John Martyn Is No Longer With Us

John Martyn is no longer with us.

Today, 29 January 2009, it was announced that John Martyn has passed away, at age 60. Only four weeks ago he was awarded an OBE, probably through the efforts of John Hillarby. Quite rightly so.

What can I say? I feel sad of course but also grateful for all the music he has left us. Curious about the circumstances of his death. Surprised also, even though we all knew that something like this was bound to happen some time. Sorry for all the fans out there who love him so dearly.

Condolences to Teresa and all the people that have worked so loyally to make his music stand out. To my friend John Hillarby and to all the fans around the world without whom this website would not have had any point at all.

Rest assured, I recently estimated that it will take about 10 years to finish the work I started 10 years ago. I have no intention of giving up. For me, John will never die. He lived through his music and he will live on in his music. John Martyn was and will always be a legend.

Hans van den Berk
Big Muff Website
29 January 2009

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Funeral Service

Hundreds of mourners flocked to the small town of Kells in County Kilkenny at the weekend to attend the funeral of world-renowned folk musician John Martyn.

John who had been living in Thomastown with his partner Theresa, died on Thursday last week.

One of his last appearances in Kilkenny was at Kilkenny’s Rockfall Festival where he made an appearance in Kytelers on Kieran Street last year. Eamonn Cleere told the Kilkenny Advertiser that John agreed to play for the final night gig of the festival.

“He came in and played from his wheelchair. He gave a great performance. He had a huge following in Kilkenny and was living in Thomastown for years with his partner Theresa. We were delighted that he came into the Rockfall Festival. He sang two songs and then he went off again. It was great. He will be missed from the music scene.”

John was cremated following an informal ceremony at St Mary’s Church in Kells on Sunday where friends and family of the larger than life singer remembered John.

“There were many tributes paid to John from the altar and the congregation laughed at some of the memories that people recounted. Although it was a sad occasion, people were able to smile about him and remember the good things.”

Most of the music played throughout the ceremony was John’s own while Mary Moore sang The Sally Gardens. The small church was packed to capacity as the congregation paid their last respects.

Kilkenny Advertiser
6 February 2009

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Singer Songwriter John Martyn Dies…

Singer Songwriter John Martyn Dies Aged 60.

THE RENOWNED singer songwriter John Martyn has died aged 60.

The musician, who had lived in Kilkenny for a number of years, died yesterday, a message on his official website said. “With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss, we must announce that John died this morning,” the message said.

Over a 40-year career he released over 20 studio albums and collaborated with many leading musicians including Lee “Scratch” Perry, David Gilmour, Danny Thompson and Phil Collins. Martyn was born fain David McGeachy on September 11th, 1948 in New Malden, Surrey, the only son of two light opera singers. His early childhood was spent in Glasgow. He signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records in 1967 and his debut album, London Conversation was released that same year. Martyn’s 1973 album Solid Air, which included the song May You Never, became one of the best known albums of the 1970s. In 1999 the album was voted as one of the best chill-out albums of all time in Q magazine.

His 1980 album Grace and Danger, which dealt with the end of his marriage, was initially refused a release by label boss Blackwell who found it too openly revealing to release. He only relented following sustained pressure from Martyn.
“Every record I’ve made bad, good, or indifferent is totally autobiographical. I can look back when I hear a record and recall exactly what was going on. That’s how I write. That’s the only way I can write! Some people keep diaries, make records,” he said. Martyn’s drinking and drug use exacted a heavy cost on his health, which culminated in the loss of a leg to septicaemia in 2003.

To mark Martyn’s 60th birthday Island released a career-spanning 4CD boxed set, Ain’t No Saint last year. At the beginning of 2009 he was awarded an OBE.

Charlie Taylor
The Irish Times
30 January 2009

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Electrifying Guitarist And Singer…

Electrifying guitarist and singer whose music blurred the boundaries between folk, jazz, rock and blues. His contemporaries regarded him as an inimitable talent.

