Live In Nottingham 1976

John Martyn’s music is beautiful – it will almost certainly affect your life. Art, passion and spirituality are at the heart of it all and in the heart of the man himself. His songs are complex and powerful, yet remaining delicate, they prove to be the most irresistible lure to his vociferous and evangelical fan base.

By any measure John’s incredible guitar playing and effortless melodic sense make him one of the most outstanding artists in modern music. His music has constantly evolved with the idiosyncratic guitar tunings that moved him apart from his native folk tradition in the 1960s/70s to his latest material this millennium predominantly written on keyboards. As if to demonstrate this evolutionary process at the time of this gig in 1976 John rarely played songs from any of his first four albums.

Martynites may be forgiven for thinking “not another live gig on CD” but there is plenty of added value in this release to even the most comprehensive collections of his music. Martynites old and new will enjoy the previously unreleased Dead On Arrival and an early rendition of John’s ‘Val Doonican’ song One For The Road, subsequently reworked and released on the outstanding 2004 album On The Cobbles.

We join John playing a solo benefit gig for Liquorice magazine on 29th October 1976 at Nottingham. John performs My Baby Girl, written for his daughter Mhairi who was born in February 1971 and Spencer The Rover, which he later dedicated to his son Spenser who was born in May 1975. Both songs are taken from Sunday’s Child released in January 1975 an album described by John as, “the family album, very happy, purely romantic.”

John toured extensively in 1975 accompanied by Danny Thompson on double bass, John Stevens on drums and occasionally Paul Kossoff on guest guitar to promote Sunday’s Child (check out Live At Leeds, One World Records, 1998) which includes 5 bonus tracks, with Paul Kossoff playing guitar on So Much In Love With You, Clutches and Mailman). John and Kossoff had met in Scandinavia years earlier when they had both been touring and now shared the same manager. In 1971 John went into the studio to record a version of May You Never featuring drums and back-up guitar. John recalls, “ John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick played keyboards and Kossie played guitar…” John didn’t like the way the recording had turned out and left the producer to overdub and piece it all together. May You Never was released as a single in 1971 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!” says John and it certainly does in this gig even though John makes the audience (and one particularly over enthusiastic fan) wait until near the end! Kossoff and Martyn cemented their friendship during the recording session in 1971 and jammed together feeding of each others creativity resulting in the incredible 18 minute long instrumental Time Spent/ Time Away only recently unearthed and released on the Songs Of Yesterday Boxed Set by Free. A short version Time Away appeared on Kossoff’s Back Street Crawler album in 1973. John admired Free’s music and even performed Little Bit Of Love live when he played The Sundown, Mile End Road, London E3 on 26th October 1972.

They remained good friends and 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 Cobourg Place, Old Town, Hastings. Sadly Kossoff’s battle against drug addiction was unsuccessful and he died on 19th March 1976 of heart failure aboard a flight to New York.

“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.” A grief stricken John wrote the powerful and poignant Dead On Arrival about Kossoff and performs it here only a few months after his death.

Live In Nottigham 1976Dead On Arrival

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.

Somebody says: ‘Go west, young man, go west.’
You keep on travelling ’til your head can’t find no rest.
The man on your case says he’s trying to understand.
You’re sick to your soul ’cause you know that he don’t give a damn.

And all he
Wants you
To be is a
Heavy young man.

Too young for small time, you’re big time in no time at all.
Biding your time everywhere, you make time for them all.
The man by your side brings you here for just one more show;
But you’re dead on arrival, fast fade and nowhere to go.
And all you
Ever wanted
To be was a
Heavy young man.

Less than eighteen months earlier John had lost another close friend Nick Drake who was found dead in his bedroom in his parents’ house after apparently taking an overdose of antidepressant medication on 25th November 1974. Drake’s gentle introverted character and struggle with depression was the inspiration for the title track to John’s album Solid Air released in 1973.

You’ve been painting it blue,
You’ve been living on solid air.
You’ve been seeing it through
And you’ve been living on solid air.
I don’t know what’s going on in your mind;
But I can tell you don’t like what you find
When your living on
Solid air, solid air.

I know you, I love you;
And I’ll be your friend,
I could follow you – anywhere.
Even through solid air.

John said, “We lived very close to each other. He lived in one part of Hampstead, and I lived just up the road. Erm, very quiet lad, extremely personal and charming when necessary, handsome to a devastating effect … delicately witty, but he just became more and more withdrawn as time went by. He went to Paris and spent a lot of time there, he went to the country, he came and lived with me in various locations, and was just distinctly unhappy in al of them. I think he distrusted the world. He thought it didn’t quite live up to his expectations.”

Both Dead On Arrival and One For The Road (or One For The River as it was originally titled) appeared on John’s November 1976 demo tape for his album One World but neither songs appeared on the final album released in November 1977. One For The Road is a song about the exciting innocence and discovery of new love.

One For The Road

Well if you know what love is, will you tell me if you can;
I thought it was a woman and I thought it was a man.
But is it one for the road, one for the river flowing?
Or is it one for the tree and one for the fruit a-growing.

I met her in the morning and we thought it was worthwhile.
I helped her over hedges and she helped me over stiles.
Well is it one for the road, one for the river flowing?
Or is it one for the tree, one for the fruit a-growing.

Well if you live with lovers, you can leave them all behind.
But if you live without them, sure it helps your heart and mind.
And is it one for the road, one for the river flowing?
And is it one for the tree and one for the fruit a-growing.

I met her in the evening and we wanted to be seen
A walking out together just the way we’d always been.
And is it one for the road, one for the river flowing?
Or is it one for the tree and one for the fruit a-growing.

Well if you know what love is, will you tell me if you can;
I thought it was a woman and I thought it was a man.
Well is it one for the road, one for the river flowing?
Or is it one for the tree and two for the fruit a-growing.

Or is it one for the road, one for the river flowing
Or is it one for the road, one for the river flowing
Or is it one for the road, one for the river flowing

John finishes with I’d Rather Be The Devil, a reworking of the song by Nehimiah ‘Skip’ James, “My favourite blues player. The original is so delicate. You get this contrast between these wicked lyrics –vicious things to say ‘I’d rather be the devil than be by woman’s man,’ and this almost classical, minuettish guitar style,” and what has become the ultimate chill out track… Solid Air.

Music? Food for the heart and soul…

John Hillarby