Trying To Send Me Around The Twist

I am a professional folk/blues guitarist and Mr Martyn’s authentic brand of ‘Celtic Soul’, replete with sensuous, back-slapped guitar picking, was a big influence on me when I was starting out. So much so that certain ‘stylings’ on some of my stuff was very JM in terms of feel.

Now, I lived in Chester in the 1990’s and did a fair few local gigs. One such gig was at a venue called Telford’s Warehouse – a former grain store converted into a modern pub/bar/music venue located on the Shropshire Union canal. I’d heard from a friend of mine that, after a Telford’s gig (where I did support) John had bought a narrow boat and had it moored more or less outside the venue. I never got to meet him properly that night but apparently he used to frequent Telford’s at lunchtime and make quick work of several bacardi and cokes! One afternoon he was worse for wear to the degree that some of the bar staff had to ‘help’ him back to his boat. After helping John into a seat and being fixed a coffee, one of my mates put on my latest CD. One track ‘Song Of Delusion’ came on:

‘When did I record that?’  John asked.

‘It’s not you John, it’s a bloke called Phil Hare who did a short support for you when you played here’.

‘Phil what? I tell you that is me’, John insisted.

He carried on:

‘Are trying to send me round the twist?’

‘Don’t you think I know my own fuckin’ voice?’

My mate came back:

‘Listen John, it’s a guy called Phil Hare. He only lives at the bottom of the road. Would you like me to get hold of him?’

‘I’ll fuckin’ get hold of ‘I’m for nickin’ my fuckin’ idea’, came the reply.

Anyway, this ‘call and response’ went on for about an hour and remained unresolved. However, the CD was left on his boat.

The following day, I got a phone call.

‘Hey Phil, this is John Martyn. I heard some of your stuff yesterday. Really nice my man. I thought it was me. I was clearly wrong’.

‘Do you remember the short support spot I did when you first played the warehouse’, I asked, feeling a wee bit apprehensive – as well as gobsmacked.

‘I’m sorry old man. Brain has gone. But listen, you get out there and bloody play. You’re OK!’

My home phone number was listed on the sleeve of the CD and he had obviously got his head together and checked the whole thing out.

There are many conflicting stories about John, but apart from being a monstrous talent, he was largely a great bloke who would do anything for you etc – in spite of being able to consume industrial levels of drink! I get similar stories from friends of mine who knew John, namely Steve Tilston and Terry Lees, both renowned guitarists/performers.

I still miss not being able to see John play again, but I’ll remember that tale for a good while.

Phil Hare

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Solid Air Malt

The Story of Solid Air Malt

Solid Air MaltbI moved to Scotland in the year 2000. At the time my favourite malt whisky was 21 year old Springbank and all things Springbank were alright with me. One of the bottles I bought included an offer to invest in a cask of Springbank. I decided to see if my best friend Andy Miller would be interested in sharing the purchase. Andy and I are friends from school and best man at each other’s wedding etc. Taking account of cost and quantity, we signed up for a 50 Litre (11 gallon) first fill Oloroso sherry cask. The cask was actually filled in May 2001.

Our plan was to see it mature for at least 15 years if not 16, which would coincide with our 60th birthday year and we could then have it bottled for our respective retirements.

In early January 2009, I received a call from the distillery saying that due to the small cask size, an increased rate of evaporation had occurred. The alcohol level (ABV = alcohol by volume) was at 43%. One of the rules for Scotch whisky is that it is only Scotch whisky if it has a minimum alcohol of 40%. The strong recommendation, which we accepted was to bottle the malt as soon as possible. To allow Springbank to do the bottling they needed a label including a name.

Andy and I share a lot of common interests including music. We started exploring titles based on some of our musical interests and kicking about other information to print on the label. Once we’d cleaned up the options we realised that we did not have a good and acceptable name for our malt.

Then the news came through that John Martyn had died. I got in contact with Andy and said what about Solid Air Malt? It captures one of John’s best known pieces of music and in its way it hints at the loss of our whisky spirit through evaporation.

We agreed and came up with:-

“Nigel & Andy’s Solid Air Malt
09-07 02 21 03 57-52”
(09 = year of bottling, 07 02 = 7th Feb = Andy’s birthday, 21 03 = 21st March = Nigel’s birthday, 57 = 1957 = year of our birth, 52 = number of bottles) plus details of the whisky i.e. cask type, alcohol on distillation, bottling details and final alcohol in bottle.

Solid Air MaltaAs a point of interest, approximately 30% of the initial volume was lost to evaporation. We each took 26 bottles and being generous souls have given a number of bottles away to friends and family for special birthday’s or occasions.