John Martyn emerged from the British folk scene in the late 1960s to make some of the most hauntingly evocative and mesmerising music of his era.

A virtuoso guitarist with a laid-back but highly expressive voice, he made innovative records that defied categorisation and thrillingly blurred the boundaries between folk, jazz, blues and rock. At his height, every note he played or sang seemed to be imbued with a spacious elegance and sublime airiness all too rare in the hurly-burly of modern popular music.

Although he never attained huge commercial success, he was regarded by his contemporaries as a unique and inimitable talent. Among his collaborators were Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Dave Gilmour and Phil Collins, while successive generations of younger musicians have since referenced his work, particularly such peerless 1970s albums as Bless the Weather, Solid Air and One World.

In truth, by the mid 1980s his best work was all behind him. He was beset by personal problems and debilitating bouts of alcoholism that took their toll on his health, and his later recordings lacked the timeless mastery and magic of his early work.

He became infamous for his erratic live performances, falling off the stage on more than one occasion. Yet such was the enduring power of his early recordings that his fans seemed prepared to indulge and forgive him.

lain David McGeachy was born in New Malden, Surrey, in 1948 to parents who were opera singers. He spent much of his childhood with a grandmother in Glasgow, where he attended Shawlands Academy.

By his mid-teens he was playing guitar in Scottish folk clubs, where he was helped considerably by the patronage of the singer and guitarist Hamish Imlach. By the time he was 18, he was playing professionally on the London folk dub circuit and in 1967 he became the first signing in Chris Blackwell’s expansion of Island Records to become a fully independent label.

His debut album, London Conversation, appeared in 1968 and was a relatively restrained recitation of the solo acoustic set that he was performing in folk clubs at the time. By the end of the same year, however, it had been followed by The Tumbler, a far more adventurous recording that included the jazzy tones of Harold McNair’s flute and signposted what was to come.

Martyn’s unique style was developed further on his next two albums, Stormbringer and Road to Ruin, both of which appeared in 1970 and were credited jointly to Martyn and his wife, Beverley Kutner. Recorded in Woodstock in upstate New York and brilliantly produced by the folk-rock pioneer Joe Boyd, whose other acts included Fairport Convention and Nick Drake, Stormbringer featured a host of top US session men, including the Band’s drummer, Levon Helm, and boasted a more expansive rock sound. Road to Ruin pushed the folk rock envelope even further and marked the first appearance of Martyn’s longest lasting collaborator, the double bass player Danny Thompson of Pentangle. When neither album sold particularly well, Island, just starting to taste big success with Cat Steven, concluded that it would be easier to market Martyn as a solo singer songwriter than as a duo, and Beverley was unceremoniously relegated to the background, making only occasional “guest” appearances as a backing singer while raising a family. It might have been unfair but it marked the start of Martyn’s golden era.

On Bless the Weather (1972) he combined a jazzy lilt with his folk rock stylings, and on the track Glistening Glyndebourne he began to experiment with an echo unit that gave his guitar an extraordinary new sound, combining the warmth of an acoustic instrument with subtle layers of electronically enhanced complexity. Even better was to come with Solid Air in 1973. The title track, widely regarded as Martyn’s masterpiece, was a tribute to his doomed friend Nick Drake, while May You Never, later covered by Eric Clapton, remains among his finest compositions. But the sound was extraordinary, too, with Thompson’s rolling double bass lines augmented by members of Fairport Convention and Martyn using his voice not merely to convey his lyrics but as another instrument in the mix.

Inside Out appeared later that same year and moved even farther in the direction of experimental rock, with greater use of guitar effects and featuring Steve Winwood and Chris Wood from Traffic among the performers.

It was followed by Sunday Child (1975). which included a wonderfully elegiac version of the traditional ballad Spencer the Rover, as if to show he had not totally lost touch with his folk roots.

