We Meet The Man Behind The Lens…

Brian Cooke – we meet the man behind the lens of some of music’s most iconic images…

Brian CookeHe’s snapped them all, from The Rolling Stones to Eric Clapton. Matt Clark meets York’s top music photographer.

Thirty something years ago four men went to a London pizza parlour to chew over ideas for their client’s new emblem. By the time lunch was over they were in agreement, the scribbling on a paper napkin would be offered to Richard Branson. He loved it’s ‘in your face’ simplicity, attitude and energy. The famous Virgin logo brian 8was born.

The diners were from Cooke Key Associates, a company formed by Scarborough-born photographer Brian Cooke and fellow Yorkshire snapper Trevor Key. The company went on to produce more than 150 album covers with Virgin and other record companies, for brian 2artists such as Mike Oldfield, Tangerine Dream, Sparks, Ten Years After and Rory Gallagher.

Back then the sleeve was integral to the whole record buying experience, with people devouring every word and picture on the bus ride home. But Cooke Key designs were even more inspired, because they specialised in creative, experimental photography, “The cover for Jethro Tull’s Bursting Out live album contained thirteen images, all requiring separate exposures and silver masks to print onto a single piece of paper,” says Brian. “This image, which would now take no more than an hour in PhotoShop, took about five days in the darkroom to complete.”

Brian says his favourite album cover is John Martyn’s Inside Out, one of the first on which he used multiple images and complicated instructions for the printer.

Brian Cooke Inside OutBut the sleeve with most impact had nothing to do with complexity. It was all about shock and awe on Cooke Key’s design for the Sex Pistols single God Save The Queen. They teamed up with designer John Varnom to produce most of the Pistol’s promotional work, which provoked national outrage and the odd visit from the rozzers. It helped cement Virgin’s reputation as a shock-inducing label, but how things have changed.

“When we started, the album cover was part of the creative process,” says Brian. “It was important to the band that it reflected what was going on. At the end of the ‘seventies accountants took over and covers became the first stage in the marketing cover.

“In retrospect it was incredible, I don’t think I realised just how great it was. We had the best of the music business.”

Brian’s career began with formal photographic training at Hull College of Art from 1963 to 1966, his interest in taking pictures had developed while snapping the last days of steam on the railways.

Then he landed a job as a photographer in Scarborough, followed by a post as photographic technician and part-time lecturer in photography at Teesside College of Art, in Middlesbrough. However, it was his night time activities that were to set the scene for his career.brian

“I had forsaken the railway society meetings for the Friday blues night at the Condor Club on Ramshill Road in Scarborough,” says Brian. “Music attracted my curiosity for something new and girls had started to turn my head.”

Around this time he met the singer Robert Palmer who, at the time, was working for the local evening paper. In 1971 Palmer introduced Brian to Chris Blackwell of Island Records, who had been impressed with his pictures of the band Traffic in session.

Subsequently, Brian set up Visualeyes with his wife Marylin to service Island and other independent record companies with photographic and design services.

During this period the couple worked regularly with Mott The Hoople, Traffic and Fairport Convention. Then along came a new art-rock outfit called Roxy Music.

“I took their first ever press pictures in my studio/home off the Portobello Road,” says Brian. “Marylin still tells of the time Brian Ferry and Brian Eno put on their make-up in her bathroom.”Brian Cooke Roxy

Once Visualeyes was established Brian decided to use his creative talents in a partnership with Trevor Key. Cooke Key disbanded in 1981 with the two main partners deciding to concentrate on photography, rather than the management of designers. Brian joined the film union and concentrated on taking stills of film and video productions.

These included the new medium of pop videos. He even had a cameo role in Joe Jackson’s video for the song Real Men, as a 1950’s press photographer.

“On the shoot for the first Spandau Ballet single To Cut A Long Story Short, one of the band said ‘who’s that old geezer in the corner’, referring to me. I was 32 at the time, but because I got a front cover for Melody Maker from that shoot I went on to do quite a lot with them. Maybe it’s worth having an old geezer along sometimes.”

