Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best ProgrammeSix Of The Best

This benefit concert for Womad (World Of Music, Arts And Dance) took place on 2nd October 1982 in the Milton Keynes Bowl.

Genesis included Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford, Daryl Stuermer and Chester Thompson.

John, Talk Talk and The Blues Band were the support artists.

John Martyn

There is nothing predictable about John Martyn. Since he first burst upon the music scene with the 1968 album “London Conversation”, John Martyn has been serving up quality albums comprised equal parts blues, jazz, folk and rock. Unique among contemporary musicians, Martyn has continually captured public imagination with his curious and sometimes startling blend of influences.

John Martyn was born in Glasgow in 1949, an only child. He first fell under the influence of his mother’s love of Debussy at an early age and, later, was welcomed under the formative wing of the infamous Scottish folk singer Hamish Imlach, who introduced him to the local folk scene. At seventeen he was playing solo, exhausting neighbourhood opportunities and planning an essential move South.

Six Of The Best Programme2On arrival in London, he was spotted by Chris Blackwell, who soon signed him to Island Records. “London Conversation” was released in February 1968, a promising, basically acoustic piece of work. Acclaimed as it was for its interpretive flair, it was “The Tumbler”, released in December 1968, that added a further dimension to Martyn’s music with a guest appearance from jazz flautist and saxophonist Harold McNair. Martyn’s third album, “Stormbringer!”, was recorded in Woodstock in 1969 and featured his Coventry born wife Beverley along with the Band’s Levon Helm and The Mothers Billy Mundi. Beverley again appeared with her husband on “The Road To Ruin”, which featured bassist Danny Thompson, at the start of what was to be a fruitful collaboration with Martyn stretching over several albums.

“Bless The Weather”, released in November 1971, is now often accepted as Martyn’s first true masterpiece; the well of inspiration from which all his subsequent albums spring. Its follow up, “Solid Air”, is probably his most popular album. Released in February 1973, its sheer depth and breadth of adventure make it one of the undisputedly great albums of its own, or any other era.

There followed two more albums, “Inside Out” and “Sunday’s Child” before John Martyn set off for Jamaica in 1975, where he spent time working with Lee Perry and Burning Spear. By the 1977 release “One World”, John Martyn was exploring the electric possibilities of the guitar, using an echoplex unit, an exploration which continued on the 1980 album “Grace And Danger.” This album emerged as a breathtaking exhumation and exorcism of the breakdown of his marriage with Beverley. The musicians included Phil Collins on drums. “Grace And Danger” is a dark, brooding album, apparently shelved for a year because Chris Blackwell found it too openly disturbing to release.

John Martyn left Island Records in 1981 and signed with WEA International, Beverley secured her divorce and John took his first permanent band on the road. He also recorded his most sensual and straight ahead album in the Phil Collins produced “Glorious Fool.” This album showcases a band which includes Max Middleton (keyboards), Alan Thomson (bass), Danny Cummings (percussion), Phil Collins (drums and vocals).

“In the past I’d hire musicians for my albums instead of using a band, and the albums tended to sound like they were using hired players,” Martyn admits. “This is a group effort, there’s more of an interface. I like to keep things moving forward. I don’t see myself moving backwards.”

For his new album release, “Well Kept Secret”, Martyn retains the services of Alan Thomson and Danny Cummings, but this time brings in drummer Jeff Allen and keyboardist Jim Prime. There are also guest appearances from the likes of Mel Collins (sax), Ronnie Scott (sax), Martin Drover (trumpet), Pete Winfield (keyboards) and Lee Kosmin (harmony vocals). The nine new songs are all John Martyn originals, plus there’s the added bonus of Never Let Me Go, a hit in the Fifties for the late R&B star Johnny Ace.

John Martyn has confirmed a 33 date British concert tour in September/October, his biggest ever national tour. He will be working with the band members on the “Well Kept Secret” album, which looks all set to become his most commercially successful album to date.


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The Cooltide Tour

The Cooltide Tour programme is predominantly in the form of quotations from John.

John Martyn
In His Own Words – “Doing What Comes Naturally”

On Success –
”I’m not interested in the showbiz jive which goes with the personal fame, but I’d like to be better known because the songs are good and I would like to move more people with them.”
The Times, 24/11/89
“Success is when you know your own worth. All the rest is unnecessary, ultimately.”
New Musical Express, 29/11/80
“I’ve not made much from my records. In fact the version of ‘May You Never’ by Eric Clapton has probably made me more money than all my stuff put together.”
New Musical Express, 29/11/80

On Changing Styles –
‘Had I remained solo, so many people were using techniques that I used years ago that I didn’t want to be lost in the quagmine of ‘Who is this Guy? Just another geezer playing with a repeat echo,’ so I had to change .”
Melody Maker, 23/10/82
”In Canada, for instance they screamed at me when I started playing the electric guitar!”
Guitarist, 6/90
“Even today there’s a split in my audience; there’s still a section that wants me to go back to what I was doing 10 years ago. When I first got the band I got terrible letters – the suit was seen as the main culprit .”
Q, 1990

Cooltide Tour ProgrammeOn Modesty –
‘I’m an original. I feel good that no -one else ever before had played the guitar like I do. That’s important to me. I hope to get a whole lot better, to make a bigger contribution.” Melody Maker, 4/11/78
“There’s still nobody who can do what I do I’m still unique.”
”I guess I’m a little arrogant, but then anyone who’s played jazz guitar and hasn’t got some sort of arrogance in them is obviously a lemon!”
New Musical Express, 22/12/84

On Life –
”I’m very good at doing what comes naturally.”
Melody Maker, 9/4/77
”I love women, I must confess. They are my weakness…but then I’m a romantic. The problem is they’re so beautiful aren’t they? Children even more so – they genuinely are such an inspiration.”
New Musical Express, 10/10/81

On Home –
I live in a tiny village with no pub and no shops and a population of about 70. I’ve got a studio and I potter around the garden, cook a lot, and fish. At home 1 walk around humming and whistling and dancing and banging on the windows. I’m known for it I was described the other day by somebody’s child as ‘the man who’s always singing.'”
Q, 1990

John Martyn
In His Own Words – “Jack the Lad”

On parents –
“My father was a tenor, my mother was a soprano. She used to play Debussy when I was a kid I really used to get into that. They took me to a show once with Roy Rogers and Trigger and I remember I much preferred Trigger to Roy Rogers.”
Melody Maker, 9/4/77

Cooltide Tour DatesOn School –
“They used to say I was intelligent but I was always the one who ‘should work harder’ and ‘must apply himself more.’”
Melody Maker, 9/4/77

On growing up in Glasgow –
“I was as much of a lad as a born coward could be –  you went out and kicked a few heads or else you were looked on as a pansy.”
Melody Maker, 9/4/77

On Careers –
“My parents wanted me to be a doctor. I would have liked to be an archaeologist – I’ve always been interested in that.”
Melody Maker, 9/4/77

On Playing Live –
“The adrenalin buzz you get from actually playing on the stage is quite amazing.”
Melody Maker, 9/4/77
”I try to balance my own favorites, the songs I really like playing, with what the audience wants to hear. It usually works out!’
Melody Maker, 4/11/78
‘It’s a very good feeling when people stand up and clap The confidence you get from playing in front of an audience is very valuable. It gives you more confidence in your writing.”
New Musical Express, 24/12/77
“As soon as the music starts I’m alright. I’m convinced that for those sections of my life when I’m playing, I don’t actually exist and time stands still for me.”
Melody Maker, 23/10/82
“I think I’ll play until the day I drop.”
Melody Maker, 3/10/81

Cooltide TourOn Touring in America –
“There’s nothing worse than playing to an audience of 20,000 screaming 17 year olds which I have done on occasions – when confronted with that I just don’t know what to do. I just turn up the volume full and close my eyes. ”
New Musical Express, 29/11/80

On His First Inspiration to play Guitar –
”It was hearing Joan Baez’s  record of  ‘Silver Dagger’ – I’ve never liked anything else of hers.’”
Melody Maker, 13/10/73

On The Early Days –
I learned to play off Hamish Imlach who taught me a lot. Later I met the Incredible String Band and I would support them on folk-club gigs and get three or four quid When I moved to London I was playing clubs like Cousins and the Kingston Folk Barge where I was spotted by Theo Johnson who took me to Island Records with a song called ‘Fairy Tale Lullaby which everyone was impressed with and I was signed up. ”
Zig Zag, 4/74

On The Young Martyn –
“I was very shy and retiring until I was 20 and then I just got the heave with Donovan and Cat Stevens and all that terribly nice rolling up joints and sitting on toadstools watching the sunlight dapple its way through the dingly dell of life’s rich pattern stuff. I consciously turned away from all that.” – Q, 1990

The Band

Gerry Conway

Born in Kings Lynn Norfolk on 11.9.47. Gerry started playing when he was three but turned pro at sixteen.

He worked with Alexis Korner in the 60s then Eclection and Fotheringay with Sandy Denny in 1970. He started session work and made albums for Ian Mathews, Steelye Span, Mick Softy, John Cale, Francoise Hardy, Incredible String Band and lots and lots and lots of others!

He joined the Cat Stevens band in 1971 and spent the next six years touring and making albums with him. He also worked with Jim Capaldi, Chris DeBurgh and Linda Lewis during this time. Back into the sessions in 1977 working on singles
and with Elkie Bookes, David Dundas, Gonzales, etc. In 1978 he moved to America to form a band with Jerry Donahue and also with Big Mama Thornton Lowel Fullson and Tom Scott during this time.

He moved back to England in 1981 to work with Jerry Donohue, Jethro Tull, Richard Thompson, Pentangle, and other sessions.

Spencer Cozens

Spencer left technical college in Newark in July, 1983 and spent a year self-employed building flightcases and speakers.

He moved to London in 1984 and joined guitarist Dominic Miller’s band IGUAZU. He played on his album, IGUAZU and did the Edinburgh festival with the band, including playing on BBC Radio 2 Brian Matthew’s programme, ROUND MIDNIGHT.

In 1985, he again worked with Dominic Miller in a trio with flautist Dave Heath. The trio did several concerts in the Purcell Room on the South Bank and at the 1985 Edinburgh festival as well as appearing on TV-AM and recording for BBC TV’s PEBBLE MILL AT ONE.

During this time in London he played several bands doing clubs such as the WAG and BASS CLEF and worked as a session musician up until late 1986 when he went to Boston to study at The Berklee College of Music.

Moved back to London in late 1987 and became involved in the alternative comedy scene playing for comedian Johnny Immaterial in the group, LOS PROPERTOS. Gigged extensively around the country including Amnesty International’s show THE FAMOUS COMPERE’S POLICE DOG at the Duke of York’s theatre in the West End. He did several radio and TV appearances on GLR Radio and 01 FOR LONDON with the act. More recently they recorded a show with Glaswegian comedian Jerry Sadowitz for BBC 2, due to be screened in January, 1992.

In autumn 1989, he joined Julia Fordham’s band for the PORCELAIN tour and did the US launch of the album in New York in early 1990. During this time he worked with bassist Alan Thomson, percussionist Miles Bould and sax player Dave Lewis, with whom he toured John’s APPRENTICE album during the first six months of 1990. With various line-ups since, he has toured Germany, France, Spain and Italy with John.

Since completing a music degree at GOLDSMITHS COLLEGE in London this year he has spent the majority of the time in Scotland working on the Cooltide album at CAVA sound workshops in Glasgow. Prior to the studio, he and John worked on pre-production and used the DAT to DAT system of recording, enlisting the help of Miles Bould. Recent work has also included working with Julia Fordham on demos for her most recent album, Dominic Miller on THAMES TV theme tunes and completing a recording project with Miles Bould.

Dave Lewis

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri in the United States Dave has spent much of his life in Britain. The Blues have been a major influence in his music. At an early age, he played Boogie-Woog ie piano and later guitar-inspired by the likes of Hubert Sumlin and BB King. However, it was not until his late teens that he picked up the Tenor Sax – it is here that he has found his voice.

In the late 70s, he played in a variety of funk and pop bands in London, but an interest in Jazz (Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon) as well as his R &B roots (King Curtis, Junior Walker) led him to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1982. Whilst there he played with various jazz groups and worked the East Coast club circuit as a member of a 10 piece R & B Band ‘High Function.’

Since his return to London in ’88 he’s played extensively and recorded with Ed Bentley’s ‘Blue Note Quartet’ featuring Jim Mullen on guitar. More recently much of his work has been with John Martyn, being on the 1990 Apprentice Tour. He is also currently working with British Jazz Drummer Tommy Chase.

Alan Thomson

Born and bred in Glasgow, bassist Alan Thomson was plucked from his school/college band “The Arther Trout Band” by John Martyn in 1980.

His first recording with John was the album “Glorious Fool” on which he worked with Phil Collins, Max Middleton, and Eric Clapton. He then went on to play on the albums “Well Kept Secret”, “Sapphire”, “Piece by Piece”, “Philentropy” and the early stages of “The Apprentice.”

