunities to play outside the pettiness of the official jazz scene where I’m normally associated.”
“John William Stevens on the stand please… oh my dear boy, oh… what a fucking great little geezer he turned out to be after all.”
Stevens was predominantly jazz and blues influenced but his interest in music embraced many different genres including African traditional music. When he wasn’t playing he would share the benefit of his ability and expertise by teaching. As part of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Stevens released a number of free form jazz albums, the first entitled Challenge was released in 1966 and he later went on to form John Stevens Away and the John Stevens Dance Orchestra. Having enjoyed touring with John, Stevens invited him to contribute to some of his own projects. Inspired by the opportunity for musical exploration John accepted the invitation and on 30th March 1976 Anni was recorded and subsequently released later that year as a single on the Vertigo label. John played guitar and sang lead vocal, the single comprised Anni Part 1 on the A side and, you’ve guessed it, Anni Part 2 on the B side. In 1979 John again joined John Stevens for a live performance with his dance orchestra for the Camden Jazz Festival at The Roundhouse in London on 23rd October, and subsequently recorded the songs Daffodils, Some People, Home and The Birds for the album A Lua Continua.
“Let’s hear it for Ginger! Man he really lays it down!”
John recalled, “There were thousands of things you learnt with John Stevens. A complex character. I liked him because he had a spiritual thing about him. The last time I worked with him, he said ‘We’ll all sit down, and sing a note, the note that you’re most comfortable with’. Some of us sang better than others and we came to this chord that we all liked. ‘Right, that’s the chord we’re going to write the piece about. Could you all remember the note you played?’ OK, write it down on the piano. Bang, bang, bang, and you’re off. No emotional commitment! But there obviously is an emotional commitment, because you would be singing the note you were singing at the time; you must have a purpose. I liked him for that. Spontaneity is what I learnt from John Stevens. Nice guy, sadly missed. People misunderstood him, they misread him. Some people would see him as an arrogant little bastard at times, never thought of anyone but himself. I knew him, he was a gentle motherfucker, wouldn’t raise his hand to a mouse, to a tiger, to a door, somebody else would do it for him. Others are going, ‘He’d give you the shirt off his back.’ And both things are true.”
“Quiet Stevens! Quiet! See that? Instant control!”
Rock guitarist Paul Kossoff joins John for the last three songs of the concert; So Much in Love with You, Clutches and Mailman. Paul Francis Kossoff was born in London, England, on 14th September 1950 and studied classical guitar before discovering blues and rock music in the 1960s. Kossoff purchased a Gibson Les Paul, which subsequently become his trademark guitar and began playing in a local band called Black Cat Bones, through which he became good friends with drummer, Simon Kirke. Kirke and Kossoff later formed Free along with vocalist Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser. The newly formed band was mentored by British blues legend Alexis Korner and they soon established their own distinct sound with a gritty blend of high energy rock and blues. Kossoff developed into an outstanding, fluid and melodic guitarist renowned for his bluesy riffs. Free released two albums, 1968s Tons of Sobs and 1969s self-titled release but commercial success eluded them and as a result Kossoff grew disillusioned.
Free’s third album Fire and Water was released in 1970 and included the hit single All Right Now that was to become one of the all time classic rock standards and helped to secure the group a spot at the esteemed 1970 Isle of Wight Festival alongside top artists and bands including Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. After the release of a fourth album Highway in 1971 the group split only to reform in 1972. However, Kossoff had developed a dangerous dependency on drugs which started to blight his talent and contributed to the band breaking up for good in July 1973.
Having both signed to Island Records in the 1960s, the early 1970s found John and Kossoff with the same manager, Johnny Glover, and the two met on tour in Scandinavia. They both admired each others music and became good friends. John had seen Free in concert on a number of occasions and had bought Alright Now on its release. Unbeknown to John, his respect for Kossoff’s musicianship was reciprocated; Kossoff had a poster of John on his living room wall!
“Kossy Wossy… Oh Crème de Menthe an all… I tell ya this man’s been hustling for Crème de Menthe like all night…he’s been going I must have Crème de Menthe, I’m not going on without Crème de Menthe its ridiculous they can’t deprive me of Crème de Menthe!”