Brian also worked on films, and TV advertising, including the famous Levis 501 launderette commercial. But his first love has always been taking pictures of rock bands in full flight.These days music photographers are only given the first few numbers, Brian says that’s hopeless.
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“I remember Melody Maker’s in house photographer used to stay in the bar ’til the encore, then come down to the pit, two or three rolls and he always had the shot. That was when you got the best pictures, they don’t now, not by any means.”

Matt Clark
York Evening Press
13 August 2015

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John Martyn’s City Struggle


FOUR YEARS ago John Martyn came south from Scotland, and next February he will be moving back with his wife and family. Those four years have been a constant struggle against the oppression of the city, but considering his abject aversion to this kind of environment, he has succeeded in his task. He has made his mark produced several fine albums which bare the mark of an inventive, refreshing brain, and on the face of it are wholly irreconcilable with the confused conglomeration in which he lives.

So when his wife Beverley has their second child, they will be moving to Peebleshire, within a stone’s throw of the Incredible String Bands retreat, to escape a programmed routine which John analogises with the non-changing flight patterns of insects. The real break for John was the “Stormbringer!” album he made with Beverley – an album which extricated him well and truly from his folk club upbringing. But even then the progress was strangely stunted when his impromptu band blew their major London concert, with all eyes on John and Bev. Then their son Wezzles was seriously ill, and John and Bev disappeared from the public eye until their new album “The Road To Ruin” suddenly appeared, like it had been pulled out of a magician’s hat.

Sounds 12 December 1970Again the album has been masterminded by Joe Boyd and top American arranger Paul Harris, with a host of top musicians sitting in on the sessions. “I started doing gigs again seriously about two months ago, but it’s totally impossible to promote the album material, and I’m still doing the same stuff I did a year ago. In fact there’s about six songs I’m never going to get away from. “I’m playing more electric, unstructured stuff now, although I don’t feel I want to get a band together unless it’s with Wells Kelly and Paul Harris or people equally as good. At the moment I don’t feel like looking for anyone, but if you play with someone you don’t entirely trust, when you lose your own certainty.

“Well be going back to Innerleithen to live in February, and I’ll be able to do some writing and play about two gigs a week. The only thing that would make me come back to London is if it was an economic necessity; after for years in London I’m really fed up, and the only reason I ever came in the first place was so I could get into what I wanted to get into. But I’m finding now that I just don’t blow with anyone like I used to, and it’s really sad. I’d rather like to read music so that I could blow with more people that I’m into.”

A new departure for John is the employment of brass on the latest album, in the form of Lyn Dobson, Dudu Pukwana and Ray Warleigh. “But I don’t think I’ll be using much brass as I don’t get a buzz out of horn sections as a rule. But Dudu is one of my favourite men and I’d like to do more work with him.” When John and Beverley tried to recreate their “Stormbringer!” sound on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall earlier in the year, they failed miserably; and John explained: “I was never happy doing that concert. We only had four days to rehearse with the band, although the other gig at Bristol was strangely successful. But the Queen Elizabeth one was finished before it started. I always had the gravest doubts about the band, and as I didn’t feel to lie, I had to say that it was going to be no good. So it was all well screwed up before it started.

“All the songs on the album are new, and although it’s got a Latin feel to it, this was something I consciously tried to fight against. The old sequin suit and Uncle Tom Mexican thing had always put me off but it swings like mad, and it’s so subtle rhythmically.

“I would have been quite happy to have carried on as a nice, simple folk singer for the rest of my life; but suddenly it all changed. With “Stormbringer!” we had a complete choice about what we wanted to do, and in any case I didn’t want to do just another acoustic guitar album. “On the new album I’ve played electric guitar on a couple of tracks, and the thing about playing unstructured music is that you never know what you’re doing next, and it’s all very shaky. “I never write specifically for an album and Bev and I don’t write songs together consciously. Sometimes I’ll work on something and then lose interest in it, and Bev will take it up and transform it. But whereas the last album was specifically designed to play within a group context, the next one will be specifically for guitar, with perhaps an enlargement acoustic songs with a lot less instrumentation than before.”

