The Island Years

The Island Years

Unreleased gems in this 18 disc box confirm the late singer songwriter as a truly original talent.

Daily Mirror
27 September 2013

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The Island Years

The Island Years


Mammoth boxset charting the uncompromising highs and harrowing lows of the folk pioneer.

The Island YearsIn January 2009, shortly after receiving an OBE for services to music, the former lain McGeachy died of pneumonia and kidney failure, aged just 60. With his prodigious capacity for drink and drugs (his heroin and acid periods ran concurrently), the car crash which fractured his neck and the burst cyst which led to his right leg being amputated below the knee, it’s a wonder John Martyn made it that far.

This lovingly packaged box isn’t the whole tale. There were two ’80s albums for Warners sandwiched by Island stints and more after the final parting. This, though, is the music – all the Island albums, plus dozens of extras -for which this most uncompromising of artists will be remembered.

Even on his debut album, 1967’s London Conversation, there were hints of Martyn’s hero Davey Graham, Eastern mysticism, reggae and jazz. A year later, Van Morrison followed the same path on Astral Weeks. By 1971’s Bless The Weather he was paving the warm but wildly experimental path others from Talk Talk to Radiohead would follow, alongside a pastoral streak so deep that much of 1977’s One World was recorded alongside a Berkshire lake. Lyrically, he was equally adept at both the mumbled hush of pure romanticism that sweetened his best-known song, May You Never, and the roar of excruciating pain that drove his harrowing divorce album, Grace And Danger.

When we leave him in 1987 as he departed Island on their unfathomable rejection of The Apprentice, Martyn had established a body of work that defined “uneasy listening.”

Magnificent. *****

John Aizlewood
Q Magazine
1 November 2013

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Grace And Danger

Johnny So Good

HIGH above the ground clutter of the mainstream and well away from the gaudy, jerrybuilt homes of rock folly and fashion, there are musicians who know their own worth and who have convinced enough people of it over the years to both support themselves and retain the interest of a record company. As a result they’re not so put upon by the pressures that conspire to bring down so many of their more ‘successful’ peers, and their music tends to evolve in an unhurried, organic sort of way; it also wears very well, sounding as fresh now as it did when first conceived. John Martyn is one such musician.

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Caught On The Hop
John Martyn, now label-mate with Portishead, has been checking out the Chicago house scene, and revising his wardrobe. Mark Cooper salutes his return to eccentricity.

ONE OF THE GREAT maverick stylists of British music, John Martyn has been out on a limb in recent years, marooned first by some increasingly safe albums for Island in the mid ’80s and then by a deal with Permanent, who appeared to hide everything he recorded. Latterly, he seemed doomed to play out his middle age on an endless circuit of Britain’s town halls and arts centres, raging at his long-suffering fans and churning out increasingly perfunctory readings of the likes of May You Never. Fortunately, Martyn’s finally been picked up by a label which fosters home-grown talent, and promptly returned his best work in many a moon.

Go! Discs seems an appropriate home for a man whose ’70s work anticipated the sparse, spacey funk of the trip hop genre by a mere two decades. Although he started out in the late ’60s folk scene, Martyn’s love affair with black music stretches beyond country blues and there’s traces of ska, dub, Coltrane, Stevie Wonder and hip hop all over And, with the sparse beat of the latter bringing Martyn’s profoundly individual style instantly up to date.

Although Martyn’s renowned as a guitarist, precious little sounds like a guitar here as keyboards float and swoon, the beats drift in and out of the gorgeously languid opener, Sunshine’s Better, and Jerry Underwood’s sax dances around those slurred, blue-eyed vocals Martyn’s in gorgeous and untamed voice throughout—impossibly plaintive on Suzanne as Phil Collins echoes him on the chorus, kicking up a storm on the funky Step It Up. The fresh rhythmic approach also seems to have invigorated Martyn’s song writing, which stretches for one of his most considered pieces in years, Downward Pull Of Human Nature. All that prevents And from being an instant classic are a couple of insubstantial songs and a sense that, occasionally, he’s pulled back from the brink and employed his admittedly unique ’80s AOR style rather than go all the way with the new beats.

Minor reservations aside, And is a timely reminder that Martyn is a stubbornly individual talent, still restlessly ploughing his own particular field, that he still sounds like no-one else and that, yes, he deserves to be both honoured and cherished.

