Imperial College, London

John Martyn: Imperial College, London.

YES, THAT’S right. “Koss” turned up for the final couple of numbers.

But there had been ten John Martyn song workouts prior to that, you know, with his voice tumbling along like some kind of crazed tumbleweed and harmonising with Danny Thompson’s rolling stand-up bass and his own staccato guitar patterns, not that he had the easiest of audiences to contend with.

Standing Room only, most certainly, but there was more than the odd occasion when Martyn was required to deal out the appropriate in-between number put-downs to certain elements that were so wasted they appeared to be verging on the psychotic.

Never mind, though. A few more sensitive souls within the audience were able to pass him” the appropriate relaxing agents before “Spencer The Rover” which seemed to allow for a more mellifluous rendition than on the “Sunday’s Child” album.

It was as much the pacing of the set – and also, in turn, the internal pacing of the numbers – that transformed the gig from the curious electronic miasma which he presented the last time I saw him into a concentrated explosion of, at times, almost riveting music.

“The Message”,  for example, had Martyn meanly hustling his guitar through the intro before employing that curious vocal phasing he possesses as a counterpoint to the sound of the two instruments.

“Bless The Weather” had drum brushes added with the arrival of John Stevens who joined his drum-kit as Martyn poured out a rather odd little rap about a Portuguese lorry driver. The jazz tinges that are omnipresent throughout Martyn’s work became freshened with Stevens overlaying the rest of the set. On “My Baby Girl” and “Solid Air” he chased up a metallic maelstrom employing just one drum brush and the occasional snare thrash behind the more forceful instrumentation emerging from Martyn and Thompson.

Martyn’s onstage self-confidence lends credence to the impression that he is fully aware of the persona he’s established for himself.

“Decadent rock image, ehh?” he queried with a delightful belch as “substances” made a fairly non-stop procession from the audience to his hands. Total control veiled by suspect wrecked untogetherness, eh, John?

Never mind, though, whatever the onstage gamesmanship that’s possibly going down Martyn has the suss to turn in an infuriatingly moving “Solid Air” before becoming truly haywire with a demented scat “Singing In The Rain” which, just to compound the confusion, he closed by turning up the volume pretty viciously and serving up some nail-biting guitar thrusts.

It goes without saying, almost, that Kossoffs entry created a not inconsiderable buzz as he launched into the blues, “So Much In Love With You”, and ripped off the evening right out of the billed per-former’s stage centre grasp.

Spattering “So Much In Love With You” and “Clutches”, the final number, with his fluid and shrill runs he entered the facial contortion stakes with a commendable degree of vigour.

It was noted with a certain soupcon of satisfaction that the balance of onstage power was technically regained as Martyn underlined Kossoff’s solos with short breaks of his own.

Chris Salewicz
New Musical Express
15 March 1975

Imperial College, London
1 March 1975

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LSE, London

John Martyn: LSE, London.

ON A weekend when the Sex Pistols had yet more concerts cancelled following their (in) famous TV appearance, John Martyn made his 1976 debut on a British stage at the LSE following some dates in Norway; the only connection between the two being their language.

Martyn has belched and cursed on stage for years now — and he continued to do so on Saturday. Shock, horror — he smokes drugs as well. What gives for la nouvelle vague…?

But that is another story. John Martyn, unlike the Pistols, can play the guitar though the abysmal sound that plagued the evening prevented him and us from really getting off on the occasion and as an apology for the ‘frogs in his amp’ as he put it, he dedicated the last song, ‘May You Never’, to those gathered present.

Yet, despite a lack of magic moments, it was an evening of warmth and bonhomie. Such is Martyn’s charisma and professionalism as a performer that he has the rare gift of giving one the feeling that he’s asked you round to his place for an evening of music. I mean, how many times have you not seen someone from the audience offer him one of their joints?

The comparatively short set included standards (‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’, ‘Spencer The Rover’, ‘Solid Air’) as well as several new songs that encompassed the range of his last few albums; from a soft folk style through to his more aggressive, hypnotically layered ‘echo-plexed’ material.

Samuel Mowbray
11 December 1976?

LSE, London
1 December 1976?

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Leeds University

Martyn Pure Sensitivty.

As someone recently remarked, it seems as if two of Britain’s finest songwriters and performers are about to achieve the kind of recognition they have long deserved. Both Roy Harper and John Martyn have created work of a consistently high standard over the last five years and more, and thankfully it looks as if they’re going to gain wider acceptance at a time when they’re hitting their respective peaks of creative energy.

Like Harper, Martyn has remained outside the mainstream of English songwriting,  working in a highly individual area with an unparalleled degree of sensitivity, It’s a quality that’s virtually absent in the work of the majority of his contemporaries, and was strongly in evidence at his concert, last week at Leeds University.

He’s working these days with bassist Danny Thompson, an extraordinary musician who complements Martyn perfectly, and drummer John Stevens, another excellent musician who’s a sensitive and intelligent asset to the Martyn/Thompson axis. Martyn opened the concert with Thompson, on the beautiful “May You Never.” The two produced an endlessly varied series of rnusicial textures, and indeed, Martyn’s vision seems limitless.