John wants to keep things working spontaneously from now on, and explained that the reason he gave up gigs was because “someone would press the gig button and I would go into action.” He wants to avoid the glossy entertainer bit, although he enjoys the challenge of a gig. “Sometimes you really have to stretch out in the colleges,” he acknowledges. And he is now veering away from folk clubs and concentrating more on student audiences. Neither are John and Bev in any hurry to return to the States, where they put together their “Stormbringer!” album. The response there has been slightly disappointing and the album is being reissued as part of a “bargain” offer.

But the Martyns are perfectly happy. They are both due to make solo albums, and American artists are now starting to catch onto their songs – Kate Taylor, sister of James and Livingston, has recorded their “Sweet Honesty”, the outstanding song from the “Stormbringer!” album, and there’s more in the offing.

I shouldn’t be surprised if “Auntie Aviator”, it’s counterpart on the current album, isn’t culled by other artists. This is the American way of promoting solo artists – through album sales rather than live gigs. And it should give the Martyns the perfect ‘opportunity to enjoy a normal family life’ well away from the hurly burly of the city.

12 December 1970

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The Bitterest Beard In Britain

Meet the man they call The Bitterest Beard in Britain.
Yes, JOHN MARTYN is uptight. About almost everything. As usual. Or maybe it’s just his way. ROD McSHANE endures the onslaught.

EVEN THOUGH John Martyn will be taking a year off from gigging in Britain after his current tour ends this month, there won’t be any accusations of short-changing from the man’s considerable British following. He’s currently on his third tour of the year, and apart from that there’ve been numerous dates in Europe (including the Montreaux Jazz Festival), and the anti-climactic ‘end of the Rainbow’ gig.

Then there’s the licking of all those stamps for the white label live album distributed “cottage industry” fashion by mail order from his home in Hastings. And if there are, as reported, too many faulty pressings in the now sold out limited edition of 10,000 signed copies, he’ll probably need the year for sorting out consumer complaints and getting satisfaction from EMI. Actually, neither the twelve month. layoff or the “Live at Leeds” recordings were his idea, but the always independent minded Martyn has found justification for them: “It wasn’t my idea, it was my manager’s (Rob Wynn). And since he had the temerity to issue the statement that I was taking a year off, I’ve been considering it and it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. The reason I have come round to it so suddenly is that I really think it’s a bit silly that other people should be in charge of my life. I dunno what I’ll be doin’. I might do some gigs in Europe. After November I want to sit down, I want to sell my house; I want to find somewhere sensible to live.”

Bitterest Beard What’s wrong with Hastings?

“Nothin’. ‘Cept I’ve now got two children, and it hasn’t got a garden. Also, it’s too near civilisation. I want to lig about for a long while.”

I suspect that Martyn’s lack of new material (his set’s not changed since “Sunday’s Child” was released in January) has something to do with the move. But Martyn denies that emphatically. It’s the same set, he claims, because he and regular bassist Danny Thompson haven’t had time to rehearse the new material. But it’s there all right. It is, he says, “much the same as the old. The jazzy bits are jazzier than before, and the straight bits are jazzier than before.”

So. Is it in the mellow-goin’-home-to-Beverley-and-the-kids mood on the last album? i.e. does it further personify Martyn as Spencer the Rover? Or is it at the other extreme, like “Jelly Roll Baker” or Skip James’ classic “I’d Rather be the Devil?”

“Some of it’s very heavy in fact; some of it’s very electronic and very, um …”


“Yeah, dirty’s the word. It’s exceptionally dirty,” he smirks.”I was thinking about getting a job with a rock’n’roll band for a while. A few mouths of the year, I must admit, I wouldn’t mind playing lead guitar with a rock’n’roll band. Even rhythm guitar. Just a dirty horrible band. It’d be terrific. Something to do isn’t it, man? To keep yer’and in, avoid boredom at all costs.”

But to return to the album: “I’ll be playing electric guitar on it. That’s the main difference. I’ll be playing a Les Paul.”

Not throughout though. Martyn won’t be trading in his Martin with pickup; but for the electric bits: “I’ll have to get someone exceptionally ‘mean’ to play with me. Not another guitar player; I was thinking of keyboards players and drummers really. All this is indefinite, y’know.”