Since “The Apprentice,” Alan has toured with John in Japan, Europe, and the UK as well as with Julia Fordham, Jerry Donahue, and Sally Barker.


Bless The Weather





“A masterpiece … John continues to stay several steps in front of his contemporaries with tracks like Glistening Glyndebourne! “
(Sounds , 27/11/71)

Solid Air





“A great album… as a single overall expression ‘Solid Air’ flows beautifully and shows the entire spectrum of music that John Martyn has at his fingertips.” (Sounds, 7/4/73)
Inside Out






“A celebration of love – is playing has reached an uplifting intensity, the equal of anything on offer at present… I unreservedly recommend it!” (Melody Maker, 13/10/73)

Sunday's Child






“Simply one of the best British albums made in the 1970s.” (Zig Zag, 3/77)

One World






“Guaranteed to chill your spine.” (Melody Maker, 10/12/77)

Grace And Danger






“At times the blending of John Martyn’s voice and guitar, John Giblin’s beautiful bass and Phil Collins immaculate drumming is simply breathtaking.” (Melody Maker, 1/11/80)

Glorious Fool






“Produced by Phil Collins from appearances from him and even Eric Clapton, ‘Glorious Fool’ is a brilliantly blatant bid for the long – deserved big – time.” (Melody Maker, 19/9/81)

Well Kept Secret






“The songs are warm and intelligent and a majority of ‘well kept secret’ is pacier and louder than he’s ever been on one album before… it’s a good record, a class record.” (New Musical Express, 4/9/82)






“A faithful momento of Martyn at his live best – jazzy, sharply recorded. ‘Philentropy’ stretches Martyn’s voice from poisonous howl to besotted slur – low key but ever so seductive.” (Melody Maker, 11/83)







“’Sapphire’ comes close to grade A form.” (Rolling Stone, 28/3/85)

Piece By Piece






“Martyn endows the music with all the benefits of a crystalline production technique and ‘Piece By Piece’ showcases Martyn’s ability to blend his personality and voice with the rigours of jazz instrumentation.” (New HiFi Sound, 6/86)







“Musically excellent.” (Q, 12/87)

The Apprentice






“A class act.” (Q, 4/90)

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The Sunshine Boys Tour

This sixteen page booklet contains a short biography of John Martyn and Danny Thompson, stories about the dynamic duo and came with a five track CD.

The Sunshine Boys CD

1. Dealer
2. Outside In
3. Blue Monk
4. Johnny Too Bad
5. One World


In a world that lacks compassion, John Martyn and his music, is a breath of fresh air. John is an incurable romantic who sings from his heart; no other artist sings with such commitment and emotion. People have fallen in and out of love listening to the most enduring and magical songs of deep sensitivity that have been sung over his thirty five year plus career. A truly progressive artist, John has never been one to stay with a tried and trusted sound, preferring to explore, experiment and break new ground. His trade mark melodies and lyrics are in a class of their own and his voice which is steeped in pleasure and pain, joy and fear and love and hate, expresses emotion like no other and can reduce even the strongest of men to tears.

John Martyn was born Iain David McGeachy on 11th September 1948 in New Malden, Surrey, the only son of two light opera singers. John’s parents separated and his early childhood was spent in Glasgow, John recalls, “you went out and kicked a few heads or you were looked on as a pansy.” John learnt to play the guitar at fifteen and on leaving school at seventeen he started playing in some of the local folk dubs under the wing of Hamish Imlach, who encouraged John to play the guitar. John was influenced by many different music genres including Debussy and soon began to explore music on his guitar. Davey Graham was one of John’s first heroes, as was Clive Palmer who founded the Incredible String Band and became a good friend. John and Clive lived together for a while in a shed near Alston in Cumbria. “Those were wild times, and Clive was a remarkable man, a great musician and down to earth, absolutely no bullshit, taught me lots of things to play.” With a growing reputation on the club circuit in the North, John decided it was time to move on and he started playing in the clubs around London such as Les Cousins and the Kingston Folk Barge, and was soon signed by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records.

John’s debut album, London Conversation, was recorded in mono and released in October 1967. An album of innocent songs that won praise from the music press and launched a career that has spanned five decades!

July 1968 saw John playing live for the BBC’s Night Ride radio programme and he was soon to be featured again on the same programme with the release of his next album The Tumbler in December 1968. The jazz flautist Harold McNair, who played on The Tumbler, joined John and he performed a number of songs including Dusty, Hello Train, Flying On Home, Seven Black Roses and The Easy Blues, which was to appear 5 years later on Solid Air. The Tumbler was produced by Al Stewart and like London Conversation, was again in the folk tradition but early jazz influences were evident, as were beautifully simple and touching lyrics in love songs such as The River and Dusty that was inspired by John’s happy memories of Hampton Court (where he stayed with his aunt) and the annual Fair.

In 1969 John married Beverley Kutner, a singer from Coventry, who was recording at the time with producer Joe Boyd of Witchseason. John was originally hired to be Beverley’s backing guitarist for recording sessions but they were soon to record together and in summer 1969, Stormbringer was recorded at A&R Studios in New York and was released in February 1970. The album featured the Band’s Levon Helm on drums and other session men including the Mothers of Invention’s Billy Mundi. Would You Believe Me featured the introduction of the echoplex guitar technique that John pioneered, and which became a key part of his solo concert performances in the 1970s. John was inspired by the saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders and in particular his album Karma. “The only reason I bought the echoplex was to try and imitate Sanders’ sustain on my guitar.”

Woodstock was a great experience for John, “Hendrix lived virtually next door. He used to arrive every Thursday in a purple helicopter, stay the weekend, and leave on the Monday. He was amazing… a good lad.” John felt that Stormbringer was just a little bit ahead of its time, saying “… a whole lot came from that record… like people started using drum ideas and stuff, and nobody had really thought of using drums with acoustic instruments before. But ifs difficult to say that sort of thing without being conceited.”

John and Beverley’s last album together was The Road To Ruin, which was released in November 1970. John had disagreements with Joe Boyd over the production of this album and, because of the numerous overdubs, John felt that the recording lacked spontaneity. The album featured the introduction of the other Sunshine Boy, Danny Thompson, on double bass.

The Road to Ruin, John explained “is really an adolescent’s view of mortality, you know the idea, isn’t all fun, we’re all doomed but we may as well enjoy it: we’re all going one way, but we may as well get down to it while we’re here.” The album was well received, “The Road To Ruin stands apart from other John Martyn albums… it enjoys distinctly jazz instrumentation in what is basically a rock format,” wrote Zig Zag Magazine.

The Sunshine Boys Tour ProgrammeJohn and Beverley moved from London to Old Town in Hastings, a seaside town “where you just can’t get away from the weather”, and John adopted two year old Wesley, Beverley’s son by a previous relationship and soon became the father of My Baby Girl, Mhairi in February 1971.

Island Records decided that John should revert to recording solo and with a young family to look after this was a forced career break for Beverley. John was unhappy with the situation, “they didn’t want to hear Beverley sing, which is a terrible thing, I still think they’re extremely wrong.” Bless The Weather was released in November 1971; an album which John felt was “very innocent, very beautiful and a pleasure to make.” “Most of the songs on Bless The Weather were very quick. I’d been writing songs in the studio on the day they were recorded. It’s much nicer like that… to be spontaneous. There was no re-writing, it just came out very naturally. I much prefer that approach,” said John, “People kind of sat up and took notice of me after that album, I don’t know why…”

The instrumental Glistening Glyndebourne showcased John’s technique of playing acoustic guitar through the echoplex to stunning effect. “Without elaborating on Bless The Weather too much, let me say that it is a fabulous album, quite definitely one of the very best of 1971, and one which you should spare no amount of trouble over to possess. Every song is a gem…” wrote Zig Zag.

John and Danny were now inseparable both in the studio and on the stage, with inspired and legendary performances punctuated by their own brand of humour. John was producing the most extraordinary sounds from his acoustic guitar with the echoplex and the pair had an almost telepathic understanding. “I think I’ll always use Danny Thompson because he’s got real feel for my music and I’ve got real feel for his.”

Recorded in 1972, Solid Air was released in February 1973 and was regarded by many as John’s best album to date. The album received tremendous reviews, “once in a while you hear a song that finds its way deep into your memory, and you find yourself humming along. This album has more than its share of fine songs like that, but noticeably Go Down Easy and May You Never.” Twenty six years later, in 1999 Solid Air was voted as one of the best chill-out albums of all time in Q Magazine, “With mellow jazzy flourishes and warm acoustic sounds, Solid Air is the musical equivalent of a reassuring hug… the man Beth Orton calls The Guv’nor achieved the impossible: he made a quiveringly sexy folk record.” The beautifully simple May You Never was written for Wesley and Don’t Want To Know was John’s comment on greed, ugliness and the noxious world he saw developing. In 1998 five of the songs from Solid Air were used for the soundtrack to a new BBC film Titanic Town. The film is set in Belfast in 1972 and stars Julie Walters as the politically naive Bernie who is trying to bring up a family against a background of IRA shootings and homes, which are constantly raided by the army. John’s emotive voice and lyrics make a telling contribution to a very disturbing and moving film. Over The Hill was also used in the film soundtrack to Scrapple in 1999. Solid Air was well received and has recently been remastered and re-released by Island Records. John’s popularity and reputation was growing fast and he toured America supporting Free and Traffic.

John says “It felt natural” at the beginning of Fine Lines, on the album Inside Out, which was released in October 1973. It was recorded over a few days in the early hours of the morning satisfying John’s need for spontaneity, this echoplex extravaganza and very experimental album is a celebration of love which John described as “everything I ever wanted to do in music… it’s my inside coming out.”

Sunday’s Child released in January 1975 was described by John as, “the family album, very happy, purely romantic.” An album of contrasts from Root Love to the traditional Spencer The Rover (later dedicated to John’s son Spenser who was born in May) and My Baby Girl which was written for John’s daughter Mhairi. Lay It All Down and You Can Discover ooze emotion; unfortunately, there was no room for Ellie Rae, a delightful song John performed on tour during 1974. John toured extensively to promote Sunday’s Child and was joined by Danny Thompson and John Stevens on drums, with Paul Kossoff making a guest appearance for the last few songs of some gigs. Kossoff was struggling with drug addiction and John tried hard to help him, inviting him to stay in the family home in Hastings in an attempt to try to keep him dry. The gig at Leeds University, on 13th February 1975 was recorded with a view to releasing a live album, but Island Records weren’t keen and so John produced, designed and marketed his own album Live At Leeds. John sold the limited edition of 10,000 by mail order and from his own front door in Hastings! It’s now a collector’s item. Even John doesn’t have a copy of the original. “I sold them all.. I was the first of the record independents.” The album epitomises a typical concert charged with atmosphere, incredible music and of course, banter! Kossoff did not feature on the original release and fans had to wait until 1998 for the album to be released on CD with 5 additional tracks featuring Kossoff.

September and November 1975 saw John touring again and by the end of the year he was totally exhausted. He decided to take a sabbatical and using all his savings he visited Jamaica where he met Lee Scratch Perry. Encouraged by Perry he soon started playing again in sessions and appeared on Burning Spear’s Man in The Hills. The sabbatical continued through most of 1976, “I honestly believe I would have gone completely round the bend had I not gone and done that.” Paul Kossoff died in March 1976, and John wrote Dead On Arrival about the loss of his friend, a song that he performed later that year, but as yet remains unreleased, as does One For The Road, which John performed on the same tour. 1976 also saw John record a single with John Stevens Away called Anni on which John took lead vocal and guitar.

Island then released a compilation of earlier, more acoustic material, So Far So Good, which featured a live version of I’d Rather Be The Devil. The album won John a gold disc at Montreux.

John’s time in Jamaica clearly influenced his next album, One World, which sold well charting at number 54 and became a true favourite with the critics and fans alike. In the summer of 1977, Chris Blackwell asked producer Phil Brown to work with John, and the Island Records mobile studio was set up on Saturday the 16th of July 1977 and One World was recorded in three weeks in the courtyard of a house in Theale, Berkshire. The house was in the middle of a lake and equipment was set up on each side of the lake so that it picked up the sound of water lapping, and a distant “strangled” sound on the guitar which was perfect for lead solos. Most of the recording was carried out between 3am and 6am and these quiet hours before dawn created the most magical atmosphere for recording, resulting in two of John’s most popular songs, One World and Small Hours.

An album of contrasting music from Big Muff, which was co-written by dub master Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, to the enchanting Couldn’t Love You More and the echoplex extravaganza Small Hours. “Guaranteed to chill your spine” – said Melody Maker.

“Some people keep diaries, I make records”

1978 saw the release of In Search of Anna, a film produced by Esben Storm which tells the story of a newly released convict trying to pull his life together, who returns home to find that his girlfriend, Anna, has vanished. John wrote the theme tune Anna (which was based on Small Hours) and some of the incidental music. Dealer and Certain Surprise also featured in the film along with other music by AC/DC of all people!