The whisky is a deep mahogany colour, reflecting the rapid absorption of colour from the cask into the whisky. The whisky has a rich, sweet, moist wood nose with specific notes of a moist fruit cake (sultanas, currants and sherry). The palate delivers good intensity of dried fruit, fruit cake, sweet wood notes which last long on the palate. The alcohol is initially warm but it calms as the other rich flavours take hold.

How many bottles have we got left? Andy has 12 and I have 14. We are enjoying working our way through them and of course it brings back many memories of the times that we saw John play live. When John played the Newcastle Opera House in 2004, post his lower left leg amputation, which was an absolutely stunning gig, he got some unwarranted heckling and responded by singing, ‘in every bunch of roses, there is always one prick!”; a great riposte.

We last saw John play at Newcastle City Hall in October 2008, when he toured Grace and Danger.

Nigel Rutherford

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The Only John Martyn Fan In Indianapolis

In the late 80s, I spent some time in Indianapolis. My wife came from there, and as soon as I arrived, fresh from North London, she introduced me to some local musicians that she knew. I was a guitarist myself, and I think she figured that musicians, being a worldwide brotherhood of mad bastards, would make me feel at home. I got to jam all over the shop. The music was mainly blues, and her loft apartment was soon playing host to many guys who looked like they had just broken out of San Quentin. Your average blues players, in other words!

There was another music scene in Indianapolis at the time, though. A more folky country tinged one. I was amazed and impressed to meet people who had never been within five thousand miles of Cropeddy, but who had all the major Fairport Convention albums. These same people knew the words to all the major Richard Thompson tunes. Mention John Martyn, however, and it would be glazed expressions all round. The frustrating thing was that not only had none of them heard of him, but due to a monumental cock up on my part, I had left all the tapes I had prepared to bring with me at home in London!

I scoured the record shops, fleamarkets, etc, in order to maybe pick up an album that I could play to the folks. No luck though. We even drove to Anderson, Indiana one day, to see a record store that had a reputation for British imports. They were all there. Every obscure British artist of the last thirty years. All that is, except for JM! Well, I did find a copy of the Tumbler, but that wasn’t quite what I had in mind!

One Sunday, we were invited over to a friend’s house. The garden was full of drunk musicians, and as dusk came and went, we were all gathered round in a circle, playing away. I would play the first few chords of a tune, and they would all join in. Now there were several people there I had not met before, so I thought that maybe one of them might have heard of the big man. I started to play May You never , and instead of participation, I got a polite audience. I finished, and someone said, ” One of yours Pete? Not bad!” Someone else finally said, ” I know that song.” I felt vindicated. I was not alone! There was another soul out there in Indy who knew of JM. Then, the guy finished his sentence! “..yeah, I know that song, it is one of Eric Clapton’ s isn’t it. Off of Slowhand !” Well, after that I thought that JM appreciation would have to be kept between me and my partner!

Some time later, we went to an open mike night at a folk club. There were a few faces there I knew, but also some folk I hadn’t met before. The standard was good that night, and I decided not to go for just my paltry songs. Instead, I went for an odd version of One day Without You that I used to do, deviating from JM’s structure a bit, a bit more bluesy, but still recognisable as his song. It went down pretty well, and a friend came over and asked me if the song was one of mine. Well, I usually did own up to covers straight away, but I was a little drunk, (well, rather a big drunk actually) and I didn’t say it was mine, and I didn’t say it wasn’t. I just grinned inanely! I noticed someone on the table next to ours start to pay attention to me, and give me so me odd looks! Remember, by this time, I was convinced that I was the only John Martyn fan in Indianapolis! Well, this guy from the other table got up, and collected his guitar. He was the next man up!

After a little tuning he announced his first song. “This first number is by a great British songwriter, that I know at least one other member of the audience has heard of!” He proceeded to play Discover the Lover . Not only was it a John Martyn song, but from the same bleeding album as One day Without You. I left the club that night a much drunker, but only slightly wiser man. I had learnt two things. One, I can be a bit of a tosser at times, and two, there was more than one John Martyn fan in Indy!

Pete Grant

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May You Never

St.Georges Hall, Exeter, England,1998

Shout from the audience, “May You Never!”

John collapses in a fit of laughter,

“Sorry, it’s just that May You Never is like the *death knell*- I have visions of myself in a *wheelchair* going “M-a-a-a-ay Yo-o-o-u-u-u N-e-e-e-e-e-e-v-e-e-e-e-r-r-r” [John speaks in an old, bleating voice]

I’m not saying that I’ll never sing it again, it’s just that……..time and a place for everything…..”

Ian Barnett

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Are You A Christian?

Lancaster University, England, 22 November 1978

Shout from the audience, “Are you a Christian?”

John Martyn, “I came here to enjoy myself!” [gives a fine performance of Over The Hill]

Another shout from the audience, “‘Go Down Easy’!”