What is definite is that it’ll be done in the States with an American producer, probably at Electric Ladyland studios, which sounds like a return to the summer of ’69 days of “Stormbringer!” with Beverley in Woodstock, where Jimi and Levon Helm were neighbours and it was “down for tea with Bobby.”

Actually, Beverley Martyn’s four year retirement from recording wasn’t quite intentional. When Joe Boyd’s Witchseason was disbanded, John and Beverley were “sold” to Island Records and their understanding was that the recording cycle would be John and Beverley / John solo / Beverley solo / and so on. The first two got done, but Beverley’s album never got made — until last month, when it was released by DJM, not Island.

John, of course, guested in the studio, and it’s alleviated some of the frustrations he’s felt with the delay of his own upcoming album.

And the opening gigs of this “final” tour have been a considerable buzz after the three-month summer layoff which he found a “pain in the arse.”

The current tour has also meant a shift in Martyn’s taste in audiences. Whereas he used to favour American audiences, he now finds British ones more appealing.

“American audiences seem to be in more direct contact with you. They’re not quite so respectful. Which can be good and which can be bad. It depends. There’s nothing worse than playing to an audience of 20,000 screaming 17 year olds which I have on occasions. When confronted with that I just don’t know what to do. I just turn the volume up full and close my eyes. I think English audiences are probably my favourite.., because I’m British, I suppose.”

Definitely not the Germans though. Just before this tour, he did three days in Germany. So what went down there?

“I did. Like a lead brick. Over there. They keep billing me as England’s almost-folk guitarist. They expect things like “The Wild Rover”… –
‘smaazing – Tuetonic boys and Wagnerian chicks singing ‘If I bin a vild rover for menny a yeere’, and they’ve absolutely no idea what they’re singing about! When confronted with something like that we didn’t know what to do. They were leaving in droves.”

Very flattering in a way, no?

“Yeah, those who stayed were very dedicated. All three of ’em. They’re just not ready for me. This great guy from the radio station called Otto Barnstormer Schlutz said, ‘You will be here at five o’clock. Till zen, RE-LAX!’ I just couldn’t believe it. Tremendous!”

“I like Europe though. Places like Belgium; France was terrific. The Germans, maybe I’m unlucky with them. I don’t know. Mind you, I don’t think I helped because on ‘Singing in the Rain’ I was singing. ‘Let the Stormtroopers chase every Kraut from the place’.”

MONTREUX HE’S more bitter about. Also on the bill were Rory Gallagher and the Chieftains, and he affectionately remembers a very drunken all night session with them. Montreux was: “A lot of bread, that’s the impression I got from it. It was purely a moneymaking concern. I thought it was pretty shitty actually. Not everything it’s cracked up to beat all.I thought it was going to be about the aesthetics of music for art’s sake, that sort of stuff. No way. Even the musicians got ripped off the way I look at it. I just expected it to be a bit more culturally orientated and it wasn’t. It’s bread orientated. Twelve quid a ticket man! Come on! There’s nobody in the world worth that much.”

Martyn himself is scrupulous to give his audences value for money and goes out his way to reach them.

“Well, they’re there aren’t they? You can’t ignore them.”

A lot of people do.

Come Down Here and Say That“They’re fools then, aren’t they? The whole point of getting up in front of people is to turn ’em on. If you can’t do it one way, you’ve got to do it the other. You can’t ignore them, that’s ridiculous. Apart from the person-to-person basis, they have all paid bread to see you and that’s an honour for a kickoff. It really is. I like audiences. well most of them.”

That’s obvious by the way Martyn reduces the dimensions of large concert halls, by a combination of raps, music and his Glaswegian-Cockney stage manner.

“An air of reality is what’s called for. It’s the audience’s fault, as well as the industry’s fault. That’s something that’s got worse and worse over the years. It hasn’t really developed as a conscious approach on my part. It just comes from playing folk clubs for so long, and not really noticing the change. There’s a great big lump of me that still thinks I’m in Cousin’s, you know. Whereas in fact in front of you there are 2,500 people.”