John played rhythm and lead guitar on Neil Ardley’s Harmony of the Spheres in 1979 and played on television in a South Bank Show special about the album, but it was October 1980 before John’s next album Grace And Danger was released. John’s marriage with Beverley had finally broken down and the album is a collection of very powerful, personal and painful songs. John Giblin played bass with Phil Collins on drums and backing vocals, John and Phil were both going through divorces at the same time and this strengthened their friendship. The album was delayed for a year by Chris Blackwell, who was a close friend of John and Beverley’s, and who found it too openly disturbing to release. John later said that it was “probably the most specific piece of autobiography I’ve written. Some people keep diaries, I make records.”

Two of the songs were also used in films. Save Some (For Me) in The Morning After in 1986 about a woman who wakes up with a hangover and no memory of how she ended up in bed with a dead man! Sweet Little Mystery in Mad Dogs and Englishmen in 1995, a thriller about an aristocratic Englishwoman who is addicted to heroin. By this time John had become bored with the limitations of the acoustic guitar and solo performances and started to concentrate on electric guitar with a full band setting for his music.

John was now living in Moscow, a hamlet in Scotland and was looking after his ill father. He left Island to sign up with Warner Brothers. John and Phil Collins had become close friends and he produced John’s next album Glorious Fool. Released in September 1981 with its satirical title track dedicated to Ronald Reagan, the album charted for seven weeks, reaching No.25. Amsterdam was written for a friend who had fallen in love with a hooker, Don’t You Go is an anti-war song and a new version of Couldn’t Love You More saw Eric Clapton on guitar. Melody Maker reviewed the album “The accolade genius doesn’t often apply in popular music.” And, “Only Tim Buckley ever dumped this much sex on to vinyl.” John embarked on a massive tour and Alan Thomson joined the band on bass guitar.

The Sunshine Boys Tour ProgrammeWell Kept Secret was released in September 1982 and reached the top 20 in the album chart. During the recording John accidentally impaled himself on a fence near his home in Scotland and punctured a lung. “The songs are warm and intelligent and a majority of Well Kept Secret is pacier and louder than he’s ever been on one album before… it’s a good record, a class record,” said New Musical Express. John’s trade marks of sensuality and emotion are present particularly on Never Let Me Go, with Ronnie Scott on tenor sax, Could’ve Been Me and Hung Up. John and his band embarked on a thirty-date UK tour.

To coincide with the release of Well Kept Secret, Island released The Electric John Martyn on 12th October 1982. The tracks included the US mixes of Dancing, Certain Surprise and Dealer (from the American version of One World), the single version of Sweet Little Mystery and the 12 inch dub version of Johnny Too Bad.

In 1982 the BBC released a video John Martyn In Vision containing live performances from their archives from 1973 to 1981. John then left Warner Brothers and was without a recording contract. In November 1983, John who had recently married Annie Furlong, released Philentropy. “I had some tapes of a Brighton Dome gig and a Bristol gig and I just thought I’d make a live album out of it.” Philentropy is considered by many to be one of John’s best live albums. “A faithful memento of Martyn at his live best – jazzy, sharply recorded, Philentropy stretches Martyn’s voice from poisonous howl to besotted slur – low key but ever so seductive.” – Melody Maker.

John returned to Island Records and recorded Sapphire at Compass Point studios in the Bahamas. The recording did not go well “… the production team had all fallen out, no-one was taking responsibility for anything, too much rum was being consumed all over the place, so I got Robert Palmer in who brought in some other excellent musicians, and that was it … it was all down to Robert in the end.” The Guardian newspaper said, “… John Martyn strikes the perfect balance between virtuosity and modernism. Put simply he is in a league of his own.”

Synthesizers were strongly in evidence for the first time and John’s guitar was down in the mix. Rope Soul’d, a song about nothing more simple than beach shoes and Fisherman’s Dream became instant favourites along with John’s heart on sleeve rendition of Arlen and Harburg’s Over The Rainbow.

John has always been concerned with environmental issues and wrote the theme tune to a major series on the environment called Turning The Tide. The series was shown on Tyne Tees Television in the Autumn of 1986 and featured the environmentalist David Bellamy. The theme tune was loosely based on Don’t Want To Know with a new musical arrangement and adapted lyrics. The series ran over budget and plans to release a soundtrack were scrapped.

Piece By Piece was released in February 1986 and to celebrate John’s 20th Anniversary as a performer Island released Classic John Martyn, the worlds first commercially available CD single which featured the tracks Angeline, May You Never, Solid Air, Glistening Glyndebourne and a cover of Bob Dylan’s Tight Connection To My Heart.

“Martyn endows the music with all the benefits of a crystalline production technique and Piece By Piece showcases Martyn’s ability to blend his personality and voice with the rigours of jazz instrumentation,” wrote New Hifi Sounds.

The apocalyptic John Wayne was written about an ex-manager, guitar riffs, power chords and crashing synthesisers whip this song into a frenzy. In contrast the haunting Angeline was written for John’s wife, Annie, and was later used in the film soundtrack to Vital Signs in 1990. John was becoming something of a celebrity appearing on television’s Pop Quiz with Mike Read and other guests.

Live from London, a recording of a gig at the Camden Palace Theatre on 23rd November 1984 was released on video on 27th March 1986 and contains an early version of John Wayne. This has now been released on DVD.

John’s last new material with Island Records appeared on the live album Foundations recorded on 13th November 1986 at London’s Town and Country Club and released in October 1987. The album contained three new songs, The Apprentice, Send Me One Line and Deny This Love. John was moved to write The Apprentice having met a particularly ill looking man in a pub near the Sellafield nuclear recycling plant in Cumbria, and Send Me One Line was written for a film called 84 Charing Cross Road, John told me, “Jo Lustig rang me and asked me to write a song for the film so I read the book and wrote the song, I think it’s a nice little tune. I wrote the song and then forgot about it so it was too late to be used in the film!” “Musically excellent” wrote Q Magazine. A Foundations video was also released.

The Apprentice was released in March 1990 and saw John signed to Permanent Records but unfortunately this proved to be a far from happy and permanent arrangement. A video filmed during the Apprentice Tour was released in August 1990 and for the first time one of John’s songs, Small Hours, was used for a contemporary dance called Shock Absorber by The Phoenix Dance Company.

John’s second album with Permanent Records Cooltide was released on 9th September 1991. This album was more characteristic of John’s style and the synthesizers were less evident. Tremendous bass lines featured through Jack The Lad, The Cure and the atmospheric title track, which was originally known as Running Up The Harbour.

BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert contains material taken from the BBC archives featuring 9 tracks recorded at Glastonbury in 1986 along with some earlier material. An impassioned and very powerful performance and John’s guitar playing is a feature of the album along with Alan Thomson’s superb bass rhythms. There is an incredible extended version of Outside In, a real classic echoplex extravaganza that I never tire of listening to. “These archive recordings find him at his most mesmerising..” – Q Magazine.

“I’m an incurable romantic…but I’m proud of it, and I’m not going to change now.”

Released in 1992, Couldn’t Love You More consisted of re-recorded versions of classic tracks with guest appearances including Phil Collins, David Gilmour and Gerry Conway. John was working on the No Little Boy album and Couldn’t Love You More is in fact the session tapes for No Little Boy. Permanent released the album without John’s knowledge and John was furious, “I had no idea they were going to release that. They had the tapes and I was in America and when I came back the next thing I knew it was out!” Review Magazine said, “Hopefully this will get a whole new audience to check out one of the most impressive back catalogues around; and for those who have most of that back catalogue, here’s an indispensable addition from a man who can do no wrong – trust him!”

No Little Boy was released in July 1993 and Levon Helm, Phil Collins and Andy Sheppard all featured. Some of the songs from Couldn’t Love You More were remixed, but most songs were completely overhauled. Some of the songs were deleted and four songs were entirely re-recorded, Don’t Want Know, Sunday’s Child and Bless The Weather featuring John Giblin on bass, and an excellent new version of Just Now featuring Levon Helm on harmony vocals. The end result was a vastly superior album, much more balanced. “The music is beautiful and Martyn is in fine voice throughout…” – Q Review.

Whilst working on No Little Boy, John was approached by The London Contemporary Dance Theatre to write the music for a new dance, which was choreographed by the highly acclaimed Darshan Singh Bhuller. The dance tells the story of the monsoon season in India, the pre monsoon human frustration and tension, and then the joy and celebration of rainfall. The dance, Fall Like Rain, toured the UK in 1993 and was a major production with thousands of gallons of water crashing on to the stage during the performance!

Island Records released Sweet Little Mysteries: The Island Anthology on 6th June 1994. An excellent overview of John’s music with Island, which spans the greater part of his career. Noticeable by their absence are any songs from John’s first four albums – a little strange! Nonetheless, A well put together package and an excellent introduction to John’s music.

In 1995 Permanent Records released a Live album recorded at the Shaw Theatre, London, on 31st March 1990. To support the release of The Apprentice John had toured for three months in the UK and Europe, including eleven dates at London’s Shaw Theatre, which featured guest artist David Gilmour. In November 1999 Live was re-released as Dirty, Down and Live on the Griffin label.

And was John’s first new material for four years and was released on 29th July 1996. And is an excellent album, which showed clearly that John’s music was still progressing with the use of samples and trip-hop beats. John worked with Stefon Taylor who became a good friend and was clearly an inspiration. John was now signed to the Go Discs label along with bands like Portishead. Unfortunately, this was a short term relationship as Polygram soon bought the Go Discs label. Phil Collins and John Giblin both played on the album, which was received well particularly by fans. John improvised most of the lyrics in the studio! A hidden acid remix of Sunshine’s Better with a superb bass-line brings the album to a close on the CD version. Four of the tracks, albeit different mixes, had featured on the Snooo… CD EP which had been given away free with a T-shirt during John’s 1995 tour. Snooo… was subsequently re-released by Voiceprint.

The dance/remix artist Talvin Singh remixed Sunshine’s Better and this 12 minute remix secured John regular radio air play especially on Radio I and was widely played in the dance clubs bringing John’s music to a new audience.

John was struggling with his health and whilst seriously ill in hospital he was distraught to learn of the death of his wife Annie, from whom he was separated.

The eagerly awaited cover-album The Church With One Bell was released on 23rd March 1998. A whole generation of blues classics from Portishead’s Glory Box to Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit, The Church With One Bell, which was recorded in one week in Glasgow, reverberates with John’s vast musical talent. The track selection was quite simple, when John and the band laughed, they chose that track – hard to imagine, as many of the songs are not happy! John’s rendition of Glory Box stands out and has become a great favourite with fans at live gigs, and other songs such as Small Town Talk, Strange Fruit, God’s Song, Excuse Me Mister and The Sky Is Crying are highlights. A challenging selection of songs for John to sing but he took the songs and made them all his own as only he can. “There’s a place between words and music and my voice lives right there,” John says. The album enabled John to purchase the Church next door to his cottage in Scotland where he now lives.

On the 30th October 1998 Live at Bristol 1991 was released a limited edition ‘Official Bootleg’ of 5,000 featuring the line-up of Alan Thomson (bass), John Henderson (drums), Andy Sheppard (saxophone) and Spencer Cozens (keyboards) performing nine tracks in concert. This was closely followed by Serendipity – An Introduction to John Martyn, another compilation from Island, presumably trying to entice those people who didn’t buy the Anthology.

May 1999 saw the release of Another World, made from the One World session tapes, a gem providing an insight into the making of One World and featuring instrumentals and the unreleased Black Man At Your Shoulder. A limited edition of 1,000 copies with a bonus disc, was soon deleted, due to a disagreement between record companies.

John started the new millennium with Glasgow Walker and a tour of Italy and the United Kingdom. Glasgow Walker marks a departure for John in that it is the first album he has written on a keyboard instead of his trusty guitar. “Phil Collins suggested I should buy this certain type of keyboard (Korg Trinity) which he uses and that’s why it’s taken me three years to make the album. I had to spend eighteen months learning how to get a reasonable sound out of it. I still can’t really play it.” The Mercury Prize Winner Kathryn Williams sings backing vocals on Can’t Live Without and Fields of Play. John’s favourite song on the album is Wildflower, “That’s real heart on the sleeve stuff. You can’t mistake the emotion in that one.” John prefers writing love songs and says “They come easily to me. I don’t know why, it’s not as if I am an abnormally loving person. I’m an incurable romantic and that can be uncomfortable in these troubled and cynical times. But I am proud of it and I am not going to change now.”

So Sweet is about a friend of John’s who finished her relationship with her boyfriend, and said how sweet it was to be free. John asked her if she found it painful, and she replied “Yeah, but sweet.” The funky Mama T is a song dedicated to John’s partner Theresa, or Mama T Razor, as she becomes known in the song. The Sunday Times wrote, “He’s writing now as well as he did in his 1970’s heyday when albums like Stormbringer, Bless The Weather and Solid Air established his reputation as one of the most distinctive talents to emerge from the late 1960’s electric-folk scene.” Perhaps John’s best vocal performance on the album comes last with You Don’t Know What Love Is, which John performs with the Guy Barker Quintet. “Mostly I give my singing seven and a half out of ten,” John says modestly. “But about once every three years or so you hit nine and a half. And when it happens you never really know why it happens.”