In September 1971 John went into the studio to record a single of May You Never and invited Kossoff to join him. At the time John didn’t like the way the recording was progressing and in one session told the band, “let’s just leave it and come back to it, its not quite cohesive.” John left the producer “Robin somebody or other” to overdub and put it together. The single was released in November 1971, and smiling John recalls that it, “sold four copies!” John told me, “John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick played keyboards and Kossie played guitar…” Whilst Kossoff certainly played in a number of recording sessions in September 1971 on listening to the single his trademark playing is not audible (to this writer). However the same sessions in September 1971 with the other members of Free provided some superb music; Time Away that subsequently appeared on Kossoff’s solo album Back Street Crawler released in 1973, a full 38 minute version of the same song, a version of May You Never and the song Leslie Jam that appear on the Deluxe Edition of Back Street Crawler released in 2008.
Although Kossoff took part in the Solid Air studio sessions during 1972 he did not appear on the finished album, however the two were now close friends and John occasionally played Free songs at his own concerts, a favourite being A Little Bit of Love that he performed solo at The Sundown, Mile End, London on 26th November 1972 as well as some of his other live shows.
“Nice one Koss… beautiful man, sensitive!”
Rob Wynn was now managing John, and although there were concerns about Kossoff’s health, he was in a more positive frame of mind and fitter than he had been, and so it was decided that he would join John on stage at each of the concerts for two or three songs, and after discussion So Much In Love With You, Clutches and Mailman were selected as the most suitable songs for Kossoff’s distinguished and unique sound. It had been sometime since Kossoff had played in public and news spread quickly courtesy of the music press that he was to accompany John. Kossoff said, “John asked me if I’d like to do a few songs with him at the end of each of his sets on his tour. I said yes, but I was frightened of gettin’ back up there; it turned out to be exactly the tonic I needed at that time.”
Although he was supposed to play at all the venues on the tour his health and state of mind didn’t allow and so the first night of the tour got underway at Lancaster University without Kossoff. In fact fans had to wait until the ninth date of the tour to see Kossoff, when he finally joined the band on 30th January 1975 at Bristol University.
“Any of you who fancy short arse Jewish guitar players are in!”
In the months that followed the tour 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 destructive addiction took its toll and his health worsened considerably. A little over a year after this concert was recorded he died of heart failure on 19th March 1976 aboard a flight to New York aged just 25 years old.
A grief stricken John wrote the powerful and poignant Dead on Arrival (available on the Deluxe Edition of Grace and Danger) about his friend.
High in a plane, no pain, nowhere to go;
Broken black days you talk to the radio.
You’re dead on arrival, child, and it’s such a shame,
But there’s nobody else in the world but yourself to blame.
And all you ever wanted to be,
Was a heavy young man.
John said of Kossoff, “A very difficult character to deal with. And very, very sweet, very pleasant, very witty and very bright. But a highly volatile character. And very, very shy…and it seemed so sad.”
The last member of the band, bassist Danny Thompson, will be more familiar to John’s fans having made his ‘debut’ playing on the song New Day on John and Beverley Martyn’s The Road To Ruin album released in November 1970.
“Danny Tompkins on bass, DT, the original DT!”
Danny was born in Teignmouth, Devon, England on 4th April 1939 and moved to Battersea in London as a 6 year old. As a youngster Danny tried playing guitar, mandolin, trumpet and trombone before settling on double bass (so called because it is two full octaves lower than the Viola) and unable to afford a bass Danny built his own out of a tea chest, with piano wire for strings and hinges so that it was collapsible and he could carry it around on the bus. I asked Danny why the double bass? “I tried everything else but when I got hold of it that was it.”
Danny was inspired by listening to black blues on the radio. The Voice of America and the Alan Lomax Blues Programme were particularly influential. “The main influence when I was a kid was the blues and especially Big Bill Broonzy,” Danny told me. “Like all fourteen year old kids we got a band together, my mate Paddy on mandolin and guitar, and me on tea-chest bass.”
Danny went on to play with the leading Jazzers of the day such as Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott and Alexis Korner as well as playing for Roy Orbison, Freddie and the Dreamers, The Searchers, and The Beatles, who were just starting to make a name for themselves.
“He’s quite witty actually our boy here, Tompkins on bass, I don’t know if you’ve sussed it yet but the group was chosen for its looks, got Rasputin on drums and fucking old Father whatsisname…”
In 1967 Danny was a founder member of Pentangle a landmark band in the development of British folk-rock and one of the first super groups that enjoyed great success producing some acclaimed albums particularly 1969s Basket Of Light. Danny left Pentangle in 1972 and became an ever present both on the stage and in the studio with John for the remainder of the decade.
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.”