Blackwell then suggested that Martyn should spend time in Jamaica checking out the island’s music scene, and the result was One World (1977), a lush-sounding record that included a collaboration with the reggae producer Lee Scratch Perry on Big Muff. The record’s dubby, echoing soundscapes have since been claimed as the fore-runner of the “trip-hop” style that emerged in the 1990s with bands such as Portishead.

By the end of the 1970s Martyn’s marriage was on the rocks, owing in part to his self-destructive drink and drug addictions and in part simply to the fact that he was barely ever at home.

Intense, autobiographical and cathartic, many of the songs on his next album, Grace and Danger (1980), dealt with the disintegration of the relationship. The record also featured Phil Collins who hung around to produce his next album, Glorious Fool (1981).

Collins’s involvement helped Martyn to his first Top 30 album, but its more mainstream sound did not find favour with his more longstanding fans. Thereafter, the flame of his once unique talent flickered more sporadically on albums such as Well Kept Secret (1982), Sapphire (1984) and Piece by Piece (1986). He later confessed that he could not even remember making some of them and by the end of the decade he found himself without a record label.

In the 1990s he went on to record for a variety of smaller labels and continued to tour. He often appeared in poor health and the worse for drink and cut a shambling, overweight figure unrecognisable from the handsome, curly-haired youth seen staring so hopefully out of his early album covers.

There were occasional flashes of the old spark on albums such as And (1996), Glasgow Walker (2000) and On the Cobbles (2004), but the record-buying public was more interested in reissues of his classic albums and retrospective box sets such as the aptly titled Ain’t No Saint (2008).

His health suffered further when in 2003 his right leg was amputated below the knee. This rather sad period of his life was documented in a BBC film.

His contribution to British music was recognised in 2008 when he received the lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards and he was appointed OBE in the 2009 New Year Honours.

Martyn last toured in November 2008, when he performed his 1980 album Grace and Danger in its entirety.

He is survived by Beverley Martyn, and by their children.

John Martyn, OBE, singer and guitarist, was born on September 11, 1948. He died on January 29, 2009, aged 60.

The Times
30 January 2009

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John Martyn’s Genius: May We…

John Martyn’s Genius: May We Never Forget.

Pete Paphides Chief Rock Critic.

For many music fans, one lingering image of John Martyn, the British singer-songwriter who has died at the age of 60, remains preserved in the amber of the communal memory bank: 36 years ago, the pioneering acoustic artist appeared on The Old Grey Whistle Test playing the song for which he will probably be remembered best, May You Never.

Overnight, he became a star of sorts, prompting thousands of aspiring guitarists to experiment with delay pedals and unbuttoned waistcoats. In 2006, by the time I saw him roll up (literally; he was in a wheelchair) at the Barbican, he was un-recognisable from the lithe troubadour of 1973. Unable to walk since the loss of his lower right leg, he padded his head with a towel and joked that a measure of sadism had accounted for the healthy turnout.

Watching him — drenched in sweat, seemingly in pain you wondered if, rather, it was masochism that kept him on the road. The more likely reason was financial necessity.

His failing health in recent years was, he said, kept in check by alcohol. “Four bottles of Scotch every night does the trick,” he told Mojo. That was three years ago, 18 years after he was told by his doctor to give up drinking or die. On BBC Four’s excellent Martyn documentary Johnny Too Bad, his regrets extended not so much to his lifestyle but to the people who had suffered as a result of it. One of them was his former wife Beverley Martyn, who claimed he hijacked her solo career by appearing on her debut album. The results, The Road to Ruin and then Stormbringer!, may have undermined his wife’s confidence = but, on their own merits, both remain among the defining albums of their era.

Martyn’s pioneering of the echoplex “loop and layer” effect — a technique since used by scores of artists, including, was well suited to the sensibilities of the dub reggae pioneers he befriended during his time in Jamaica in the 1970s. “There were massive amounts of ganja being consumed by everyone. Lots of love and peace,” recalled Martyn, adding that he couldn’t remember if he stayed there for seven weeks or seven months.