This song was recorded by John at the request of Anthony Minghella, a long time fan, for his film The Talented Mr Ripley and also appeared on the soundtrack album to the film. Set in late-1950s Italy, an expert in forgery, Tom Ripley, decides to assume the identity of the son of a millionaire by killing him. Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow starred in the film, which received widespread acclaim.

The New York Session was released on 23rd November 2000 and is an unusual and fun recording of a radio broadcast in 1998. John and the band had been touring the USA promoting The Church With One Bell album. They were very short on sleep and exhausted with all the travelling when they arrived in New York at Radio WFUV. The studio resembled a broom cupboard! Arran Ahmun, Spencer Cozens, Jim Lampi and John were squeezed into the room. John went on air with his back pressed up against the wall in the tiny studio and an amplifier that didn’t want to behave. John was in playful mood and the presenter got more than he bargained for!

There has been a plethora of compilations in recent years such as The Hidden Years, The Very Best Of, The Rest of the Best, Classics and Patterns In The Rain, which are of little added value to fans and have not been included in this short biography.

John has a knack of always being at the centre of the “what’s happening scene” and in 2000 Don’t Want To Know was used as the theme tune for the comedy television series Human Remains directed by Steve Coogan and starring Julia Davis and Bob Brydon.

Such was the success of the series of spoof documentaries on dysfunctional couples that an update is planned for later in 2001 and the BBC filmed one couple, Fonte and Bunde, as they are known, at the Civic Hall, Guildford during John’s recent tour. John introduced The Fonte Bunde Band to an unsuspecting audience describing them as new musicians “beyond the pale who take musical entertainment to a new high!”

A new video film Tell Them I’m Somebody Else… was released on 24th January 2001 and not only contains some stunning live music but also John as we have never seen him before, just chilling out, joking, talking, in the dressing room and behind the scenes rehearsing before the Glasgow Walker Tour. 104 minutes of John Martyn and the best film to date, an essential addition for all John’s fans. John will also feature on a new BBC DVD release to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Presenters of the programme were asked to nominate their favourite moments from the series and Richard Williams chose an early performance of May You Never.

On 12th March 2001 John’s collaboration single with dance artist Sister Bliss went straight into the Official UK Singles Chart at number 31. The song, a cover of The Beloved’s Deliver Me, once again demonstrated John’s versatility as a singer. “John’s brilliant to work with and very approachable. He’s not an ego megastar in any sort of way. He’s just a commensurate musician with a beautiful voice” said Sister Bliss, “He did about 50 vocal takes that were all brilliant. He was just singing it to get the vibe of it and even those vocals were brilliant.”

When John isn’t working he enjoys the simple things in life like fishing, swimming and cooking. With his partner, Theresa, John now spends his time in Scotland and Kilkenny in Ireland. John and Theresa met in Dublin in 1998 and have been inseparable ever since with Theresa accompanying John on his recent tours. John is renowned as a live artist not to be missed and loves playing live, “I was born to play, I love to write, that’s me!”

2001 sees John and good friend, Danny Thompson, making a long awaited return as a duo. The ‘Sunshine Boys’ Tour is so called after the film starring Walter Matthau and George Burns as a feuding comedy partnership reuniting to do a television special. Despite the many years apart the rivalry and desire to be best is still there and soon surfaces. A good humoured desire to outshine each other will no doubt see John and Danny playing their ‘socks off’ on this tour to the delight of audiences.

John is currently working on a new album and has already completed some new songs. John is also looking forward to contributing to a tribute album to Davey Graham, one of his all time music heroes. Folk? Blues? Jazz? Rock? Trip Hop? Funk? John refuses to conform to any particular music genre whilst simultaneously embracing them all. Without fail he always takes the less travelled road in search of new experiences and inspirations. The diversity and quality of John’s music is undeniably stunning. A virtuoso musician with a voice to melt the coldest of hearts. Put simply John Martyn is unique.

John Hillarby, April 2001


Danny Thompson is possibly the finest acoustic bass player the world has known. A bold statement, especially when you consider some of the greats such as the late Charles Mingus and others including Charlie Haden and Dave Holland. But such a statement can genuinely be made. Danny would be touched to read this, although his modesty would not allow him to take it too seriously or indeed consider it for too long, he would no doubt respond, “You’re ‘aving a laaaaarf!”

Danny was born in Teignmouth, Devon on 4th April 1939 the son of a miner. His father was one of twelve children, six sisters and six brothers and many of Danny’s uncles were Geordie miners. At the outbreak of war, Danny’s father left the pit and volunteered for the Navy where he worked crewing submarines. The ravages of war soon hit home to the Thompson family as Danny’s father was declared missing in action. Although very young Danny can still remember the cold and heartless letter his mother received from the War Office. Unbelievably, the Thompson family was soon to suffer another tragedy with the death of Danny’s sister. Times were hard and at six years old Danny moved with his Mum to Battersea in London in the hope that employment may prove easier to find. The social and economic aftermath of war was biting hard and like many children Danny did not have the easiest childhood especially without his father.

Danny attended Salesian College in Battersea and was both a gifted footballer, playing as a Chelsea junior, and also a boxer. Danny would also have been London swimming champion but was robbed of victory when his trunks fell off as he dived in! So Danny had to make do with second place. As a youngster Danny tried playing guitar, mandolin, trumpet and trombone before settling on double bass. Unable to afford a bass, Danny built his own out of a tea chest, with piano wire for strings and hinges so that it was collapsible and he could carry it around on the bus. I asked Danny why the double bass? “I tried everything else but when I got hold of it that was it.”

From the age of eleven Danny recalls many hours entranced listening to black blues on the radio. The Voice of America and the Alan Lomax Blues Programme, which saw Lomax visiting Penitentiaries and talking to inmates, were particularly influential. “The main influence when I was a kid was the blues and especially Big Bill Broonzy,” says Danny. “Like all fourteen year old kids we got a band together, my mate Paddy on mandolin and guitar, and me on tea-chest bass.” At fifteen Danny left home and rented a room in a house. Little did he know that in the years to come, he would not only go on to play with many of his musical heroes but that he would come to be admired by those very musicians as an outstanding musician himself. “We used to play the Skiffle Cellar and the King’s Head pub in London’s Gerrard Street. I remember my mate Paddy saying, ‘We’re having Danny on this because no one gets his sound.’ On a tea chest! I often think I was destined for this ‘sound’ business.”

Danny was soon to graduate from tea chest bass to the double bass, so called because it is two full octaves lower than the Viol. Danny heard that an old man in Battersea had an acoustic bass for sale. “I went running round and sure enough there was a bass, a great big black thing. The owner was an old boy, he must have been about eighty-five years old. I asked him how much he wanted and he said five pounds, which was a lot of money to me. So I asked him whether I could pay it off at five shillings a week and he agreed. I took it away with me and that night I was working with a jazz group and I tied the bass on the top of the car with no cover. It then started to rain and when I got to the gig I had to wipe off the water. The black paint also came off to reveal a beautiful varnish underneath.”

Danny took the bass to be valued and was astonished to learn that it was worth £ 150. “I went back to the old boy and told him it was worth much more than a fiver. He said, ‘I know that son, but if you want it and you’re really going to do it then just give me the five bob a week like we said.'”

That bass has remained with Danny ever since. ‘Victoria’ as Danny affectionately calls her was made by the French maker Gand in 1865 and is now worth nearly £ 30,000. Over the last forty years Danny and Victoria have grown ever closer and to Danny no amount of money could ever replace her. “Yeah, my absolute beloved. I’ve tried other instruments, but I’ve felt worse than unfaithful. It’s been like a betrayal. We come as a pair, a partnership. I know every crack, every splinter on her body.”

Above the door in Danny’s room he pinned a big sign that read ‘PRACTICE!’ And practice he did, getting up at 7am to start practising for ten hours most days. Such was Danny’s determination and ambition that when he walked to the door to go out, he would see the sign, change his mind and start to practice again!

Danny then started to play in a Glenn Miller-type youth orchestra and was staggering home one night with his double bass when a large Studebaker screeched up behind him and out leapt an American asking if he played double bass. The question didn’t really require an answer! Danny recalls, “I auditioned at my own flat, and ended up doing Brize Norton as my first professional gig.” In between touring the circuit of US Air Force bases as part of a band, the now sixteen year old Danny was to start playing in Soho at a strip club called The Spiders Web in Meard Street. “I was so embarrassed, bright red in the face, but it was a really good gig to do, because the strippers used to finish about eleven and then because it was a quartet, we used to back the strippers, the strippers would leave at eleven and then all the musicians from all the clubs and restaurants used to come down because we had a resident rhythm section and we used to jam until five in the morning.” Danny went on to meet Tubby Hayes, Phil Seaman and Pete King in those early morning jamming sessions, “I got to play with some phenomenal musicians… I was only young and my harmonic sense wasn’t developed, but I could drive things along. I was always being encouraged; the others gave me heaps of friendly advice, but were never patronising.”

Danny’s first regular gig was with the Nat Allen Orchestra who played at the Locarno Ballroom in Streatham, South London. The Orchestra toured to Belfast and then Nottingham. Danny was earning good money for the first time and it came as quite a shock when he was arrested at The Palais in Nottingham!

Danny had been on the road for some months and was unaware that he had been called up for National Service. Three days before Danny joined the army he married Daphne Davis in Paddington, London and at eighteen years old Danny was now facing assault courses and machine gun practice at Winchester Barracks rather than pursuing his chosen career. Danny joined the band and served three years in the army. “It was weird they’d never had a professional musician in the band before! But I was told to forget the bass; I needed something I could march with.” Danny tried bassoon and trumpet before finally deciding on the trombone which he took to straight away and he was soon playing lead trombone in the regimental band. Some years later Danny was to discover that his uncles were all brass band players and had played trombone in the world famous Bessie’s o’ the Barn, the Morris Cowley Works Band and the Manchester CWS Band. Although he wasn’t best suited to Army life Danny knuckled down to become the best recruit of the intake, regimental boxing champion and an accomplished soldier with the sniper rifle.

Danny was then posted to exotic Penang in Malaysia for two years and his interest in music took him out-of-bounds on every available occasion to visit the music clubs and absorb the local music and culture. “You weren’t allowed anywhere near clubs, of course that’s where I went because that’s where the bands were, and because I had my hair shorn with the nuts and bolts sticking out, people didn’t want to know me because they knew that I was a squaddie… and I said ‘well I only want to have a play’ and so this Tamil Indian bloke said ‘go on let him play’ and as soon as I started playing they accepted me!”

Danny won many friends through his playing and as he approached the end of his service he was offered a job playing and producing for Radio Malaya. Danny just wanted to get home and returned to England without a job. Danny found that the dance hall scene was changing and a music revolution was taking place. 1963 saw the birth of Danny’s son, Danny junior, who was also destined to be a musician becoming the drummer in Hawkwind. With a young family and no work Danny drove a lorry for a while to make ends meet before being asked to play bass for Roy Orbison. Danny went on to play electric bass on three tours involving Freddie and the Dreamers, The Searchers, Brian Poole and The Beatles, who were just starting to make a name for themselves. This was the first and last time that Danny and his double bass were parted on stage. “I had just come out of the army and I was totally broke. I couldn’t get a gig and I saw there was an opening with Roy Orbison. I said who is he? I don’t know him? Someone said he did rock ‘n’ roll and I said I didn’t know his music. I was told you don’t have to, just play. So I did and he was a wonderful man; a great person. I did three tours with him and haven’t played bass guitar since.”

In 1964 Danny joined Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated replacing Jack Bruce who went on to form Cream and Danny was to become the longest serving member of Blues Incorporated. At the same time he was also working with jazz musicians such as Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, Stan Tracey, John Stevens and Harold McNair as well as from America, Little Walter, Josh White, Joe Williams, Art Farmer, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Tom Paxton, John Lee Hooker and Tim Buckley. Danny was quickly making a name for himself and Melody Maker fuelled the fire by running a front page article declaring him as the most promising new bass player – how right they were!