Off the stage they became great friends, sharing a mutual passion for fishing and living life to the full! Danny told me about one particular fishing trip, “We were driving from Exeter to Bristol, just the two of us on the road, and he said, “I fancy doing a bit of fishing”. So we pulled into this village and we found this fishing shop. Now I know nothing about fishing. And there was this unbelievable rod, which means nothing to me, a rods a rod. So we both go into this shop, and he starts saying to this bloke, “I want that rod, and this, and that”. And the bloke says, “Sorry it’s not for sale”. He took an immediate dislike to us because he thought we were ‘oiks’. So John says, “You think I’m not a genuine fisherman or something! That is a so and so rod. If you like I’ll tie you a Spring Mayfly!” And there and then he picks some dust up off the floor and makes this fly for the bloke in the shop, and then starts talking about stuff that means absolutely nothing to me. And the bloke is absolutely stunned. He ended up getting the rod out of the window, flogging it to him, cash. John bought the gear said “Where’s the nearest bit of fishing round here?” The bloke says, “There’s this lake, go and see the Bailiff, his name’s so and so”. So we went up to this place and I thought right I’ll just sit here and watch him do this pathetic activity. So John started fishing, doing all this fly stuff. So I sat on the riverbank and said, “That’s so easy”, John turned round and said “You what!” “It’s so easy, all it is is timing, all it is is rhythm. It’s so easy”. He said, “Do you think you could do it?” I went charging down the riverbank and said “give us it here” he said “careful son, you don’t know what you’re doing”. I said, “Just give me the rod!” I dragged it off him and he said, “Now be careful” and I said “just go away!” I cast and the fly went rip, and it got stuck right in my cheek. So there I am, standing there holding this rod with this fishing line stuck in my cheek. Now I thought nothing much about it and said “John, get it out of me” and he said “I can’t! because what you’re supposed to do is to push the hook through, cut the barb off and then take it out, and I haven’t got any tools with me” So I said “just pull it out”, and he said “It’ll take half your face off” So I said “I can’t drive with it sticking out of me face like this” He said “You’ll have to do it” So I thought right, and I went like that, but I knew I couldn’t, as I knew when it was going to happen but if John did it, then I wouldn’t. So I said “I’ll just look at that blackbird sitting up in that tree, and you do it when I’m not thinking about it” So of course I didn’t have to say anymore to John, he went “alright”. BANG! And I went “there you go, brilliant”. He said “No, the hook’s still in your face”. He broke the line and broke the top of the hook off. The he said “you’ll be alright, it’ll just get into your blood stream, go round your body get to your heart and you’ll die in about two years and you won’t know anything about it”. The hooks still in there, when it gets cold you can see a blue hook in my cheek!”
On the road their reputation for hell raising and high jinks was second to none, more rock and roll than rock and roll itself.
“Here Dan this mic’s getting leary with me!”
John recalls, “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.”
“When you get outside Dan there’s two motors but don’t get in the second one cos it ain’t there!”
The twinkle in Danny’s eye is accompanied by a mischievous grin as he recounts a story to me about a gig in Hull. “We had a fight in Hull, a real fight in a hotel and he had two black eyes and his thumb was in a bandage because I got hold of it as he does all these dirty tricks! He was shouting and screaming about doing the gig and so on. I had some superficial damage and we came out on to the stage and he sat down with his Martin. We hadn’t said a word because we really had the needle with each other. I went up to the mic and said, ‘Old Black Eyes is back!’ And he just cracked up!”
John recalled another anecdote about a gig in Bolton, “We were always having bets with each other. We bet either one of us wouldn’t have the nerve to take off an article of clothing between each song. So we just did and needless to say we ended up naked. The audience loved it; there were about 700 people. It was good because Danny could hide behind his double bass and I could hide behind the guitar…It was alright!”
There was no break in the fun and games for this concert at Leeds and fortunately the band remained fully clothed! John rehearsed late in the afternoon accompanied by Danny and John Stevens. Kossoff was expected but he clearly had other ideas! “Where the fuck is Kos?” John asks on more than one occasion! “It’s a fucking weird scene thinking that there’s a fucking machine out there fucking taping it all, I tell ya it’s very weird thinking about this shit.” Humour was the order of the day and John Burns annotated one of the Leeds concert reel to reel tapes, “It should be noted for posterior-erity that Koss came into the truck and did a great big TIHS in the loo which we can’t get rid of…. This will cost extra of course.”