Totally unrestrained by any musical convention he moves with consummate ease through moods, creating isolated corners of concentrated emotions. He’s closer to Tim Buckley than anyone I can think of, and although he denies ever having heard Buckley, the vocal similarity on “Bless The Weather” was remarkably striking. The most impressive number of the evening was the stunning “I’ Rather Be The Devil” (although , “Solid Air” ran it a close second).

Stevens and Thompson created a dramatic counterpoint to Martyn’s virtuoso guitar playing, and his voice, blurred one moment and soaring clear the next, again brought to mind Tim Buckley’s “Lorca ” and “Starsailor” period, Paul Kossoff joined the band for the final numbers, and at first it seemed that his introduction would seem a little superfluous, but his lead guitar, leant even greater emotion to the music.  The concert was being recorded for a live album for Island. I hope the tapes were running, it was a memorable night.

Allan Jones
Melody Maker
22 February 1975

Leeds University
13 February 1975

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Surrey University

JOHN MARTYN is unlikely to ever sell out a concert at the Albert Hall at six quid a seat, and one couldn’t really envisage him entertaining the daughter of an American President backstage after a gig at Madison Square Gardens. He’s far removed from the kind of social milieu inhabited by the more facile stars of the moment.

Martyn’s continually inventive music reflects an honesty one would be hard put to find in the works of .. . well, as someone once said, there’s really no need to name them. His concert last Friday at Surrey University confirmed, once again. Martyn’s individuality and the brilliance of his fellow musicians, bassist Danny Thompson and drummer John Stevens.

The subtle aggression of Thompson’s bass, precise and stinging beneath the levels of sound created by Martyn’s voice and guitar, was beautifully controlled on “May You Never” and “Bless The Weather.” The extraordinary, range of Martyn’s voice embellished “Spencer The Rover” ‘with a hallucinatory edge, emphasised by the shimmering textures of the guitar, and always Thompson’s bass stabbing at corners.

Both are relentlessly imaginative, forever creating new musical patterns, with each successive number becoming more and more intricate. “Discover The Lover ” featured Martyn’s most expressive vocal performance of the evening, and it may be the best song he’s written, It’s certainly one of the most moving love songs this side of “Another Day.”

John Martyn may not have three thousand tons of sound and lighting equipment and there wasn’t a laser beam in sight, but he’s still one of the most impressive artists currently working in rock.

Allan Jones
Melody Maker
24 May 1975

Surrey University
16 May 1975

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North London Polytechnic

OUT OF such tragedies are triumphs made. Just as support act Hedgehog Pie were finishing their set, Danny Thompson opened his instrument case to find hls bass had a broken neck, with the result that the punters at Friday’s North London Poly concert had to wait rather li long time for John Martyn and Danny to appear while a replacement was found.

Their patience was well rewarded, though, for even If the late start meant that they were robbed of a well-deserved encore, they heard a programme of music that had about it the unfailing touch of genius.

Whether ‘It was the Echo-pieced atmosphere of ” Inside Out,” or the reflectiveness of the traditional “Spencer The Rover,” sung is no traddie would do It but still yielding a new Inspiration to an old song (which originates but a few , miles from John’s home town of Hastings) everything they played was a joy to hear.

Martyn was not helped by a PA which reproduced his guitar perfectly but reduced his voice to blur, meaning that his verbal larks with Denny didn’t penetrate far past the first few rows. The same PA, incidentally, made Hedgehog’s set well-nigh unlistenable, which was a pity, since they seemed to be having a good time. I’d Iike to question the validity of some of their arrangements of traditional material; for Instance, their insensitive petering of “The Burning Of Auchendoun.”

But I will wait until I can hear it decently before pronouncing a proper Judgement.

Karl Dallas
Melody Maker
15 November 1975

North London Polytechnic
7 November 1975

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Citadel, Leith

ONE THING John Martyn couldn’t and wouldn’t want to deny about the behaviour of the 700 music lovers at The Citadel, Leith is that his guitar artistry captured their absolute, total and undivided attention. There was complete and utter quiet as they absorbed every note.

In fact, in the still of the night, Martyn took it upon himself to enquire if there was anybody out there. Lapsing into an exaggerated Scottish accent he said: “You’re awful quiet. Say something, even if it’s only assholes.”

He was in jocular mood all evening. “This sounds like a ukelele, does it sound like a ukelele out there?” followed by a quick burst of the George Formby’s with ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’. He switched from accent to accent as the mood grabbed him.

It was the music that grabbed me, there was so much of it to savour and it was by no means a one-man show. Danny Thompson was the predictable tower of strength on bass contributing some magnificent bowed playing behind Martyn’s acoustic guitar throughout ‘Spencer The Rover’, a hyper sensitive traditional English song featured on the Sunday’s Child’ album out this week.

There were more mellow sounds in ‘Head And Heart’, with Martyn’s vocal full of charm above the guitar. There was so much listenable stuff from Martyn and Thompson that one was loth to miss even the tuning up.

At length they were augmented by new resident member John Stevens on drums and he was quick to prove his worth with sensitive brush work on the title song from the ‘Solid Air’ album.

It was, however, the inter play between guitar and bass that made it all so stimulating. The pair’s understanding was often dazzling and quite remarkable, generating a big, gutsy sound round the hall. The jokes were the bonus.

John Anderson
1 January 1975

The Citadel, Leith
19 January 1975

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