Are you glad to be off Permanent and signed to Go! Discs?
Permanent did me nothing but disfavours. I spent two years in the wilderness, feeling as though I’d been discarded. Go! Discs seem to have the same attitude that Island had when I was starting out; the youth and enthusiasm is a trip and I actually like all their artists, especially Gabrielle!

Did you consciously draw on hip hop for this album?
I don’t make conscious decisions when it comes to music; I just follow my heart. I went to Chicago to play with Buddy Guy and on the way I bumped into all this hip hop shit. Funnily enough, the next album I’m planning is acoustic again.

You’ve had your folkie phase and the suits period, what’s the vibe right now?
I’ve always gone in phases, I my Mod period when I rode around on scooters, my English suburbia thing for The Tumbler.. I’m into my Thelonious Monk period right now, silk suits, berets… In fact, my vibe is to be somewhat outré. A kid walked up to me the other day and asked me, “Was I a Druid?” I was almost offended.

Mark Cooper
1 August 1996

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John Martyn: Old Brewery Breath Is Back.

And WeatheredHe may be 30 years in the business”, 25 albums down the line, and possessed of all the fans his idiosyncratic body of work is ever going to attract, but And. finds John Martyn still out there trowelling on the fuddled charm for anyone who might prove susceptible to his peculiar ways.

He makes his pitch in the opening track, Sunshine’s Better. Despite co-production in America with “young hip hop engineer” Stefon Taylor, there’s no high-five and “Yo! Chill out!” greeting. Instead, as ever, he murmurs, slurs, so intimate you can almost smell the warm brewery breath. His theme: Life, Love, funny old game to be sure. He muses, “If you take my money, if I take your liberty …” It does not, as they say, augur well. A piano quietly ponders, strings sigh, a sax goes where its fancy takes it: ensemble they smooch, they “groove”. What Martyn gives of himself is the weathered warrior, who still can’t work it out and has kiboshed anticipation of ever finding what he seeks but hasn’t stopped caring.

This bruiser’s gentleness is the album’s familiar foundation. It’s even there when he’s obsessing about former lovers, Suzanne and Carmine, or tormented by gossipmongers in Who Are They? (“Tell me what do they say… about you and me?”). Although the thoughts and sounds are dark — especially some skin-prickling keyboard “strings” backdrops — there’s a core of calm acceptance defying vicissitudes.

Contradictions are OK when your thesis is that nothing makes sense. The Downward Pull Of Human Nature reflects bleakly on all manner of everyday turpitude (“Did you ever look sideways at your best friend’s wife?”), without dispelling the comfy ease engendered by Martyn’s conversational delivery and the jazzy drift of his band. The weird girl in A Little Strange is fondled and flattered by a sinuous double bass and Martyn’s insouciant assertion that “I would walk a city mile just to see that silly smile”. She’s more worth than she’s trouble. How nice. Really.

Long-time fans should know that, on this occasion. Martyn’s guitar virtuosity is entirely set aside in favour of the groove. Classy accompanists, including old pal Phil Collins on drums, likewise restrain “expression” in favour of empathy. Meanwhile, the improbable newcomer might choose to ignore all the sagacious codgerly content and explore the hypothesis that, after midnight. And.’s sweet susurrus could be as sexy as the swish of silk underwear.***

Phil Sutcliffe
Q Magazine
1 September 1996

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Martyn has never really topped his two classic albums, ‘Solid Air’ and ‘One World. The first, made in 1973 after a career as an acoustic folkie singer/ songwriter, was a record that experimented with electric blues, vocal phasing and echo effects and which sounded completely out there: the second he recorded in Jamaica with Lee ‘Scratch Perry producing, and it was completely out there.

And VoxAfter languishing in obscurity over the last few years. Martyn has signed to Go! Discs and made one of his most adventurous albums in ages. Recorded in Chicago with young hip-hop producer Stephan Taylor, this could have been a case of mutton dressed as lamb, but in reality its the injection of fresh ideas that his songs need to take life.

Opening track ‘Sunshines Better’ boasts all his hallmarks: lazy. slurred vocals, occasionally bitter and occasionally oblique lyrics, but allied to an almost Tricky-esgue trip-hop beat and Jan Garbarek-like alto sax. The Downward Pull Of  Human Nature’ and ‘Who Are They?’ are equally groundbreaking; you feel that this is the sort of music that Nick Drake would be making, had he lived. Closing track ‘She’s A Lover’ is vintage Martyn – cool arid just a touch angry – and while there’s nothing that will upset the neighbours, it does take some real risks.

Tommy Tide
1 September 1996

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