The eventful day continued with banter, music and alcohol all in abundance and that was before the gig! Kossoff was drinking Crème de Menthe straight from the bottle and John and Danny were enjoying their usual tipple, The Quadruple Duple as they called it!
John Burns recalls, “The booze was flowing well before the gig, the difference between John and Kos was that John seemed to have an infinite capacity for drinking and no matter how much he drank or smoked he could still play and sing superbly. I remember Kossoff getting involved in a fight… he had a bloodied nose.”
Allan Jones was there to cover the gig for the New Musical Express and recalled Kossoff returning to the dressing room wailing in pain and bleeding from the nose and lip. John asked what was going on and Kossoff replied he has been set upon by a gang of homicidal students and was lucky to escape with his life! John and Danny dashed out of the door to the student union bar lead by Kossoff where he pointed an accusing finger at a skinny student enjoying a quiet drink hand in hand with his girlfriend. “He’s the one that hit me,” Kossoff shrieked. John, who was more than ready to sort him out, said, “He’s not a fucking gang,” and asked the trembling student, “What’s going on?” It turned out that Kossoff had drunkenly groped his girlfriend and he had given Kossoff a shove that sent the guitarist tumbling down some steps. Unimpressed, both John and Danny gave Kossoff a whack on the head and made their way back to the dressing room laughing.
For the first time this Deluxe Edition of Live at Leeds allows us to enjoy the full concert in its entirety, never previously released on either vinyl or CD, the superb music and magical vibe of Live at Leeds is considered by many to be the epitome of a 1970s John Martyn concert. John embarks on an intense musical exploration of the underbelly of the human psyche playing his Martin acoustic guitar, using, “Just the average stuff, Gibson Boomer pedal, an Electro Harmonix Big Muff, Fender amp, echoplex and a phase shifter. Nothing exotic really.” Hmm nothing exotic to you John!
“Right chaps don’t mess about, stop laughing and giggling listen there’s no enjoying yourself that’s absolutely against the rules, serious music don’t fuck about!”
John starts the concert to a full house with May You Never, beautiful in its time defying simplicity, May You Never is a touching song of compassion, later dedicated to John’s adopted son Wesley but originally written in 1971 for “a fat Greek friend of mine called Andy who’s a good geezer.” Andy is of course Andy Matheou who ran Les Cousins in the basement at 49 Greek Street in London’s Soho. Les Cousins became known for its all night music sessions and was favoured by John and other innovative musicians who were less welcome in more purist traditional folk clubs. We are then treated to the most sublime and uncompromising rendition of Outside In. A transcendental meditation of love, supplemented with John’s investigation into the possibilities of electro-acoustic guitar, ablaze with distorted explorations and exaltations. John told me “It’s my attempt at spirituality.”
Is it love, is this love, love…
Is that love, that’s love, love, love…
It must be, it has got to be
As if to demonstrate the dichotomy of John’s music in just two songs, Outside In is followed by Spencer the Rover, John’s reworking of the traditional folk ballad “Spencer the Raver” or “Spencage the Ravage” as John liked to call it.
We then move fluidly through the next three songs. A stunning vocal outpouring of loss and desolation from John in Make No Mistake is accompanied by Stevens’ superb musicianship driving purposefully forward before the short instrumental Beverley with some formidable bowing by Danny. John’s voice is again filled with torment in Bless The Weather as he sings about the very things that most of us spend so much time in denial about; the things that have hurt us. We hide them from ourselves and the world around us, attempting to lock the suffering away in a vault deep inside us just to get through the day, frightened it might escape and penetrate the protective shield we have built.
My Baby Girl is Johns’ achingly tender and beautiful song of unequivocal parental love and hope for his daughter Mhairi who was born in February 1971. John sings of her innocent carefree days with nothing to face but the future, a magical dream like interlude before the business of living starts in earnest.
John’s outstanding abilities as a musician and lyricist successfully capture excitement, hope and youthful vibrancy in You Can Discover, the delightful melody and simple lyrics are seductive and life affirming in their celebration of love. A beautiful sadness then returns as John performs the anthemic Solid Air. Written when John was just 24 years old Solid Air is a truly amazing masterpiece and an extraordinarily mature statement of heartfelt sadness, sung with poignancy and compassion for one so young.
The tumultuous and rousing I’d Rather Be the Devil is both hair raising and breathtaking in its sheer power and energy, coupled with superlative playing by the band and aggressive vocals from John.