Though he came from the sixties folk club scene and his music is very jazz-influenced, Martyn’s following is a largely rock-exposed audience. True, Danny Thompson’s probably the most respected bassist in the jazz field in the country, and John Stevens, Martyn’s drummer on his last tour also has a jazz background. Did he ever envisage himself getting into either of those scenes again?

“I’ve really got no desire to do that at all. Having encountered some of the British jazz scene. I think it’s in a very sick, sad, and sorry state. I’ve got to own up. Some of the petty jealousies I’ve seen in it! And the backbiting. It reminds me exactly of the folk scene. It’s just as small, it’s just as incestuous, and the people are just as jealous of each other.”

“In fact, I don’t like the folk scene, the jazz scene, any scene at all; I like my scene, and Danny’s scene, and the audience’s scene. It’s very selfish I s’pose. I just don’t wanna get involved with all the rest of the idiots. I could sit down and tell you horror stories about musicians all day… where their ambition’s got them. It’s just horrible…”

“That’s one of the lovely things about the album. All the letters I’ve been getting, terrific. I got a beauty the other day:’Since I left the institution your albums have been most comfortable in times of loneliness and despair. I must say that I have a 26 inch photograph of you on my lavatory door which I occasionally keep in my wallet along with a photograph of Jean-Paul Sartre playing lacrosse in the nude. Occasionally I compare the two, and when I do I laugh like a dragon.'”

When they’re not like that its often ‘Love to Beverley and the kids’; a few like ‘If you haven’t got any albums left don’t bother to send the bread back; buy you and Danny a drink’.” Martyn claims he never expected it at all. Maybe it’s not so surprising considering his music has a definite sense of values, that hoary old concept of the summers of ’68-’69, “love” predominant: “I entirely agree, but I just didn’t think I’d communicated that as successfully. That’s one of the things about this album, one of the things it’s really taught me. .. that things are not as bad as they seem y’know?”

“One really shouldn’t get ones bowels in an uproar over things that don’t really matter. Not when it comes down to it. Handkerchief pause all round! Okay? Right, let’s get on wif it.”

“I console myself whenever I come across a particular prickhead: ‘Well, listen, the cat can’t play. There ain’t no way he’s ever gonna get that buzz and I’ve got it so ho, ho, ho! I’ve got a gig without him, but he ain’t got no gig without me.”

“Which I must admit gives me a great deal of pleasure. Terrible mean thing to say, really. True, though.”

WHICH BROUGHT up the question of why just himself and Danny on this tour after using Stevens last time to complete a trio?

Martyn’s not saying. It’s something strictly between Stevens and himself, but he does add that John Stevens is the best drummer he’s ever worked with in Britain, and adds that one of the reasons he’s glad to be able to put out the live album is Stevens drumming, not on the studio recordings of “Bless the Weather”, “Make No Mistake”,”Beverley”, “Solid Air”, “Rather Be The Devil”, “Inside Out”, “Man In The Station.”

There’s also the obvious problem that Martyn’s guitar and Thompson’s bass are naturally so Siamese-twin tight together that there’s little room for a third: “We actually made room whenever we were playing with John. But there isn’t room, when we’re playing together, we try to leave as little room as possible. The whole idea is to make it sound full.”

Doing the tour as a duo also means that: “I can dive around with Dan very easily in the motor and avoid all that tour shit. I’ve just about had them, all the hassles, up to me ears. It’s bleedin’ mad. We don’t get none of that sound checking, set drums up, mess about for three hours. I mean half the time when we were on stage we were half drunk. That’s silly, just hanging about for three hours doing nuthin.”

And he can’t really see himself stopping playing with Danny.

What is problematic is that Martyn’s mobility and independence means a reliance on hired equipment, and too many gigs beset with sound problems: “A lot of that’s not having my own PA system. I probably should get one of those together. But again, you have to hire two roadies, vans and trucks and things. Don’t wanna know about it, just don’t wanna know.”

Not playing for a year though? Isn’t he gonna get bored?

