Make No Mistake

I feel compelled to share my feelings about this quintessential John Martyn song.  For many years it was my favourite song, even my personal theme tune, sung from the cliff tops. For me it epitomises all that makes John Martyn so important and so vital. It’s also part of an outstanding emotional outburst called Inside Out that sneaked and roared its way deep into my psyche in the mid-70s.

The song starts with an instantly catchy and smoothly rhythmic intro on John’s acoustic guitar – no echoplex this time – joined by Danny Thompson’s double bass and some shuffling drums and high hats.  The rhythm and tone are blues but tinged with jazz in a shimmering upbeat tradition rather than a complete downer. Then John’s effortless voice drifts in, in mellow mode, do-be-da-ing along with it and he seems to be singing of happiness, but what’s this?  The words are suggesting he could be suicidal!

“If I can’t be a happy man,
I won’t be no one at all.
If I can’t be just who I am,
I won’t let you come to call.”

No, it’s a protest to his lover, demanding his freedom. John wants to be happy, he wants to be loved, but he needs his space.

“I was all right before
I walked through the door
I was all right outside
But inside I had to cry.”

So John was just minding his own business and then walked into trouble with a capital T. Suddenly he’s out of control and his world is thrown into confusion. He compares his outward serenity, matched by the lilting rhythm and tone of the song, with an increased sense of desperation in the second half of the verse. There’s an ambiguity here as well: is he talking about being OK while he was physically outside the door and then crumpling once inside, or is it purely metaphorical, contrasting his exterior with his inner feelings? Sometimes I hear it one way, sometimes another.

He raises his voice to contrast being “all right before” with how he felt after he walked through the door: these last words sung in slightly sharper, not yet staccato bursts, followed by the broken sinking sound of a prolonged “outside” and a sotto voce “but inside I had to cry”.  All is not well, implying the inner turmoil, the questions …  Immediately he’s into describing his roller-coaster emotions and the words are matching the music:

“Low today, high tomorrow,
I see that it’s real.”

John’s still singing smoothly here, but becoming more animated…

“One man’s meat’s another man’s sorrow
Do you know how it feels”

The voice is getting more grave now…

“To be dead drunk”

rasped in his nascent patented growl

“on the floor” – down he goes…
“To get up, to ask for more” – and he’s up and at you, a raging drunk, fighting for his dignity…

“To be lying in the dark
Cry-y-y-y-ing” – deep in the slough of despond, wringing every last depth out of his voice, then straight into the next verse, with Danny’s bass beautifully picking out the lilting rhythm of the piece.

“If I can’t be a peaceful man
I will be who I can
If I can’t get everything I want
I’ll just get what I can (oooh!)”

A selfish, hedonistic philosophy being preached here (but in the song “Look In” the words are belted out in a way that ensures the listener knows John hates that attitude) but then the self-mocking exclamation (printed “strewth!” on the sleeve of Inside Out)….  And then he’s reversing the movement of the first verse. Now he contrasts feeling all right inside with external nervousness and wariness:

“I was all right before
I walked out the door
I was all right inside
But outside I had to look again again again again”

– and now John drifts into free form word play, supported with virtuosity by Danny and co, as he scats into John Coltrane territory (the phrase “A Love Supreme” is no accident), chanting the torment and lust and joy and sorrow of love, soaring and shouting and whispering and cajoling, slithering and sliding and eliding his words into each other, twisting them this way and that to reflect the different meanings. It’s like he’s holding up this wondrous diamond in his hands, to examine from all angles, and finding something different on every facet, something like this:

“Love, again again again and again a love again a love supreme a love supreme a love supreme a love supreme divine, anyway that you want it to be It’s love… It’s love… Love…Love…Love”

and in the background there’s this maelstrom building up with a restrained howling, whining, raging echoed guitar cranking up to meet the frantically strumming Spanish guitar and the bass and drums and then Chris Wood’s sax joins the party and it all comes together and collapses over and over again like waves on the shore and triumphantly he sings again and again:

“Make No Mistake: it’s love, Make No Mistake it’s love!
Divine it’s fine it’s wine it’s time it’s love
Love, Love, Make No Mistake It’s Love… Love… Love … Love”

and it’s wonderful, but then sometimes you think he’s singing “Make No Mistake In Love” and it sounds like a dire warning and the whole thing echoes with menace.  Whatever you get from it, don’t mess with it.  Eat it sleep it drink it but don’t mess with it.

If you don’t get the point, Ways To Cry follows and that tells you what happens when you’re unfaithful, from the pits of his heart ….

Bob Jacobs