Paul Kossoff then joins John for our last three songs, the first of which is a particular favourite of mine, So Much in Love with You. John’s voice reveals his inner turmoil set against the backdrop of Kossoff’s soaring guitar as he sings of his hope, love and happiness. Sometimes it feels like the only thing there is to say is “I love you” but it’s too easy to forget and understand its meaning.
There’s no hint of compromise on the funky and potent Clutches as John dissects a relationship.
She got me, yeah, she got me
In her clutches
Every kind of clutches
The band then leave the stage before the insistent ovation brings them back for an encore of Mailman. John’s gritty blues vocal is accompanied by Kossoff’s vivacious guitar work and clearly enjoying it, John urges him to play one more riff.
Spontaneity and innovation are the main stay of Live at Leeds and John’s natural impulsiveness, curiosity and unpredictability adds an extra dimension to the superb musicianship captured in this recording. John and his band all play from the heart, there’s no false emotion and no attempt to blind the listener with technique, though there can be no doubt about the dazzling technique of all; the musicianship is outstanding and they retain their sense of humour and wit throughout. The additional songs from the rehearsal are no exception and feature, albeit briefly, Kossoff playing Danny’s double bass!
Despite recording the concert Island Records didn’t think the time was right for a live album and expressed no interest in releasing it. John disagreed and so, with Islands blessing, he produced, designed and marketed Live at Leeds on his own. To the credit of Island Records they even arranged for EMI to press the records on John’s behalf, few record companies would have done that!
When John listened to the concert tapes he felt that Kossoff’s playing was erratic and not to his usual high standard so he decided to cut the songs that Kossoff played on from the original album release. John recalls,” I remember actually rejecting the stuff – because it was a weird band at the best of times. I only really put Kossoff in to help him get back on the stage; because he wasn’t too confident….it was a weird band because upright bass and very heavy Les Paul very distorted, is a strange combination. It didn’t actually work that well for me.”
The album was mixed at Basing Street Studios by Rhett Davies assisted by Dave Hutchins on 1st June 1975, with further editing and mixing in August 1975. The original album sold by John and Beverley from their front door comprised of six songs that were chosen from the concert, or so I thought!
It is always an interesting journey of discovery researching and compiling a release such as this one. Without doubt the most enjoyable part for me is the enormous pleasure of listening to music that has not been heard and enjoyed for many years (if at all) since it was recorded and archived. There are often a few surprises that come to light but none more so than this one!
After extensive research of the tape archive and records I was startled to discover that only three of the six songs are in fact from the original concert! One of those, The Man in the Station, is taken from the rehearsal and overdubbed with an alternative vocal from John! Only Make No Mistake (that also includes Beverley) and Bless The Weather are from the Leeds concert itself. Solid Air, I’d Rather be the Devil and Outside In were all recorded at different venues! In disbelief and with the aid of a glass of “Daddy’s Little Medicine” I checked again and confirmed my findings. So thirty five years later we now know that the original Live at Leeds was half Leeds and half London! But why were the original concert performances of Solid Air, I’d Rather be the Devil and Outside In substituted? Perhaps John wasn’t happy with them and thought the other performances better? Perhaps John didn’t know that different performances of the same songs were used? Why was The Man in the Station from the rehearsal included when there are other songs from the concert that could have been used? After all these years I suspect we may never know.
No matter, the original Live at Leeds remains an incredible document of John’s music in 1975 and is now complimented by this release of the unabridged deluxe Live at Leeds concert just as it was on the night! Both have been painstakingly remastered by Paschal Byrne of The Audio Archiving Company, and the original album is now available exclusively to download.
The album was marketed on a shoe string budget and in John’s apparently inimitable style the advert in Melody Maker on 13th September 1975 read “Look ‘ere, I’ve made this album. Now keep schtum and don’t tell de uvver mob. Just send free quid as soon as you like to my gaff and my latest live waxing can be yours!” However John was less than impressed when he saw the advertisement and was further enraged to see that a reply coupon had been added! John’s decision to distribute his own album proved not to be as easy as he hoped when, having advertised the release, EMI produced unsatisfactory ‘jumping’ test pressings way behind schedule. The problem was soon solved and John sold the limited edition of 10,000 by mail order for the princely sum of £2.50p plus 50p postage and packing, and from his own front door in Cobourg Place, Old Town, Hastings. Even John didn’t have a copy of the original. “I sold them all; it was very profitable for me. I mean every morning for months I woke and then was another couple of thousand quid lying on the floor. It was wonderful. It was also a nightmare. I never worked so hard in my life, opening all those letters, having to personally reply to every one of them, making sure all the right letters went into all the right envelopes. Dear Frederick, or was it Cecil? Woburn…but I learned a lot from that …it was very effective, I was the first of the record independents! It was great. Terribly hard work though…I would never do it again. The only way to do it would be to hire people to take care of everything; it was just too difficult for me and Bev. It didn’t help matters either when there was a three week delay between the time EMI said they’d deliver the albums and the time they actually arrived. I was on tour when it came out, so Bev had to handle most of the work on her own”.
