Hatfield Polytechnic

John Martyn

ACE GUITARIST John Martyn attracted a large audience when he played at the Hatfield Polytechnic last week, and, as always, delighted them with the sheer brilliance of his guitar playing and comic interludes.

Accompanied by Danny Thompson on double bass, John switched from acoustic to electric guitars, often using wah-wah, fuzz and echo devices. John Martyn’s approach to a concert evening is both relaxed and humorous, with gorgeous throw away quips such as, “Audience participation — you do the gig and I’ll clap”. And there were other hip parodies. These, combined with his strongly mood infected guitar solos, slurred vocals and Danny Thompson’s excellent, but unobtrusive bass playing, made the concert memorable. Like his Scottish instrumental in which he made the electric guitar sound like bagpipes, the bass meanwhile being used as a drone.

Beginning as an essentially folk guitarist, John, whilst retaining that influence, has widened the scope of his music to include both blues and jazz, and it’s with the latter that Danny Thompson’s playing really comes to the forefront. Other times, John seemed unnaturally restrained in his performance; not so much technically brilliant, as academically masterful, and only the warmth of his music could overcome this criticism.

So it was good he should choose to end with a very loudly electric number. John singing and playing like a real rock and roller, his guitar sounding one moment almost like a Hawkwind synthesizer, and the other like a blues man who’s just discovered electricity. It brought a storm of applause, and of course John and Danny back on stage to play Billy Hilly’s beautiful song, “The Glory Of Love”.

John Sivyer
27 October 1973

Hatfield Polytechnic
12 October 1973

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Town And Country Club

JOHN MARTYN at the Kentish Town, Town And Country Club

Back with a new live album and more hair than before, the uptight king of cool is in primeval form. He stalks the stage in a flasher’s mac, his guitar lurching like a recalcitrant chainsaw, as he reviews his immediate back catalogue.

In a world of hostile planets – the hideous Five Star, the suspicious MARRS, the moustachioed Mercury – such defiant sputniks as John Martyn and Richard Thompson deserve all our support.

“People often say I’m not the full shilling.” Could this stem from his recent witching-hour vomitarium at the Mean Fiddler, a one song disaster? Nothing to trouble the cleaners tonight, thank heavens. Mostly he sticks to the songs on the live album, and when he does go back, it is usually to the One World collection.

But the best deal of the night is Martyn’s rendition of I’d Rather Be The Devil, complete with full echo throttle, which proves that if ambitious tykes like Johnny Marr and Pete Buck aspire to guitar hero status, at least there is a bearded bard from north of the border to oust first.

Other songs, including an inspired marriage of Small Hours and One World, are so damned cool that one wonders if Martyn’s parents conceived him in a Bejam’s store.

David Cavanagh
24 October 1987

13 October 1987
Town And Country Club

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Beverley Martyn turns..

BEVERLEY MARTYN turns the clock back to her early musical loves including jug bands and Memphis Minnie blues, as well as revisiting songs she recorded with her wayward genius former husband, John Martyn, and previewing her forthcoming album in this relaxed, informal hour.

She’s no longer the sweetly wistful singer of the Stormbringer! and The Road to Ruin albums but the years have added character and graininess, making the warnings issued in Women and Malt Whisky all the more sagacious. Her supportive band add backbone and creativity – The Road to Ruin’s Auntie Aviator features a particularly fine guitar solo – and fans of Nick Drake will want to hear how the song they started together, a slightly ravaged Reckless Jane, turned out some 40 years later.

Rob Adams
Herald Scotland
13 August 2013

The Meeting Place
7 August 2013

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Dallas Brooks Hall, Australia

MARGARET Roadknight kicked off with a Dylan song that ‘he never got round to recording’, She played, alone, a range of songs: in between she gave comments about their sources. Her second tune. ‘Lilac Wine’ was rescued from a sinking musical. Its style was operetta, and it showed her voice well. Most exotic was a song from Guinea, chanted to thumb piano accompaniment.

Shades of humor and political consciousness livened up her set. A song for Anita Bryant (“sometimes it hard to love you”) drew belly laughs. Best tunes were Bob Hudson’s melancholy ‘Girls In Our Town’ and the venomously funny ‘Libel.’

Here Bob set out to libel as many people as possible in four verses. Bassist Peter Howell joined her for these two pieces, he added much to her sound.

I am not a fan of Roadknight, but I enjoyed her set very much. She got a good response, and was called back, for an encore.

JOHN Martyn arrived on stage with amber fluid, and started off with echoplex, rhythm generator and ‘Big Muff.’ His onstage persona is gruff: he clowns and satires between songs (“come here Lucille”). When he starts a song, his concentration is total. THe joking was either a distraction, or a necessary relief.

The audience was his from the third song, “Couldn’t Love You More.” The long echoplex vamps left me cold, but the shorter lyrical songs were intense: they had the fidelity of his recordings, and a lot more presence. Each song had a strong riff, and Martyn is a master of varying tempo and attack. ‘Solid Air’ was his best performance.

