Status Quo v John!

In the early 70’s I purchased JM’s album Bless The Weather solely on the premise of the wonderfully poetic cover art. Needless to say, the contents matched the cover. A little later John materialized in person in Finland, as a opening act for Free, no less. I couldn’t believe my luck. He performed stunningly, and the mix in the concert hall was faultless as he ran his acoustic guitar through the PA as well as his famed echoplex unit. For his last tune (it might have been the last encore) he chose a blues tune that to my regret can’t remember. But he somehow got his acoustic to distort just like an electric, and proceeded to play in the dry but driving style of Paul Kossoff. The groove he built up was unbelievably infectious, and he managed to completely upstage the Kossoff -less Free who came on later (the mighty Kossoff having “left the building” some while back). The memory of that night manages to give me chills to this day, I’ve never heard an primarily folk -based acoustic troubadour do anything remotely like it since that. A little later he turned up in Finland again, this time for the outdoors Ruisrock -festival, by the sea in the beautiful archipelago that surrounds the city of Turku. Other artists at that festival were Vinegar Joe, featuring Elkie Brooks and Robert Palmer, Roy Wood’s Wizzard, Status Quo, and the Finnish progrock/fusion band Tasavallan Presidentti that also was making a minor splash over in England. At the time I was working as a label manager for EMI Finland, and I was assigned to meet Vinegar Joe (I think) at the Turku airport. While attending to my duties I noticed that nobody at all was around to meet John Martyn who stumbled out of the plane all on his lonesome. This I thought was completely scandalous, whereupon I took it upon myself to greet him as well, even though I wasn’t in any way affiliated with his record company. I offered to help him in any way I could, just as a translator, if nothing else. Turned out JM arrived in Finland horny as hell, and his first priority was to find a suitable female to copulate with. Adamantly, he insisted that he had to get this taken care of before he could function properly. I was slightly taken aback, informed him that I probably couldn’t help him on that score, but that I looked forward to his performance later. 

The next day I was sitting on the beach, in the VIP -quarters enclosed by a fence, right before the stage erected close to the water. Tasavallan Presidentti were deep into their set, led by famed guitarist Jukka Tolonen. Their performance was blistering, but consisted of the kind of jazz-fusion that was closer to Zappa and King Crimson than straight ahead rock. The press and the other artists were sitting peacefully on the sand, protected by a wire fence that kept the (paying) rabble at a safe distance from the proceedings. Somewhere along the line, this elitist setting irked the ire of the members of Status Quo, who were also, quite loudly, participating in the proceedings. That is, they proceeded to heckle Tasavallan Presidentti, shouting “BOOGIE” at the band all the time, especially during Tolonen’s solos. Boogie of course being something that this particular band rarely did at that point. But could have, since 3/4 of the band had started out as blues and soul musicians, which the Quo bozos were completely unaware of. Just at the point where the Francis Rossi and his cohorts were becoming really obnoxious, John Martyn raises his butt from the sand, walks over to the Quo -camp, and in no uncertain terms tells them to shut the fuck up and give the musicians on stage the respect they reserved, or get the hell out of there. The moment was quite unforgettable for me, because at the time John was still quite frail of frame, and in his place I would never have dared to confront the assembled Quo -members in the manner that he did. He shouted them down, bless his heart, and not a sound was heard from them after that. On the other hand, when it was time for Status Quo to perform, they encouraged the audience to tear down the fence that separated the paying revelers from the VIP -crowd and the band. Down it came, like the Berlin wall. And that, I think, was a lot more righteous than shouting down Tasavallan Presidentti. But I’ll never forget John Martyn putting a stop to that!

Mikael Wiik