The 1980s didn’t seem to know what to do with John Martyn, and you suspected that the feeling was mutual. Produced by Phil Collins, Grace & Danger was Martyn’s last essential release — an eloquent memorial to a marriage from which Beverley Martyn never quite seemed to recover.

Since then, working out how best to utilise Martyn’s talent in the studio seemed to elude most of those who took it upon themselves to try. Performing live, however, the guitar that was once a prop, an implement with which to dazzle, took on a new significance. Here, he would simply cradle his instrument like a baby, and make it do things that no other performer could do. Staring felt like an intrusion.

Indeed, it helped not to look at all. If you closed your eyes, the sinuous hook and pull of Martyn’s fretboard manner, his bedside burr, conspired to make the years fall away. Best remember him that way.
Obituary, page 75

Pete Paphides
The Times
30 January 2009

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Pioneering Singer Songwriter Who…

Pioneering singer-songwriter who blended folk with jazz and played with Eric Clapton and Dave Gilmour.

Before he passed away this week at the age of 60, the singer and guitarist John Martyn had cheated death many times. A former heroin user and lifelong alcoholic who suffered numerous injuries in falls, he also seemed to treat being shot at, pancreatic failure, and a .broken neck sustained when his ear collided with a bull as occupational hazards.

In April 2003, Martyn’s morale was g further tested when a burst cyst led to X septicaemia and the amputation of his right leg below the knee. Typically he soldiered on, playing gigs in a wheelchair, and referencing his injury and subsequent weight gain with black humour. “Does anyone require the services of a one-legged Sumo wrestler?” he enquired at some of his last concerts.

Listening to Martyn’s illustrious back catalogue, one hears naivety, drugged-out experimentation, mid-life crisis and some Buddhism-influenced soul-searching. But it is for his 1973 masterpiece Solid Air that he will be remembered most. The influential album’s sublime-sounding pastoral folk and jazz won admirers in Paul Weller and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, not least for its spellbinding title track, which voiced touching concern for Martyn’s friend and record label’-mate, Nick Drake. A shy and vulnerable individual who was John Martyn’s opposite in terms of temperament, Drake, English folk’s tragic seer, would pass away 18 months later.

Like him, Martyn had developed a masterful finger-picker technique on acoustic guitar, but the most celebrated aspect of his playing was his    pioneering use of the Echoplex echo device, employed to mesmerising effect on his druggiest, most electric-sounding album, 1977’s One World. Though scores of musicians, including Eric Clapton, delighted in working ‘ with Martyn, his most important musical foil was undoubtedly Pentangle’s double-bassist, Danny Thompson. As 1975’s Live at Leeds testifies, near telepathic interplay informed the pair’s musical unions even when both players were roaring drunk.

Martyn was born lain David McGeachy in New Malden, Surrey in 1948, but grew up in the Queen’s Park district of Glasgow. His parents, both light-opera singers, divorced when he was five, and he was brought up by his father, Tommy, and paternal grandmother, Janet. The household was a cultured and reasonably affluent one, and Martyn’s boyhood interests included ornithology and the paintings of the French Impressionists. But his parents’ divorce, cited by his biographer John Neil Munro as the source of “a deep dark hurt”, had a lasting effect on him.

Following his hero, the folk-guitar virtuoso Davy Graham, to London (Graham died in December 2008), the aspiring singer-songwriter left Shawlands Academy with decent qualifications but occasionally slept rough in Trafalgar Square while honing his live act on Soho’s folk-cellar circuit. He signed to Island Records in 1967 aged 19 and would enjoy a long tenure at Chris Blackwell’s exemplary imprint, his uncompromising, shape-shifting music taking in folk, jazz, funk, dub and more.

In April 1969, Martyn married Beverley Kutner, a fellow folk singer who had already appeared at the Monterey pop festival. They made the 1970 album Stormbringer together at the suggestion of the record producer Joe Boyd. The newly-weds and Wesley, Beverley’s son from a previous relationship, relocated to Woodstock, New York State, for its recording.