“There was an opening with Roy Orbison. I said who is he? I don’t know him? Someone said he did rock ‘n’ roll and I said I didn’t know his music. I was told you don’t have to, just play. So I did…”

Regular television appearances were now the norm including a residency with Blues Incorporated on the children’s programmed ‘5 o’clock Club’. The work with Blues Incorporated provided some financial stability to Danny and allowed him to buy his first house in Montague Road, Wimbledon. The work came thick and fast as Danny’s reputation grew and he was now playing in the Johnny Burch Octet which featured Graham Bond and Ginger Baker, The Poetry Band with Pete Brown as well as his own trio ‘The Danny Thompson Trio’ with Tony Roberts on saxophone and John McLaughlin on guitar. Danny also played with the innovative folk guitarist Davey Graham on Folk Blues and Beyond, Large As Life and Twice As Natural and Hat, to this day Danny recalls the many different influences of Davey’s music and his unique advanced technical ability of the time. In contrast to the television appearances Danny recorded a tune in a front room that would prove to be timeless, the theme to the television series Thunderbirds by Gerry Anderson. “We recorded in a small front room, Barry Gray lived at Edgware in a row of houses and in this room he had a crude recording set up where he did all the music for Thunderbirds…”

During the coffee break of a television show Danny met and got talking to folk guitarist John Renbourn. “We got chatting about the folk gigs John did with Bert Jansch, things I’d never heard of, so I later went to one of these gigs and we ended up doing a couple of numbers together.” These sessions at the Three Horseshoes pub in London’s Tottenham Court Road became a regular event and soon Jacqui McShee joined them. Before long they decided to add a drummer to the line up and Danny recommended Terry Cox who he had played with in Blues Incorporated. The result was the formation of Pentangle in 1967, a landmark band in the development of British folk-rock and one of the first super groups.

Pentangle enjoyed great success producing some acclaimed albums particularly 1969s Basket Of Light. The jazz folk fusion was all new, as was the band’s use of amplifiers, which Danny recalls resulted in death threats!

Pentangle had a hit single with Light Flight, which was used as the theme tune to the television series Take Three Girls and saw the band appearing on Top Of The Pops with Jimmy Saville as compere. In 1972, Danny decided to leave the group to spend more time with his young family by which time he had pushed back the contemporary boundaries of folk music with innovative solos, notably with Pentangling and then Haitian Fight Song on Sweet Child, and on other Pentangle songs at a time when it was unheard of for a double bass player to play a solo especially within a folk group. Danny separated from his first wife in the mid 1970s and later they divorced remaining as friends.

Throughout the 60s and 70s Danny continued to play at Ronnie Scott’s with many visiting stars such as Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks and Brook Benton. In 1969 Danny played on Congratulations with Sir Cliff Richard and in the early 70s Reason To Believe with Rod Stewart. Strangely enough it is often said that Danny played on Maggie May but he didn’t! Danny went on to play with Nick Drake on Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter as well as a host of other artists in the 1970s including Harold McNair, Tim Buckley, Rod Stewart, Donovan, Mary Hopkin, Ralph McTell, Sandy Denny, Tom Paxton, Marc Bolan and Magna Carta.

Having met John Martyn at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island USA, Danny started to work with John; an alliance that was to last through the 1970s. The pair built enviable reputations as live performers in the 1970s and stories of their antics both on and off the stage abound. This partnership was more a collision than collaboration and produced some wild and legendary performances with the pair trading licks, riffs and good humoured insults on stage. John was to say of Danny, “Of all the musicians I’ve come into contact with Danny has taught me the most… particularly about style and jazz technique.” Off the stage they became great friends, and today they are still in contact with each other on a weekly basis.

Towards the end of the decade Danny became disillusioned with music and was not in the best of health. “I could drink for England. I used to drink on a regular basis eight whiskeys or vodkas in a glass, a quadruple duple, people used to laugh but that was my drink!” Danny gave up alcohol in 1978 and taking a break from music, set up a film company called Hero Productions with offices in London’s Soho. Through Danny’s love of wildlife he was to meet the late John Aspinall, an entrepreneur who shared Danny’s passion and who owned two wildlife parks in the south of England. Hero Productions became well known for making wildlife documentary films such as Passion to Protect, which won Danny a Hugo Award at the Chicago International Film Festival and Echo of the Wild, both of which were subsequently broadcast by the BBC. Danny’s enthusiasm and professionalism often took him into the enclosures with the animals and before long he was nicknamed “Tiger Thompson” by a keeper called Jim Cronin. Jim is now well known for rescuing monkeys and is the owner of Monkey World in Dorset. Many years later Jim was surprised to see Danny playing bass on the television show Later with Jools Holland. Danny recalls Jim telephoning him and saying, “Hey Tiger Thompson, I saw you on the TV, you’re a famous bass player!”

Danny returned to music in the 1980s and toured Australia and New Zealand with Donovan as well as contributing to albums by Kate Bush (The Dreaming and Hounds of Love), David Sylvian, Talk Talk, The The and Everything But The Girl. In 1987 Danny finally achieved a long-held ambition and made a record of his own. “I’ve always been on the fringe of the jazz world and I had an idea to incorporate elements of jazz and folk music, to make a melodic instrumental album with a distinct English flavour.”

The title Whatever was chosen to anticipate the usual question, “do you play blues, jazz or folk?” Whatever won praise from the critics as a seamless fusion of jazz, blues, rock and folk, and as an unclassifiable masterpiece. In the critic’s poll the album was voted fifteenth in the years top 50 jazz albums. Guitarist Bernie Holland joined Danny, and Danny was also reunited with Tony Roberts (tenor, alto, flute and Northumberland Pipes) who had played in the Danny Thompson Trio in the mid 1960s.

In 1988 Danny made an album with Toumani Diabate and members of the Spanish flamenco group Ketama. Toumani is renowned for playing the Kora, a 21-string cross between a lute and a harp. Collectively they were called Songhai and they proceeded to be very successful in the World Music charts with an exquisite blend of African, Spanish and English musical ingredients.

Danny first met them in Madrid, “I walked in and they were all there playing this amazing music, unbelievably fast. They looked at me and it was like, play really, really good… or you’re dead. But we got along fantastically, both the Kora and Spanish guitar are a lot of wood and strings and I have a lot of wood and strings, so it worked… because we like each other. Again music from the heart.”

May 1989 saw the release of Danny’s next album Whatever Next, free flowing, improvisational and with strong emotional currents, featuring Tony Roberts, Bernie Holland and Paul Dunmall (tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones). Danny toured the United Kingdom to appreciative audiences and packed houses. The song Wildfinger is dedicated to John Martyn and Beanpole to Sylvia. In 1990 Danny and Sylvia got married in Las Vegas after a courtship of some sixteen years. About time! was the response from Danny’s stepsons, Simon who is a keeper at London Zoo and Ian who breeds Angus Beef in Hertfordshire.

Danny discovered Islam and became a Muslim before the release of his third album Elemental which was released on September 3rd 1990 and which again featured Tony Roberts, who was also joined by a host of other first class musicians. Women In War and Beirut are forceful performances and Musing Mingus is one of Danny’s outstanding compositions on the album.

“I didn’t take up music to be in a studio, it’s to be on stage, like going on stage is where I’m at
and it shows in the music…it’s different every night.”

In 1992 Danny was approached to make a teaching video about playing acoustic bass. Not being a teacher he declined but agreed to make a video talking about playing bass and the things that inspired him. The video Bassically Speaking was released and has inspired many young people to become musicians.

Danny then embarked on a 10 month course to become a tutor in Community Music. “My main desire is to help perfectly able-bodied kids who feel that the world is ignoring them – the socially orphaned.” He went on to run a workshop for 6 months for the Physically Handicapped and Able Bodied (PHAB) in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Danny was committed to the project which not only resulted in new musicians but also provided enjoyment, new life skills and confidence to the young people that took part. The 1990s also saw the start of Danny’s partnership with Richard Thompson, ex-Fairport Convention and once a deadly rival (as Danny would say jokingly) of Pentangle.

Danny has since toured extensively with Richard Thompson in band and duo format including two tours of the USA in 1994 and also Australia, Japan and Europe.

In 1993 Danny performed with Richard Thompson at Crawley. The gig was recorded and released in 1995 featuring Richard’s son Jack who is also Danny’s godson on the front cover. 1995 also saw the release of Songhai 2, a follow up to the very successful first album on which Danny again played bass.

A compilation of music from Whatever’s Next and Elemental entitled Whatever’s Best was released in the same year. Danny is still passionately enthusiastic about music and has never been one to go with the stream, he constantly seeks new experiences and challenges, he is always seeking to learn from music. “Music is like a religion, if you want to do something you have to work at it, you have to practice.”

During 1995 Danny recorded an album with Peter Knight, the well respected violinist known for his outstanding musicianship with Steeleye Span. The album consists of two separate pieces of work, the thirty minute epic Number One and nineteen minute Number Two both of which are entirely improvised.

Danny’s next album Singing The Storm saw him collaborating with the Scottish Harpist Savourna Stevenson and the well known traditional folk singer June Tabor. The album won critical acclaim and with harp, bass and June Tabor’s voice there is plenty of space which allowed Danny’s rhythmic and harmonic strengths to shine. Singing The Storm again demonstrated Danny’s open minded approach and his love and enthusiasm of different music genres.

1997 saw the release of the collaboration album Industry with Richard Thompson. The album is both a requiem and a celebration of British industry.

Danny and Richard Thompson are close friends of the football manager Mick Wadsworth who is now head coach at Newcastle. His father had worked all his life at Grimethorpe Colliery and his descriptions of the devastation caused to the local community caused by the pit closure inspired the album. “It’s not intended as a political album. We’re not flag-waving. It tells a story. The album comes from a deep love of the people affected by the change, good people I can identify with. Seeing it happen has touched my heart. Industry is our tribute…” said Danny. Danny wrote five instrumentals for the album, which reflect his love of Englishness. Danny’s uncles play trombone on the album and the other musicians are from Whatever including Peter Knight, Dylan Fowler and Paul Dunmall. Perhaps the saddest song on the album is Drifting Through The Days, a song about having nothing to do but wishing your life away. Danny followed Industry by working on Richard Thompson’s latest album Mock Tudor.

Danny appeared with John Martyn on the Transatlantic Sessions which were later shown by BBC Television. During these recordings Danny remembered the magical times that he and John had enjoyed, both musically and recreationally, and it was then that the seed was sown for a possible rematch with John on The Sunshine Boys Tour! The Transatlantic Sessions were released on CD by Iona Records in 1998 and also featured Danny playing with Nancy Wilson, Paul Brady, Maura O’Connell, and Roseanne Cash the daughter of Johnny Cash.

Danny underwent major heart surgery in July 1998 surviving a twelve hour operation to have a new valve fitted at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. During the operation Danny suffered a stroke that made him blind and caused a right-sided weakness. It was doubtful that Danny would ever be able to see or play again. Fortunately, the blindness proved to be temporary and with determination, enthusiasm and his love of music Danny is now playing as well as ever despite his right sided weakness. Danny recalls 18,000 fans at the Cropredy Festival singing Danny Boy down the telephone to him as he lay in hospital, “very touching, a bit special for an old plonker bass player.” It was the messages of good will and the gifts that made a real impact on Danny and helped provide him with the strength and inspiration to resume his career as a virtuoso musician. Despite his serious operation, three months later in November, Danny flew out to Sarajevo and helped to organise a concert to celebrate freedom in Bosnia, which saw 10,000 people witness Yusef Islam’s (Cat Stevens) first public performance in over twenty years. Danny recalls that this was “a truly wondrous evening of celebration.”

In 1999 Danny was interviewed for the BBC TV series Faces of Islam in which he discussed becoming a Muslim and his realisation of the fact that whilst he had only converted to Islam in 1990, within himself he had always been a Muslim. Some one and a half million viewers watched the programme which was one of a series of four broadcast during Ramadahn. Following on from this Danny was invited to present a programme called The Furthest Mosque which was broadcast in 2000. The programme traced Danny’s tour of Jerusalem and Danny was staggered to learn that over 2 million viewers had tuned in to watch the programme which won acclaim from many quarters, “a remarkably optimistic and positive film… Danny Thompson expressed some inspiring final thoughts… I had just witnessed the most refreshing twenty minutes of BBC broadcasting I’d seen in a very long time.” Wrote Shagufta Yaqub.

Danny is a keen sportsman and follows Watford Football Club. He enjoys playing tennis and has recently taken up sailing. Danny also enjoyed paragliding by jumping off volcanoes in Hawaii and in his spare time loves dabbling in the kitchen! Above all he is a musician of extraordinary skills and equally important, he is an artist of rare taste and imagination. 2001 finds Danny in demand and as busy as ever having just recorded an album with The Blind Boys of Alabama with whom he also appeared on the David Letterman Show. Danny has recently finished working with Japanese singer Ayako and will shortly be working with Gomez on their next album.

Looking forward to a tour with his old sparring partner John Martyn, Danny confesses to still feeling nervous before he goes on stage, and after all these years he still craves the buzz that he gets from performing live, “I didn’t take up music to be in a studio, it’s to be on stage, like going on stage is where I’m at and it shows in the music… it’s different every night.”

After 43 years as a professional Danny is regarded as a genius by musicians and music fans alike. His creativity, enthusiasm and passion for music are only matched by his infectious enthusiasm and love of life. His music has given so much pleasure to so many and long may it continue. Despite all the accolades bestowed upon him over the years, Danny’s feet remain on the ground. There are no airs and graces, there is no pretentiousness. Whenever I spend time with Danny I am infected by his enthusiasm and his unequivocal passion for music and life. I always leave with a warm glow inside and think to myself “What a great bloke!”