John, “Yeah, I heard some bloke playing Go Down Easy the other day, he played it better than I did!”

Uncertain laughter from the audience

“F***in’ c***, I wanted to cut his f***in’ hands off!”

Roars of laughter

Ian Barnett

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Make No Mistake

I feel compelled to share my feelings about this quintessential John Martyn song.  For many years it was my favourite song, even my personal theme tune, sung from the cliff tops. For me it epitomises all that makes John Martyn so important and so vital. It’s also part of an outstanding emotional outburst called Inside Out that sneaked and roared its way deep into my psyche in the mid-70s.

The song starts with an instantly catchy and smoothly rhythmic intro on John’s acoustic guitar – no echoplex this time – joined by Danny Thompson’s double bass and some shuffling drums and high hats.  The rhythm and tone are blues but tinged with jazz in a shimmering upbeat tradition rather than a complete downer. Then John’s effortless voice drifts in, in mellow mode, do-be-da-ing along with it and he seems to be singing of happiness, but what’s this?  The words are suggesting he could be suicidal!

“If I can’t be a happy man,
I won’t be no one at all.
If I can’t be just who I am,
I won’t let you come to call.”

No, it’s a protest to his lover, demanding his freedom. John wants to be happy, he wants to be loved, but he needs his space.

“I was all right before
I walked through the door
I was all right outside
But inside I had to cry.”

So John was just minding his own business and then walked into trouble with a capital T. Suddenly he’s out of control and his world is thrown into confusion. He compares his outward serenity, matched by the lilting rhythm and tone of the song, with an increased sense of desperation in the second half of the verse. There’s an ambiguity here as well: is he talking about being OK while he was physically outside the door and then crumpling once inside, or is it purely metaphorical, contrasting his exterior with his inner feelings? Sometimes I hear it one way, sometimes another.

He raises his voice to contrast being “all right before” with how he felt after he walked through the door: these last words sung in slightly sharper, not yet staccato bursts, followed by the broken sinking sound of a prolonged “outside” and a sotto voce “but inside I had to cry”.  All is not well, implying the inner turmoil, the questions …  Immediately he’s into describing his roller-coaster emotions and the words are matching the music:

“Low today, high tomorrow,
I see that it’s real.”

John’s still singing smoothly here, but becoming more animated…

“One man’s meat’s another man’s sorrow
Do you know how it feels”

The voice is getting more grave now…

“To be dead drunk”

rasped in his nascent patented growl

“on the floor” – down he goes…
“To get up, to ask for more” – and he’s up and at you, a raging drunk, fighting for his dignity…

“To be lying in the dark
Cry-y-y-y-ing” – deep in the slough of despond, wringing every last depth out of his voice, then straight into the next verse, with Danny’s bass beautifully picking out the lilting rhythm of the piece.

“If I can’t be a peaceful man
I will be who I can
If I can’t get everything I want
I’ll just get what I can (oooh!)”

A selfish, hedonistic philosophy being preached here (but in the song “Look In” the words are belted out in a way that ensures the listener knows John hates that attitude) but then the self-mocking exclamation (printed “strewth!” on the sleeve of Inside Out)….  And then he’s reversing the movement of the first verse. Now he contrasts feeling all right inside with external nervousness and wariness:

“I was all right before
I walked out the door
I was all right inside
But outside I had to look again again again again”

– and now John drifts into free form word play, supported with virtuosity by Danny and co, as he scats into John Coltrane territory (the phrase “A Love Supreme” is no accident), chanting the torment and lust and joy and sorrow of love, soaring and shouting and whispering and cajoling, slithering and sliding and eliding his words into each other, twisting them this way and that to reflect the different meanings. It’s like he’s holding up this wondrous diamond in his hands, to examine from all angles, and finding something different on every facet, something like this:

“Love, again again again and again a love again a love supreme a love supreme a love supreme a love supreme divine, anyway that you want it to be It’s love… It’s love… Love…Love…Love”

and in the background there’s this maelstrom building up with a restrained howling, whining, raging echoed guitar cranking up to meet the frantically strumming Spanish guitar and the bass and drums and then Chris Wood’s sax joins the party and it all comes together and collapses over and over again like waves on the shore and triumphantly he sings again and again:

“Make No Mistake: it’s love, Make No Mistake it’s love!
Divine it’s fine it’s wine it’s time it’s love
Love, Love, Make No Mistake It’s Love… Love… Love … Love”

and it’s wonderful, but then sometimes you think he’s singing “Make No Mistake In Love” and it sounds like a dire warning and the whole thing echoes with menace.  Whatever you get from it, don’t mess with it.  Eat it sleep it drink it but don’t mess with it.

If you don’t get the point, Ways To Cry follows and that tells you what happens when you’re unfaithful, from the pits of his heart ….

Bob Jacobs

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