Despite the lack of backing, the delivery was forceful. He is a superb vocal stylist. Pete Townshend once said he wished that he could move people with a single note. In my opinion Martyn did this in ‘One World.’
When he tries he can project his music very well; I felt at times that he wasn’t trying so hard. Despite some uneven moments, the concert was excellent.

Martyn’s encore was ‘Small Hours’ which was spellbinding. His comment on it was typical — “It can space you out if you catch it the right way .. anything can…”

Michael Aitken
1 July 1978

Dallas Brooks Hall
19 July 1978

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Eric’s, Liverpool

Folk’s answer to Ted Nugent? John Martyn: If he’s too loud then you’re too old!

FOR THOSE of you who do not know, let me merely say this: John Martyn is Britain’s number one singer/songwriter. Absolutely. Without doubt. His fine, unique vocals excellently complement his subtle blend of guitar pyrotechnics. You heard correctly – pyrotechnics! (And if any of you Ted Nugent/Buck Dharma/Ace Frehley fans wanna argue, come right up!).

Sounds 19March 1977After a plea for ‘a bit more juice in the monitors’ (which is only significant in the fact that it commenced a running verbal battle which the guy at the mixing desk which lasted for all of Martyn’s one-and-a-half hour long set) and a final drink out of his ubiquitous bottle of beer, Martyn went straight into an incredible version of ‘One Day Without You.’ Just check out those vocals. Perfection. Next came the highlight (for me, any way) of Martyn’s set, ‘Outside In.’ During this, he brought to the fore his whole batallion of effects – wahwahs, boosters, fuzztones, copycat, in fact, you name it, and Martyn’s got his foot on it. The way this song progresses is just amazing. It seems to possess a magical inherent non-verbal imagery, providing excellent fodder for all us would be amateur escapists.

After this song, Martyn Went about developing his rapport with the highly appreciative Eric’s audience before treating us to an ‘acoustic guitar solo’, and following that with a ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide Ballad (Traditional).’ How can I, a mere mortal, ever hope to convey the many facets of loveliness songs like ‘Over The Hill’ or ‘Make No Mistake’ or for that matter ‘Bless The Weather’ possess?

If your answer to the question, ‘Have you heard John Martyn?’ is in the negative, God help your souls. But it’s not too late. Quick! There’s still time if you hurry.

Ralph Whaley
19 March 1977

Erics, Liverpool
25 February 1977

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Royal Festival Hall

John Martyn has been playing the South Bank since the late Sixties, even though he’s never quite seemed at home there. He played the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1970 with his then wife Beverley, a full electric band and a support slot from Nick Drake and, already, he was taking issue with his reputation as a slightly whimsical solo folkie. Martyn has long since shrugged off the most obvious trappings of his hippie past and established himself as a man in a suit playing electric guitar, but he’s still struggling with his past, his audience’s expectations and the sheer gentility of the Festival Hall.

Latterly, Martyn has also been struggling with a dodgy record deal, a lack of musical direction and his own self-destructive tendencies. He probably hadn’t previously played the South Bank complex this decade. Fortunately a new deal with the independently minded Go! Discs, home of Paul Weller, Portishead and The Beautiful South, has restored his standing as one of the great British mavericks as has his latest album and — a dreamy but funky collection of languid grooves and hip-hop beats that places Martyn alongside the ‘trip-hop’ generation whom he first anticipated with albums such as 1977’s One World.

Tonight, the currently portly Martyn ambles onstage alone in a black double-breasted suit and white shirt with his long, matted hair tied up at the back and a pair of LAPD shades, looking for all the world like a Hollywood villain. “You won’t be expecting this, which is why I’m playing it,” is his opening parry as he launches straight into his best-known song, “May You Never”. It’s his only solo number of the night; he’s accompanying himself on a phased acoustic and already he’s playing with the words and his phrasing, making it swing and making it new again. This is what’s great about a John Martyn concert; he’s always the same, but he always makes the songs a little different.

The rest of the night is devoted to getting down and dirty or soft and spacey with Martyn’s accomplished band and the additional reeds of tonight’s star guest, Andy Sheppard. Texture is all in Martyn’s songs, which could be crudely reduced to two slow pleading one and the dirty, funked-up one. On the gorgeous “She’s A Lover”, Sheppard’s agile solo is played like someone tiptoeing awestruck around something or somebody just too beautiful to grab. As this is a slow pleading one, there’s an effortless segue into the haunting “Solid Air”. Martyn coos, groans and blows all over the mike like a dove; as always, there’s something private and therefore something almost indecently exposed about his moans and imprecations. As if to counter such naked emotionalism, there’s the sheer brutality of the dirty, funked-up ones such as the semi-psychotic -I Am John Wayne’, Martyn now roaring like a maddened bull over a juggernaut industrial groove, the two horns in sinuous tandem.

The majority of the seated audience seemed to have been with Martyn most of their lives, and while a few would clearly have liked to hear a little more acoustic guitar and a little less slurring, most did the chicken thing with their necks during the funky ones or snuggled up to their partners during the slow ones. At the end of two hours, people were either dancing or just beginning to sneak a look at their watches, but John was away, riding the lithe groove of “Cool Tide” like a gangster.

The Independent
20 September 1996

Royal Festival Hall
13 September 1996

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