“Well no, because I won’t stop playing. I’ll just stop playing in public. And also it’ll be a lot fresher. I can’t ever see meself stopping playing. It’s out of the question. I’d go completely round the bend if I was to stop playing completely.”

Rod McShane
New Musical Express
29 November 1975

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The Phoenix And The Turtle

Beverley Martyn – The Phoenix And The Turtle.

First album in 14 years from legendary folk singer; among many jewels, expect a co-write with Nick Drake.

The Phoenix And The Turtle“My last album was No Frills in about 2000, but I’ve always kept singing. We started work about two years ago, but stopped for a while because I was quite ill. It was recorded in Wales, in Mark Pavey’s studio. I would start just with guitar and a click track, and through the magic of computers we’d send a track to Matt Malley, ex-Counting Crows, and Victor Bisetti, ex-Los Lobos, in California. They would put the bass and drums on, then other things were added. It still has that in-a-room feel, it sounds like an old style analogue record. It’s very me, very transatlantic.”

“I’ve recorded Going To Germany and When The Levee Breaks, which are songs I used to do with my old ’60s jug band, The Levee Breakers. Reckless Jane, was started in ’74 with Nick Drake. When John and I lived in Hampstead, Nick lived one stop down the tube line, he’d come and babysit sometimes. We started writing Reckless Jane one day as a bit of a joke. I had the guiatar and he was sitting on the floor, trying to look small and not be in the way, as usual! I couldn’t look at it for a long time after he died, but finally I decided to finish it. It’s a pastoral English thing – the strings are a tribute to Nick. Women And Malt Whisky is about John. There’s a verse about our son, who is a bit wild. He didn’t have a good father’s hand, John didn’t teach him good things. Another line is about Davey Graham, John’s hero, and Bobby [Dylan] who was mine. The whole album is very personal.”

Graeme Thomson
1 February 2014

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Folk Cousins Of Soho

Soho GrillLES COUSINS at 49 Greek Street was one of the most important and influential venues of the folk music boom of the 1960s.

DIANA MATHEOU remembers listening to Donovan and chatting with Cat Stevens.

WHEN LOUKAS and Margaret Matheou took out a lease on the ground and basement floors of 49, Greek Street they were unaware that an iconic club would be born under their care.

The Soho Grill opened in 1960, offering classic French cuisine, and in 1964 a manager was employed to start Les Cousins in the basement. The intention was to follow the trend of other French discotheques springing up in Soho.

However, it wasn’t until Loukas’s son Andy got involved that the club became a success. In the 50s it had been known as the Skiffle Cellar and what followed was something of a continuation of this. Musicians and songwriters were drawn into the club and when Donovan declared in a tabloid interview that he “dug Les Cousins” the place was brought to the public’s attention and the queues started to form.

But it was from a combination of the high calibre of musicianship and Andy’s programming that the club was to draw its real strength. New young performers made Cousins, as it came to be known, a central part of the whole 60s ethos with singers, musicians, and poets, gathering to play and socialise in the club and at the Matheou family flat round the corner in Frith Street. Peter Cook’s Establishment club was across the road and a new wave of folk music, sharing a common base with blues and skiffle, was on the rise.

Copyright:Ray StevensonThe innovative musicianship of club regular, the mercurial Davey Graham, led the way for emergent talents like Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Diz Disiey, Wizz Jones, Roy Harper, Ralph McTell, Sandy Denny, Al Stewart, the Incredible String Band and Van Morrison, who all played there. From the States came Darryl Adams, “Spider” John Koerner, the tender lyricist Jackson C. Frank and a young Paul Simon. Even Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix showed up and jammed at Cousins.

Alexis Korner, Duffy Power and Long John Baldry played the blues and more traditional music was presented by skilled interpreters like Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, Annie Briggs, the Watersons, the Young Tradition and many more. Cousins became a melting pot where artists gathered to exchange and share skills, and play together.

When I came to London as a young singer songwriter my first experience of the club was an “all-nighter”, sitting on an old sofa listening to Darryl Adams and talking to Steve Adams, another young hopeful, soon to be famous as Cat Stevens.