John Hillarby, April 2001

The Lore of John & Danny

“You can’t pretend with something that you love that much…”

“Aye, those were wild times, all part of the Jazzy thing. I was determined to live that lifestyle, look sharp, be sharp, be on the ball non-stop, smoke all the dope, drink all the juice, just get to it and be Jack the Lad, and Danny Thompson, forgive us all, was just the same.”

“John isn’t a genius, he’s a very naughty boy.”

“We used to drink a great deal together. I got really drunk one night and woke up and he had nailed me under the carpet. I couldn’t move my hands or feet. I was very dry and had a hangover and I said Danny, please… get me, get me a drink. So he stepped over my helpless body, went to the phone and in a very loud voice said, can I have a glass of orange juice for one, please. Breakfast for one, please. I was screaming blue murder by this time. I was furious! He met the guy in the hall, so the guy couldn’t get into the room and see what was happening. He sat in front and downed the orange juice and had the breakfast.”

“We had a fight in Hull, a real fight in a hotel and he had two black eyes and his thumb was in a bandage because I got hold of his thumb to get him because he does all these dirty tricks. He was shouting and screaming about doing the gig and so on. I had some superficial damage. So we came out on to the stage and he sat down with his Martin and we hadn’t said a word because we really had the needle with each other. I went up to the mic and said, ‘Old Black Eyes is back!’ And he just cracked up!”

“We were always having bets with each other. We bet either one of us wouldn’t have the nerve to take off an article of clothing between each song. So we just did and needless to say we ended up naked. The audience loved it; there were about 700 people. It was good because Danny could hide behind his double bass and I could hide behind the guitar… It was alright!”

“To earn a living in music playing stuff which is not commercially acceptable is tough.”

“I really love the geezer.”

“A soft plumy teddy bear!”

“You can’t pretend with something that you love that much.”

“I love him a lot, I love him as much as I hate him. We’re more like brothers than anything else.”

“We were driving from Exeter to Bristol, just the two of us on the road, and he said, ‘I fancy doing a bit of fishing’. So we pulled into this village and we found this fishing shop. Now I know nothing about fishing. And there was this unbelievable rod, which means nothing to me, a rod’s a rod. So we both go into this shop, and he starts saying to this bloke, ‘I want that rod, and this, and that’. And the bloke says, ‘Sorry it’s not for sale’.

He took an immediate dislike to us because he thought we were ‘oiks’. So John says, ‘You think I’m not a genuine fisherman or something! That is a so and so rod. If you like I’ll tie you a Spring Mayfly!’ And there and then he picks some dust up off the floor and makes this fly for the bloke in the shop, and then starts talking about stuff that means absolutely nothing to me. And the bloke is absolutely stunned. He ended up getting the rod out of the window, flogging it to him, cash. John bought the gear and said ‘Where’s the nearest bit of fishing round here?’ The bloke says, ‘There’s this lake, go and see the Bailiff, his name’s so and so’.

So we went up to this place and I thought, right I’ll just sit here and watch him do this pathetic activity. So John started fishing, doing all this fly stuff. So I sat on the riverbank and said, ‘That’s so easy’, John turned round and said ‘You what!’ ‘It’s so easy, all it is is timing, all it is is rhythm. It’s so easy’. He said, ‘Do you think you could do it?’ I went charging down the riverbank and said ‘give us it here’, he said ‘careful son, you don’t know what you’re doing’. I said, ‘Just give me the rod!’ I dragged it off him and he said, ‘now be careful’ and I said ‘just go away!’ I cast and the fly went rip, and it got stuck right in my cheek.

So there I am, standing there holding this rod with this fishing line stuck in my cheek. Now I thought nothing much about it and said ‘John, get it out of me’ and he said ‘I can’t! Because what you’re supposed to do is to push the hook through, cut the barb off and then take it out, and I haven’t got any tools with me.’ So I said ‘just pull it out’, and he said ‘It’ll take half your face off.’ So I said ‘I can’t drive with it sticking out of me face like this.’ He said ‘You’ll have to do it.’ So I thought right, and I went like that, but I knew I couldn’t, as I knew when it was going to happen; but if John did it, then I wouldn’t.

So I said ‘I’ll just look at that blackbird sitting up in that tree, and you do it when I’m not thinking about it.’ So of course I didn’t have to say anymore to John, he went ‘alright’. BANG! And I went ‘there you go, brilliant’. He said ‘No, the hook’s still in your face’. He broke the line and broke the top of the hook off. Then he said ‘you’ll be alright, it’ll just get into your blood stream, go round your body, get to your heart and you’ll die in about two years and you won’t know anything about it’. The hook’s still in there, when it gets cold you can see a blue hook in my cheek!”

“I was working with Danny Thompson years ago and we were doing a studio gig at the BBC where there was this poor little apprentice engineer, and he said, ‘Mr Thompson. We’re getting this strange buzz on the bass.’ Danny put down the bass and went into the control booth. ‘That’, he said to this bloke, ‘is tone and it’s taken me 20 years to get it!…”

John & Danny; A Mutual Discography

The Road To Ruin (1970)
Bless The Weather (1971)
Solid Air (1973)
Inside Out (1973)
Live At Leeds (1975)
Over The Rainbow (1975)
So Far So Good (1977)
One World (1977)
The Electric John Martyn (1982)
Sweet Little Mysteries (1994)
Georgia On Our Mind (1997)
Transatlantic Sessions 2, Volume 1 & 2 (1998)
Serendipity An Introduction to John Martyn (1998)
Another World (1999)
Best of Live ’91 (2000)
Patterns In The Rain (2001)
Live In Kendal 1986 (2001)
Live In Germany 1986 (2001)

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The Foundations Tour

John’s Band for The Foundations Tour;

Foster Paterson – keyboards and backing vocals
Arran Ahmun – drums
Taj Wyzgowsky – guitar
David ‘Taif’ Ball – bass


The coming year is a landmark for John Martyn. It is 20 years since his first professional shows, the start of a career that has claimed a special place in British music.

Martyn’s remarkable talents deserve to be celebrated. His albums provide extraordinary evidence of his skills as a vocalist, musician and songwriter. Each year has brought a fresh chapter in the evolution of Martyn’s music, the man’s formidable vocal range and his innovative song writing.

Martyn’s formative years as an artist were spent on the folk circuit, although he has subsequently produced a unique blend embracing the improvisational qualities of jazz, the lyrical sensitivity of folk music and the emotional depth of the blues. Martyn, however, defies simple categorisation. He has always been open to experiment, to the constant regeneration of his music.

In the 19 years since the release of his first album, Martyn’s progression has been forever unfolding; consistently avoiding the temptation to stick to what is clichéd and stereotyped.

Martyn’s first album, LONDON CONVERSATION, was released in 1968. It was hardly a commercial blockbuster, but it did give Martyn considerably more presence on the club circuit.

Foundations Tour ProgrammeHis second album, THE TUMBLER, released the following year, clearly showed the growing maturity of Martyn’s music, and in particular his fascination with jazz. The album featured saxophonist Harold McNair – a bold stroke which defied all the rules of the insular folk atmosphere of the time. “I got bored with the folk/acoustic thing. You can’t keep churning that out, it stifles innovation, kills the personal touch,” says Martyn.

In 1969 Martyn met and married Beverley Kutner, a singer from Coventry who was making records with producer Joe Boyd.

John and Beverley went to Woodstock, in upper New York State, at the height of the folk-rock revolution and, working with the Doors and Crosby, Stills and Nash producer Paul Harris, they came up with STORMBRINGER! The album clearly showed the influence of The Band on Martyn’s musical direction and, indeed, featured Levon Helm on drums.

THE ROAD TO RUIN album, recorded in London, continued the flow of subtle improvisation, incorporating percussion and the work of three woodwind instruments. Also on hand was acoustic bassist Danny Thompson, who was to become one of the mainstays of Martyn’s recording projects throughout the Seventies. “Of all the musicians I’ve come into contact with Danny has taught me the most… particularly about style and jazz technique,” says Martyn. “I’m greatly indebted to the man.”

At this point Beverley dropped out of professional music with the onset of motherhood. For his part John went on to make BLESS THE WEATHER, in retrospect a real breakthrough album for him. It was altogether a much simpler album in terms of instrumentation and outlook, and much warmer in its emotional stance.

A full year elapsed from the release of BLESS THE WEATHER to Martyn’s next recording session in November 1973, a recording date which resulted in one of his finest albums, SOLID AIR. The album also revealed a new twist in Martyn’s style and direction. His vocals were now slurred and strangled to the point of effacement, becoming another part of the instrumental mix. It was still possible, in most instances, to decipher the lyrics; but more important than the words themselves was the feeling in the way they were delivered.

It was hardly a new technique. It summoned up the growls of the early blues singers as well as the jazz tradition of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. Martyn has often cited the importance he placed on the American blues singers of the first half of the century and one in particular with whom he identified was Skip James, whose I’d Rather Be The Devil was included on SOLID AIR. The album provided a real breakthrough for Martyn, who established a rising reputation in both Britain and America. “The industry wanted another SOLID AIR and they let me loose in the studio, a totally free hand… they must have been mad,” says Martyn.

The result was INSIDE OUT, released in 1973, Martyn’s favourite album. “It’s very strange, a lovely album, it’s everything I ever wanted to do in music, it’s my inside coming out. It was all heartfelt, creative stuff… it was also one up the bugle for everybody, for all those folkies who play jigs by the rote and think Nina Simone is too rhythmic.”

INSIDE OUT was very experimental, containing skilful, freeform rock jazz fusions, some extraordinary guitar work and, like Tim Buckley, a purposeful exploration of the use of his voice as an instrument.

It was followed by SUNDAY’S CHILD. It was, according to Martyn, “the first family album, very happy, purely romantic, a nice period for me.” It was also rushed in execution. Although Martyn swears he is against recording to deadline, on the evidence of the Inside Out and Sunday’s Child albums he is one artist who thrives on the adrenalin run of working at a considerable clip. His next two studio albums, paradoxically perhaps, nevertheless both took a long time to record.

In a mood of defiance against the industry Martyn recorded, produced, designed and marketed his own live album LIVE AT LEEDS in 1976. He even sold it from his own front door. It’s now very rare, a collectors item. Even he has now got no copy: “I sold them all, it was very profitable for me. I mean every morning for months I woke up and there was another couple of thousand quid lying on the floor. It was wonderful. It was also a nightmare. I never worked so hard in my life, opening all those letters, having to personally reply to every one of them, making sure all the right letters went into all the right envelopes. Dear Frederick, or was it Cecil? Woburn… But I learned a lot from that… But it was very effective, I was the first of the record independents.”

Island responded to LIVE AT LEEDS by putting out a compilation of earlier, more acoustic material, SO FAR SO GOOD (1977).

In the same year Martyn went to Jamaica, an experience that was to widen his music vision. He remembers, for instance, playing with producer Lee Perry on sessions for a Max Romeo album. “They asked me at the end of the session how I’d like to be paid – in counterfeit dollars or blue films. I took the dollars, ‘de yankee dallah’.”

The sounds of Jamaica were to influence his next album, ONE WORLD. The record was made in London, with Island founder Chris Blackwell as producer. The result was masterful. It was perhaps the most complete expression of Martyn’s talents yet set to vinyl. Martyn’s eclectic influences were more than evident, but his own attitudes were radically changing. “I didn’t like what was happening to me. I was becoming the epitome of the hippy era, the long-haired father figure bearing down on mother nature with the lovely wife and lovely children, happy smiles and brown bread. I wanted to get a bit harder. So I changed the point from where I write and moved it to a less personal, more global, I suppose political, area.”

Foundation Tour DatesIt took three years for Martyn to deliver another album, the emotionally exposed GRACE AND DANGER. During that time Martyn’s marriage with Beverley broke up. It was, he admits, a “dark period” in his life, during which he was crazier than normal, doing things almost with a death wish.

Few albums have been so revealing in their theme. It is a painful collection of songs whose titles, Hurt In Your Heart, Baby Please Come Home, Our Love, require no further exposition. But the mood is powerful, overwhelming in parts, the lyrics beautiful, and the music excellent, showing the influence of Weather Report and involving musicians like John Giblin on bass and Phil Collins on drums and back-up vocals.

GRACE AND DANGER is a superb album, confirming John Martyn as a musician and lyricist in a class on his own, and solid proof that creativity thrives on adversity.

In 1981 Martyn signed up to new management and left Island for Warner Brothers. “It was all change then, I was re-shaping my life. I wasn’t married, I wasn’t attached to anybody or anything, and I thought ‘let’s go for it’, let’s make some money, let’s make a band. I’d asked Phil Collins to do the drum job on Grace and Danger and we became really close friends, so he produced the next album Glorious Fool for me.”