A second album by the Martyns, The Road to Ruin, followed that same year, but like its predecessor it wasn’t well received. When John Marlyn re-emerged, it was with his solo album Bless the Weather. Containing one of his most beautiful love songs, “Head and Heart”, the album could be read as a celebration of the Martyrs’ new life by the seaside in Hastings, and the birth of their daughter Mhairi. But the darker truth was that John had already been physically and verbally abusive to Beverley, blackening her eye on one occasion.

The couple had a second son, Spenser, in 1975, but by 1980 they were divorced and Beverley had custody of their children. John married again in 1983, this time to Annie Furlong, a fellow alcoholic and the manager of a recording studio in Ireland. When Furlong passed away in 1996, long after they had separated, Martyn was also grieving for his oldest friend, the musician Hamish Imlach. These and other accumulated hurts might help explain though not excuse the ugly bouts of drunken machismo that periodically blotted Martyn’s copybook.

He had documented his messy break-up with Beverley on his 1980 album, Grace & Danger, a record whose emotional candour unnerved Island’s Chris Blackwell so much that he delayed its release for a year. Martyn had employed his friend Phil Collins, also undergoing a break-up at the time, as producer, but while Collins’s divorce record Face Value went on to sell 10 million copies, Martyn’s Grace & Danger was another critically acclaimed but under-performing work.

Martyn once said that had he drank coffee all his life he might have become a superstar, but his eclecticism, stubbornness and refusal to play by the rules must also be factored in when attempting to explain his lack of mainstream success. More taken with innovation than writing hit singles, he was forever indulging whims and proclivities while striking odd deals. In 1998, when he was “rediscovered” by Independiente Records, he agreed to record an album of cover versions including Portishead’s “Glory Box” on the condition that the label buy him a disused Scottish kirk he had his eye on. Independiente agreed, and soon came The Church with One Bell.

Martyn made a great curry (he cooked me one once when I interviewed him). He could be tender and poetic or aggressive and intimidating and even while stoned or drunk he was an eloquent, informative speaker and a hugely expressive musician and singer. One of his party pieces was to segue between broad Cockney and broad Glaswegian in the course of one sentence.

The last time I met him was in 2004 when I travelled to Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny to interview him for this newspaper. He seemed calmer and more contemplative, and he was living in a bric-a-brac festooned cottage with his partner Teresa, whom he met in Dublin in 1998. We’d ostensibly met to talk about his 22nd studio album, On the Cobbles’, but Martyn only agreed to do so on condition that I first listen to him perform four brand new songs. I’ll never forget him coaxing beautiful phrases from his Gibson SG, his prosthetic foot stretched out before him and curlicues of marijuana smoke twirling around his head.

When talk eventually turned to On the Cobbles, I singled out “My Creator”, a balm for the senses wherein Martyn’s rich, gravelly voice soars alongside tenor and soprano saxophones. The song seemed to reflect Martyn’s growing awareness of his own mortality and prompted questions about whether there actually was a God.

“I can’t not believe in a creator,” Martyn told me, his Jack Russell terrier, Gizmo, now asleep on his lap. “The birds sing too beautifully and the trout are too speckled.”

In February last year Martyn received the lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards – presented to him by Phil Collins – and at the ceremony he performed “Over the Hill” and “May You Never”, accompanied by the former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones on mandolin. To mark his 60th birthday, Island released a 4-CD set, Ain’t No Saint, and he was appointed an OBE in the 2009 New Year Honours List.

James McNair
The Independent
30 January 2009

lain David McGeachy (John Martyn), singer, songwriter and guitarist: born New Malden, Surrey 11 September 1948; manied1969 Beverley Kutner (marriage dissolved, one son, one daughter, one stepson), 1983 Annie Furlong (deceased 1996); died 29 January 2009.

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