All this flourished with the hard work and generosity of the Matheou family who nurtured and fed many young artists, often helping them out financially in return for washing up in the restaurant or peeling aubergines for moussaka. By 1967 Loukas renamed the restaurant the Dionysus, cooking Greek food, and the kitchen was moved upstairs while in the basement the club was redecorated and enlarged.

Les CousinsTowards the end of the 60s the music scene changed. With increasing fame and recognition singers started to open their own clubs and earn higher fees on the burgeoning college circuit. But at Cousins people were still flocking to hear Bridget St John, Steve Tilston, Dando Shaft, Nick Drake and John Martyn. John became a lifelong friend of Andy and one summer’s day bounded into the Frith Street flat saying, “I’ve written a song for you!” lt was “May You Never”, a beautiful work about friendship which expressed the warmth and brotherhood of the times.

The club closed in April 1972 and two years later, after an absence of forty years, Loukas and Margaret returned to Cyprus. Within a year the Turkish army invaded and they were forced to come back to Soho. Margaret was dying of cancer. In only 18 months Loukas lost his home, land and beloved wife. He died in Soho in 1995.

At its close “Les Cousins” had over 80,000 members worldwide. It had caught the breeze of a generation and left an indelible mark on the hearts, lives and music of that luminous era.

Diana Matheou

Reproduced with kind permission of Diana and The Soho Society.
Please note that the Les Cousins logo and the photograph of the Soho Grill in this article are copyright of the Matheou Family and are not to be reproduced without written permission. The photograph of John and Andy Matheou is copyright of Ray Stevenson.

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John Martyn Box Set…

John Martyn Box Set Stars Unreleased Tracks.

The Island Years comprises unheard songs by folk maverick and two unreleased live shows.

MOJO CAN ANNOUNCE exclusively that a treasure-trove of unheard material will accompany the full Island Records oeuvre of folk maverick John Martyn, to be unleashed in an 18-disc box set in September.

Aural highlights include several songs unreleased in any form – including Love In Your Life from 1984, Lifeline from 1987 and a cover of High Heel Sneakers from the Grace And Danger sessions – plus two full unreleased live shows, one from The Hanging Lamp, Richmond, May 8, 1972, with Martyn in his Bless The Weather/Solid Air pomp, and one from Sydney, Australia in 1977.

Martyn’s singular approach to songwriting and guitar playing – not to mention his swashbuckling lifestyle – meant that he rarely played a song the same way twice and, with alternate takes fleshing out many of the already-classic Island albums, multiple treats are in store.

Fascinatingly, these include the original 1987 mixes of The Apprentice album, the recordings that prompted the Island label to drop Martyn in 1988 [he put out his own version of the LP in 1990]. For the first time fans will be able to judge for themselves whether it was Island or Martyn who had lost the plot.

John Martyn Mojo August 2013
(Photo: John Martyn: The Island Years. Eighteen discs, deluxe book and repro memorabilia ahoy!)

Martyn’s legend has loomed large since his death in 2009, since when he has been hailed not just as a folk innovator, but a sui generis musical force majeure.

“The soundscape aspect was the thing that did it for me,” Verve guitarist and Martyn collaborator Nick McCabe told your writer not long after John’s death, “the textural work and his use of effects. A lot of guitarists talk about their ‘craft’ and it’s all about the guitar really – there’s a lot of blinkerage involved – whereas John’s sights were further flung and he talked about imitating the saxophone. He was a Debussy fan as well, and when I discovered that it made a lot of sense to me.

“[I love] the story about Sunday’s Child [1975]. According to Danny Thompson they wrote and recorded it live, in the studio in three days. That wilful kind of ‘avoiding structure’ is what makes the listening experience. Knowing that things can take a left turn at any moment makes you listen to it more keenly. For me that open-endedness makes for better music.”

The Island Years consists of 17 audio CDs housed in two gatefold-LP-sized holders and one DVD in a gatefold wallet. A 120-page hardcover book features rare and previously unseen photographs, and there’s reproduction memorabilia including an Island Records press folder containing A4 press release, A5 flyers and a reproduction of one of Martyn’s hand-written setlists. It emerges on September 30.

Danny Eccleston
Mojo Website
14 August 2013

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