GLORIOUS FOOL was another fine album. It includes an up-tempo version of the classic Couldn’t Love You More, with guitar work by Eric Clapton, on whose recent tour Martyn’s band had been the support act. Around the same time Clapton did a cover version of Martyn’s May You Never for his Slowhand album.

The following year Martyn was working with a band and exploring a new heavier and more solid sound. His music now inevitably relegated the acoustic guitar and even the echoplex to a small section of his set; and his tour performances confirmed his reputation as an electric guitarist of overwhelming originality.

His next album, again for Warner Brothers, was WELL KEPT SECRET. It is probably Martyn’s tightest production ever. The music drives along at a furious pace with, at times, touches of unadulterated funk. By the time of its release, in 1983, Martyn was married to the lovely Annie Furlong and had returned to set up home in his native Scotland. A change of management signalled a return to Island Records and new recording sessions at the Compass Point Studios in Nassau. The result was SAPPHIRE, released in the autumn of 1984.

The album incorporates a range of styles, shuffle, soul, funk and reggae, but all uniquely played and mixed in the Martyn mould. The SAPPHIRE tour was one of his most successful, with packed houses across Europe and the UK. After one performance the music critic of The Guardian newspaper wrote: “In an era when empty gestures of style proliferate in music, Martyn’s music speaks with an uncommon candour, intelligence and intensity. At times the combination of guitar and synthesiser creates a sound which appears to come rolling across the stalls like a tsunami wave, pinning you to your seat… John Martyn strikes the perfect balance between virtuosity and simplicity; romance and realism, nostalgia and modernism. Put simply he is in a league of his own.”

Last year saw the release of PIECE BY PIECE, a resoundingly contemporary collection of compositions highlighting the man’s extraordinary vocal range and his highly innovative and electric song writing. On this album Martyn says, “What I’ve tried to do is sing more than play, and have fun with some new sounds, like the strangled duck (on John Wayne). I’ve been trying to sing better for the last few years and push myself in a certain direction. I always find the vocals more difficult to get right in the studio, they’re better live, generally. To get the effect I wanted on the track ‘John Wayne’ I had to go out and get completely rat-arsed, and then I did it on one take. Great effect.”

Because of his already stated concern on ecological matters and the fact they felt Martyn’s music was ‘just right’, he was asked to record the soundtrack for David Bellamy’s television series on the environment “Turning The Tide”.

And now in 1987 there’s a new live album and tour, with fellow Scot Foster Paterson who wrote the title track from PIECE BY PIECE again joining Martyn on keyboards and backing vocals, Arran Ahmun on drums with Taj Wyzgowsky to complete the line-up for what will surely be a memorable series of concerts.

After twenty years on the road and nearly 20 albums behind him, John Martyn has become a key figure in British music. But despite the successes, the bouts of legendary wildness and the cult following, John Martyn has changed little. Unaffected by the hype and the ephemerality of the music business, he remains at heart a Gaelic folkie, a romantic rock-poet and a music professional.

Brendan Quayle

Support Band; CRY NO MORE

Free gigs in the suburbs and a blatantly provocative first single, along with an image owing less than nothing to the London fashion Mafia, do not make for an easy ride to success. However, Roy Hill and Chas Cronk find themselves in a somewhat enviable position; retaining their integrity they have moved into the mainstream with the idiosyncrasies of their songs still apparent and proudly displayed.

These two talented artistes are no newcomers to the music scene. Roy Hill was signed to Arista from 1977-80 and released one solo album and single which received great praise from the music press. Meanwhile Chas Cronk was playing extensively throughout the US, Japan and Europe with the Strawbs, with whom he was a major song writing force.

Cry No More have released three singles on Parlophone and the new album will be out in October.

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The Apprentice Tour

John’s Band for The Apprentice Tour;

Miles Bould (Percussion/Drums)

Due to his father’s involvement and love of jazz, the first music Miles listened to was jazz. Later influences developed more specifically in bands and players, like Miles Davis, Weather Report, Egberto Gismonti, Al Jarreau, Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny and the late Jaco Pastorius.

The Apprentice Tour ProgrammeAs a child he started with the clarinet, but soon changed to percussion. “My path as a percussionist was set when I was given three congas from close family friend Dizzy Gillespie, together with strong words ‘Go for it’ from the wonderful and greatly missed Gil Evans. I went for it.”

From the age of sixteen through to nineteen he played his first gigs with jazz funk bands including Marie Murphy’s Latin Jazz Quartet. Also in this period he met Spencer Cozens and Dominic Miller who became lifelong friends. From 1986 he began playing on sessions with Dominic Miller including a tune he had written on the Nigel Kennedy album “Let Loose”, also sessions with Mike McEvory (producer/composer).

In 1987 he met Julia Fordham at the launch of her solo career, and the following year began touring Julia Fordham’s first album in Europe and America, his first major tour. Julia’s songs and friendship have played an important part in the way things have developed since. Such as meeting people like Grant Mitchell (producer/composer), Alan Thomson, singer Angie Gilles and John of late. More frequently however he has appeared in two videos for Robert Palmer, played for singer Ray Simpson and recorded three tracks on the new Mike Lindup album.

“At the moment I am having lots of fun writing music with Spencer and friends and am looking forward to this tour with John.”

Spencer Cozens (Keyboards)

Left technical college in Newark in July 1983 and spent a year self-employed building flight cases and speakers. Moved to London in 1984 and joined guitarist’s Dominic Miller’s band ‘Iguaza’. Played on his album ‘Iguaza’ and did the Edinburgh Festival with the band which included playing on BBC Radio 2, Brian Mathew’s ‘Round Midnight’.

In 1985 worked again with Dominic Miller in a trio with flautist Dave Heath. The trio did several concerts in the Purcell Room on the South Bank and at the Edinburgh Festival as well as appearing on TV AM and recording for BBC’s ‘Pebble Mill At One’.

During this time in London he played in several bands doing clubs such as ‘The Wag’ and ‘Bass Cleff’, and worked as a session musician up until late 1986 when he went to Boston in order to study at the Berklee College of Music.

Moved back to London in late 1987 and became involved in the alternative comedy scene, playing for comedian Johnny International in the group ‘Los Propertos’. Gigged extensively around the country including the Amnesty International’s show ‘The Famous Compare’s Police Dog’ at the Duke of York Theatre. Following on he then did several radio and TV appearances on GLR and 01 for London with the act.

In Autumn 1989, he joined Julia Fordham’s band for the Porcelain Tour and recently did the U.S. launch of her album. Recent work also included working for Thames TV on theme tunes and recording for his own project.

Alan Thomson (Bassist)

Born and bred in Glasgow, bassist Alan Thomson was plucked from his school/college band The Arthur Trout Band by John Martyn in 1980.

At the time Alan was a guitarist playing and writing instrumental music, influenced by bands and artists like Herbie Hancock, Gong, Brand X, Weather Report, and George Benson to name but a few.

Introduced to John Martyn by The Trout Band’s saxist, David Ray, he switched to fretless bass somewhere along the line and has never looked back.

His first recording with John was the album “Glorious Fool” on which he worked with Phil Collins, Max Middleton, and Eric Clapton. He then went on to play on the albums “Well Kept Secret”, “Sapphire”, “Piece By Piece”, “Philentropy” and the early stages of “The Apprentice.”

Whilst rapidly approaching his 10th year of touring with John Martyn, he has also worked with Robert Palmer, Manfred Man, Andy Summers, The Mighty Wah, Chris Rea, Gerry Donahue, Eric Clapton, Julia Fordham, and as keyboard player with Geezer Butler (from Black Sabbath) and Scottish rock band ‘Strangeways’.


Few musicians have been held in such high esteem by critics and fans alike since the late 60’s without converting their cult status into commercial success, but John Martyn is one such example.

The only child of two singers who separated shortly after his birth in 1948, Martyn was raised by his grandmother and his father in urban Glasgow, spending his annual holidays touring the waterways of Southern England with his mother. Striving to be ‘different and Bohemian’, the adolescent Martyn took up the guitar, and was noticed by Hamish Imlach, who taught him much and showed him the possibilities of combining traditional and modern approaches to music whilst sounding contemporary.

Having exhausted local opportunities Martyn moved to London and became the first white artist to sign to Chris Blackwell’s hitherto reggae-orientated Island label. His debut album “London Conversation” was released in February 1968 in glorious mono. Recorded when Martyn was 18, the album reflected the standard folk song formula of the time. However the release of “The Tumbler” in December 1968, with its healthy disregard for folk conventions, pointed the way ahead. Produced by Al Stewart it featured the influential jazz flautist Harold McNair who played to greatest effect on the languidly romantic ‘Dusty’, although at this time Martyn ‘Got bored with the Folk/Acoustic thing’ believing it limited the potential for creativity. “Technique for techniques sake is just a waste of time.” Change was not a long in coming.

The Apprentice Tour ProgrammeIn 1969 Martyn met and married Coventry based singer Beverley Kutner, contracted to Joe Boyd’s publishing company, Witchseason. Originally hired to be Beverley’s back-up guitarist for recording sessions in America, the pair were signed up by Warner Brothers who sent them to Woodstock in 1969 to rehearse with the Doors and Crosby Stills and Nash producer Paul Harris. The result was “Stormbringer!”, released in February 1970. The combination of ‘folk’ guitars with a strong bass, drums and piano backing broke new ground and set a precedent for countless bands to follow. Martyn was inspired by the sound of the band to experiment to find a distinctive guitar sound. “I want to get away from common guitar phrasing as much as possible, otherwise you can’t express your uniqueness” he said at the time.

The second and last album recorded with Beverly, “The Road To Ruin” was released in November 1970. The album, which continued the subtle improvisations from “Stormbringer!” and employed a noticeably jazz-based instrumentation in what was basically a rock format, was strong and also marks the beginning of Martyn’s infamous partnership with Pentangle’s bassist, Danny Thompson, who was to influence Martyn’s style and jazz technique enormously. “He really taught me a great deal.”

Expecting a second child effectively brought Beverley’s career to an end so Island Records put John into the studio to see what he could come up with. Released in November 1971 “Bless The Weather” was an album of pure, simple but mature songs which Martyn says was “very innocent, very beautiful and a pleasure to make.” Some songs were written in the studio on the day that they were recorded with no re-writing, satisfying Martyn’s desire to be spontaneous. Danny Thompson provided perfect bass accompaniment with additional help from the likes of Richard Thompson (ex Fairport Convention). Generally acknowledged as one of Martyn’s best albums, the relaxed and bluesy title track still featured in his 1989 live concerts and ‘Glistening Glyndebourne’ showcased Martyn’s technique for playing acoustic guitar through an echoplex to stunning effect.

Island released ‘May You Never’ a song for his own son, as a single and this early version of the 1973 “Solid Air” track album featured drums, and back-up guitar by Free’s Paul Kossoff. Martyn didn’t like the way the track was turning out and left the producer (“Robin somebody or other” to overdub and piece it all together. According to Martyn “It sold four copies,” but joking apart, it is rare and collectable.

Many regard “Solid Air,” released in 1973, as THE John Martyn album. The hypnotic title track, written for friend and peer, Nick Drake, concerned Drake’s mental strife at the time (he was to die the following year, a great loss to Martyn personally and professionally, and to music generally). Adventurous, dynamic, with a rare depth and power, the album demonstrated Martyn’s slurred vocal style reaching the stage where it became fully integrated into the overall sounds as an improvisational instrument used for its colours and tone, something Martyn had always aimed for.

“Solid Air” sold well in the U.K. and America and keen for another “Solid Air,” Island ‘Let me loose in the studio, a totally free hand… They must have been mad!’ The result was “Inside Out” released in October 1973, which Martyn said at the time “Was everything I ever wanted to do in music… It’s my inside coming out.” The experimental, skilfully free form jazz orientated album features extraordinary guitar work from Martyn, superbly varied bass playing from Danny Thompson and effective backup from notables like Traffic’s Steve Winwood. Produced by Martyn and recorded in July 1973, the intensive sessions were largely late at night with no cutting, editing or splicing. It was ‘live’ and tracks were faded out where necessary. “It felt natural” says Martyn at the beginning of the opening track ‘Fine Lines’, and it still does.

After the iconoclasm of “Inside Out” which critics referred to as ‘A cosmic foray’ and ‘Music from inner space’ and which won Martyn a golden disc from Montreux, “Sunday’s Child”, released in January 1975, marked a return to the conventional song format, producing songs of considerable contrasts from the down home boogie of ‘Clutches,’ (owing more than a passing nod to Little Feat’s Lowell George), to the traditional folk of ‘Spencer The Rover.’ The overall feel of the album is one of contentment and Martyn called it “The Family Album, very happy, purely romantic… A nice period,” an impression borne out by ‘My Baby Girl’, which featured Beverley on vocals for the last time.

