The Best Of The Island Years

JOHN MARTYN – No Man Is An Island

The Best Of The Island Years

Last year, Universal put out a fantastic 18 disc box set that contained pretty much everything the Scottish troubadour John Martyn released for Island Records between 1967 and ’87. It was a phenomenal achievement, tracing his evolution from the young folkie of London Conversation to the sensitive artist of Sunday’s Child, from the genre hopping muso of One World to the troubled alcoholic of Grace And Danger. Squeezing even more juice from Martyn now comes this four disc collection confusingly called The Best Of The Island Years, but which actually contains a series of alternate takes, unreleased songs and live performances culled from the original 18-disc set.

John Martyn Shindig No43 November 2014This is not a collection for the neophyte Martyn listener; there are plenty of other Martyn comps that can truly be called a Best Of whilst I would personally suggest bypassing the comps and starting off with the albums London Conversation, Bless The Weather, Solid Air and Stormbringer! (recorded with then wife Beverley Martyn). Instead, this collection is for those already au fait with Martyn’s work, who possibly don’t want to shell out a couple of hundred quid for the original box set (it doesn’t contain every unreleased song from the box set by any means, but it’s enough to give one a flavour of the extras contained within).

There are 61 tracks here, and particular highlights include alternate takes of ‘May You Never’ from Solid Air and ‘Couldn’t Love You More’ from One World, live versions of ‘Spencer the Rover’ and `John Wayne’ and unreleased tracks including a rollicking cover of ‘Hi Heel Sneakers’.

So is it worth your money? Well, there’s a whiff of cash-in to the release, an attempt to cream off more moolah from Martyn completists, especially as this new compilation includes photos and memorabilia that weren’t even included in the supposedly definitive set from last year. Still, the music inside is brilliant – of course it is; even John Martyn’s off-cuts are worth more than you average musician’s best work. So whilst this might be designed for the person who simply has to own everything in Martyn’s canon, the contents are beautiful, no matter how well you know his music already.

Tom Patterson
1 November 2014
Shindig No.43

Note: The article is inaccurate in that there are 56 tracks and there are no additional photos and memorabilia. If you have the 18 disc box there is nothing new in this release.