The album cover was plain white with the words John Martyn Live at Leeds in the style of a Post Office franking mark in black on the top left. The rear of the sleeve was even less informative! No track listing, no information whatsoever with the exception of “LIMITED EDITION NUMBER:” at the very bottom. The centre labels were again plain white with the track listing in black print. No photographs, no artistic composition and no narrative. John wanted his music to be the sole focus, to speak for itself without distractions. The simplicity of the sleeve was in stark contrast to John’s recent releases and indicative of his wish to have control of his music; his rebellious statement against the control that many record companies wielded over his peers. The sleeve was strikingly similar to that of The Who’s Live in Leeds with its blue franked title on plain brown card, although John’s choice was white, a sign of purity, innocence of the soul and virtue perhaps?
Despite limited marketing Live at Leeds quickly sold out and The New Musical Express announced on 8th November 1975 that, “Live at Leeds has now sold out its limited edition of 10,000 copies. As a result no further orders can be taken.”
Many of the copies were numbered and individually signed by John;
“Sorry to be so long, John and Bev”.
“Sorry it’s late, E.M.I. fucked the 1st pressing up, Godblessyer, John Martyn.”
“Cheers Dave Godblessyer. John Martyn.”
Before deciding on the album name and unadorned cover John had considered naming it Ringside Seat and wanted some photographs for the release. John went to the famous Thomas A’ Becket boxing gym in London’s Old Kent Road accompanied by Danny Thompson. A friend of Danny’s called Neville kitted them out in shorts and gloves for what should have been play-fighting. Having had a tough upbringing in Glasgow, where “you went out and kicked a few heads or you were looked on as a pansy” John was more than capable of looking after himself but what he didn’t know was that Danny had been regimental boxing champion during his National Service! John got carried away and stuck a few punches on Danny’s chin. Danny told me, “I said if you hit me again I’m really gonna whack you. So Neville tried to intervene because John’s a street fighter not a boxer, so John hit me again and I hit him and then there’s real blood flowing down! He never did show me the photos!” Not to be out done John landed a few more punches and one of the photographs tells the story with blood flowing from a cut on Danny’s eye!
I asked Danny if he had listened to Live at Leeds recently and what he thought of it after all these years, Danny told me, “this is unbelievably good, I think the playing on it is amazing, the dressing room was awash with crème de menthe and brandy! I would still stand up today and say that is a great live gig.”
Live at Leeds captures the intensity, excitement and atmosphere of the evening perfectly. The day itself seems extraordinary now but at the time it was normality for John. John was a man of extreme contradictions, he gave an enormous amount both as a friend and through his music but he also demanded a lot too. He could be one of the most charming, intelligent, interesting and compassionate of people but could also be one of the most difficult. This alienated some who fell out with him but such was their love that they nearly always came back keeping to a slightly further distance. John’s enthusiasm, inexhaustible energy and love of music and life infected everybody who became close to him, he loved music, and wanted to make as much as possible. “I don’t see myself as being anything other than a working musician. If I wasn’t, I’d die. I’d die of sheer fucking boredom. I intend to die in harness, and I will do this until I die.”
John’s music progressed naturally in the opposite direction to the norm! He was spontaneous, inventive and uncompromising. This explosive combination resulted in superb musical creations both as a solo artist and then with his band, music in which each musician’s part was distinctive and everyone listened, leaving space for each other to express themselves. Over thirty five years later the raw power, energy and brilliance of John’s music has never been bettered as a live performance. The passion is genuine. His unique vocal phrasing and guitar playing is second to none. John is effortlessly making the music he loves with a fusion of styles that is not conscious or contrived; it’s what comes naturally to him. John continued to make music in the same way until he sadly passed away on 29th January 2009.
Hidden behind the antics and public persona, hidden behind his protective shield, when everything is stripped away, the message from John through his music is clear;
Life is meaningless, love makes it bearable…