Martyn toured extensively in 1975, beginning in February and featuring Danny Thompson, John Stevens on drums and Paul Kossoff on guitar. A full blooded and uncompromising concert at Leeds University was recorded later in 1975 (without Kossoff) with a view to releasing a live album, but Island weren’t keen so Martyn produced, designed and sold “Live At Leeds” by mail-order from his Hastings home. Each of the 10,000 albums was numbered and personally signed making this a real collectors album. Even Martyn has no copy: “I sold them all… I was the first of the record independents!” The album confirmed his reputation as a witty and an original stage performer, with a wicked line in banter and repartee, and this coupled with the excellent album reviews was bringing Martyn an audience that was to stay with him for years to come.

Dealing with “Live At Leeds” and excessive touring drove Martyn to take a sabbatical for most of 1976, spending 4 fruitful months in Jamaica (“Like Glasgow transported to paradise!”) where the Island Records connection was utilised and Martyn recorded with Burning Spear’s Max Romeo and dub master Lee ‘Scratch Perry.’

With Chris Blackwell as producer, recording sessions began in London in March 1977, the same month that Island released “So Far So Good,” a compilation album. The inclusion of a live version of Skip James’ ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’ makes the album of interest. Martyn disagreed with the choice of tracks but was too busy to get involved, however the album sold well, earning Martyn a gold disc, which he tried to smash on more than one occasion, in disgust!

The critically acclaimed “One World,” released in November 1977, was commercially accessible and sold well, charting at number 54. Again it contained a variety of styles and moods from the dub-with-a difference ‘Big Muff’ (co-written with Lee Perry) to the acoustic romance of ‘Couldn’t Love You More.’ The album closes with the mesmerising ‘Small Hours’, a ‘live’ echoplex excursion featuring Steve Winwood and a flock of Canada Geese!

The Apprentice Tour ProgrammeDuring this time the Martyns’ marriage, which had been under great strain, finally broke down, “It was a dark period in my life.” The music from this period which made up the “Grace And Danger” album features Phil Collins and John Giblin. Giblin’s loping harmonic bass playing owed much to the style of Weather Report’s late great Jaco Pastorius, (a band and style Martyn had long admired), and Collins’ immaculate drumming and backing vocals fitted superbly, as did the keyboard work by Tommy Eyre (Grease Band) and Dave Lawson (late of Greenslade and Stackbridge).

Relying increasingly on his Gibson S.G. electric guitar Martyn’s playing was highly inventive and beguilingly controlled style reminiscent of Thelonious Monk’s revolutionary musical phrasing, and his distinctive vocal delivery and painfully honest lyrics, “Grace And Danger” became a stunning exposition of confusion, heartache, love and remorse.

Martyn later said that it was “Probably the most specific piece of autobiography I’ve written. Some people keep diaries, I make records.” However, only after extreme pressure from Martyn did it finally achieve a release in October 1980, and give him the exorcism he needed. In the late 1980’s Martyn would cite this album as his favourite even though it had been difficult to make.

In 1981 John moved to WEA. and “Glorious Fool” released in 1981, was produced by Phil Collins who again played drums. “Glorious Fool” with its satirical title track dedicated to Ronald Reagan, was a serious bid for the mainstream big time and it charted for 7 weeks, reaching number 25. Martyn and Collins produced some new sounds particularly on the strikingly sparse anti-war anthem ‘Don’t You Go.’ Around this time, Eric Clapton who had played guitar on an up-tempo version of ‘Couldn’t Love You More’ on “Glorious Fool” recorded a version of ‘May You Never’ for his “Slow Hand” album.

Martyn now played electric guitar almost exclusively and his acoustic guitar and echoplex only featured in a small selection of his stage show, something a lot of fans took some getting used to. It was a conscious decision: “I didn’t want to be just another geezer playing with a repeat echo, so I had to change.”

“Well Kept Secret” released in September 1982 showed Phil Collins’ rhythmic legacy much in evidence. The album hardly paused for breath. Although recognizable Martyn trademarks were present in the oozing sensuality of ‘Could’ve Been Me’ and ‘Hung Up’ and the album again charted for 7 weeks, this time reaching the elusive top 20. Meanwhile Island released another compilation, “The Electric John Martyn” which included mixes of the ‘Dancing’, ‘Certain Surprise’ and ‘Dealer’ (from the American version of “One World”). In November 1983, without any announcement, the recently remarried Martyn released “Philentropy” a live album recorded in London, Brighton and Oxford between 1982 and spring 1983. The touring line-up was Martyn, Alan Thomson (bass), Jeffrey Allen (drums), Danny Cummings (percussion) and Ronnie Leahy (keyboards), with Thomson and Cummings having played on the last two albums and Allen on “Well Kept Secret.” “Philentropy” was, and is, the epitome of a Martyn concert, charged with atmosphere and excitement. Classic tracks were unearthed and remoulded, particularly ‘Sunday’s Child’ and ‘Don’t Want To Know’.

Martyn rejoined Island in 1984 and Chris Blackwell sent him to Compass Point studios in the Bahamas to record with Robert Palmer to help out. The resultant album “Sapphire” released in November 1984, was light and relaxed, and the subtle and dreamlike quality of the production permeated every track, with Martyn’s peerless vocals just steering the album clear of becoming too smooth and soulless. What little guitar Martyn played on the album was electronically treated so as to be indistinguishable from the synthesizers around it. The first self produced album since “Sunday’s Child”, it contained enough high points to convince critics that while no new ground had been broken, it was still a contemporary album with “Above average charms.”

To celebrate Martyn’s 20th anniversary as a performer Island began 1986 with the release of “Classic John Martyn,” hailed as the first commercially available Compact Disc single. It featured a new ballad ‘Angeline’. Sadly the single failed to give Martyn the hit that Island were looking for.

With Foster Paterson (keyboards), Alan Thomson (bass) and Colin Tully (saxophone), “Piece By Piece”, released in February 1986, featured the powerful ‘John Wayne’, complete with typically ambiguous lyrics and what Martyn describes as his ‘Strangled duck’ vocal. To achieve the effect Martyn indulged in large quantities of liquid refreshment and then did the track in a single take. The track pushed his vocal style to new limits and it’s a song that he likes to perform live.

Having provided the title song and soundtrack for the 1978 Australian film “In Search Of Anna”, Martyn provided the soundtrack for Tyne Tees Television’s major series on the environment, “Turning The Tide”, networked in the autumn 1986. Unfortunately plans to release a single and the soundtrack album had to be shelved when the series ran over budget.

Martyn toured America, Europe and Britain in 1986 and Island released “Foundations”, a live album recorded at the Town and Country Club on 13th November 1986, in October 1987. The album contained interesting reworkings of old favourites and produced three fine new songs, ‘Deny This Love’, ‘Send Me One Line’ and the highlight, ‘The Apprentice’.

By February 1988 ten new tracks had been completed ostensibly for a new album, but Martyn and Island Records parted company. He continued to tour, with a solo tour in late 1988 and another tour in the spring of 1989, augmented by Foster Paterson.

Finally with supportive management and a small, but committed, record label behind him, “The Apprentice” was released in March 1990 on the new Permanent Records label. The album features superior versions of the 3 new tracks which appeared on “Foundations” plus ‘Look At That Girl’, a song about Martyn’s now grown up baby girl, Mhairi, which was previewed in his 1989 tour. Featuring Martyn’s acoustic guitar playing for the first time in ten years, the album is his strongest work since “Grace And Danger” with the downright funky ‘Deny This Love’, the deeply romantic ‘Send Me One Line’ and ‘Live On Love’ among the highlights.

Martyn once said that he wanted to stop working at 35 because, “I don’t see myself staggering about ’till I drop,” but as he approaches 42 with an intensive 3 month tour ahead he shows no signs of letting up and “The Apprentice” indicates that he has lost none of his ability to lift the heart and touch the mind, believing as he does that “Music is an emotional communication and should be used as such.” The most concise summary remains that written by The Guardian’s music critic: “John Martyn strikes the perfect balance between virtuosity and simplicity, romance and realism, nostalgia and modernism. Put simply, he is in a league of his own.”

Chas Keep




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The Piece By Piece Tour

The John Martyn Band;
Foster Paterson – keyboards, backing vocals
Edinburgh-born Foster has been working with John for almost two years, including some extensive touring as a two-piece. He played a major part in the recording of the Piece by piece album and actually wrote the track from which the album got its name. Foster has also been involved in live and studio projects with Raf Ravenscroft, Any Trouble and David Knopfler.

Alan Thomson – fretless bass guitar, keyboards
Glaswegian Alan was a guitar player when he first met John, and in order to play in the band, switched to a custom made fretless bass. He has been featured on John’s albums and in concerts for the past five years and on this tour doubles on keyboards. He has also recently worked with Chris Rea, Robert Palmer, Todd Rundgren and Strangeways.

Dave Cantwell – drums, percussion
Dave, another Edinburgh lad, is the latest addition to John’s pool of players and first met John while chauffeuring an old Riley at John’s wedding. He uses two drum kits on stage – a Sonor acoustic and a Simmons Electronic, plus countless odds and ends – to provide the widest spread of drum and percussive effects.


I first met John Martyn at a concert I’d helped organise in Belfast in 1971. Always pleased to meet a fellow Scot in that troubled place, I warmed immediately to this skilful musician with the quick wit and gentle manner. So did the audience who had braved the danger of the city to hear the new folk hero from across the water. John had just released BLESS THE WEATHER and I can vividly remember those gentle songs and the uplifting echoplex warming the cold air of that dark winter night.

Since then I followed his career with great interest, noting his increasing musical eclecticism, the drift away from acoustic-electric innovation towards rock-jazz fusion, and the consistently pungent yet subtle lyricism of his songs. I have been gripped by his ups and downs, the pain and the passion which weeps from the vinyl of his later albums, as his marriage broke down and he became separated from his children, as he tangled with the bottle and other distractions, and as he again fell in love. Like others of my age, I have at times marked my own life, indulged my own passions and distractions, to a stereophonic background of contemporary music and songs. In this John’s creations have had a special place.

I met Martyn again in 1984. I had devised with Dave Bellamy a television series on the environment and we thought John, in addition to being a sympathiser to the cause, was the ideal musician to do the soundtrack. While working on this in 1985 I was asked to write this mini biography of John and his work to accompany his twentieth anniversary tour and the release of his new album in 1986. To collect the information for this I again visited him at his new family home in the peaceful surroundings of the Scots border country…


John Martyn was born in 1948 into a Scots musical family; the only son of two light opera singers who became separated shortly after his birth. Brought up by a close relative, most of his childhood was spent in urban Glasgow, but every weekend his father used to take him into the countryside, and every year he spent his holidays with his mother on houseboats touring the riverways of Southern England.

These early experiences of separation and the close contact with the countryside yet urban upbringing undoubtedly had a strong influence on the young Martyn. Time spent fishing, by the sea and on houseboats created a life-long fascination with moving water, for the play of the ocean and of rivers and the lives that went with them. Later these childhood memories provided a source of pungent imagery for many of his songs, where lyrical details are often fused with images of separation and reconciliation, fundamental movements in emotional life, like the cycle of the seasons or the ebb and flow of a current in midstream.

Piece By Piece Tour ProgrammeJohn first picked up the guitar at fourteen and leaving school at seventeen entered the local folk scene under the wing of Hamish Imlach. Hamish took him round the clubs, introducing him to people like the Incredible String Band, who, John recollects, ‘had very interesting ideas and were very funky players in those days’. At the time John’s musical ideas and his playing were very influenced by guitarist Davey Graham and the black musicians of the Stax and the Chess labels, people like Chuck Berry, Howling Wolf, Gary Davis, Snooks Eaglin and Big Bill Broonzy. Imlach introduced him to the extensive possibilities of combining traditional Gaelic folk music with contemporary instrumentation and comment, drawing on a range of folk and ethnic styles ranging from ragtime to blues and country.

Hamish, John admits, ‘was a mine of information on these things and simultaneously introduced me to socialism, because that was the driving force at the time. Folk music was folk music; it was for the people and quite deliberately so. Through the socialist aspect of the music I was introduced to a lot of the great black musicians. We used to pool our money and bring over these guys, like Gary Davis, to play at the clubs in Glasgow… that was the only way we could hear them’. Another formative influence in the early days was Clive Palmer who ran the Incredible Folk Club and founded the String Band. For a while he and John lived in a shed near Alston in Cumbria. playing music and selling things from foreign parts for a living. ‘Those were wild times, and Clive was a remarkable man, a great musician and down to earth, absolutely no bullshit, taught me lots of things to play’.

Going to London in 1968, John was the first white artist to join Chris Blackwell’s reggae label, Island, a family company which was later to welcome to its fold a whole range of innovative musicians who later attained worldwide stature became John’s contemporaries and jamming partners. The early contact with West Indian music provided a useful source of ideas, but this was also John’s first real encounter with Rock and Roll. ‘The first rock and rollers that I really liked were Free. I had never heard the blues played by white boys like that. They were amazing, I was really moved, genuinely moved, no-one else had such an effect. It was insane, they were so young. But absolutely no-one has ever come close to that kind of music. It was a cross between musical integrity and genuine soul’. John in fact played guitar on one of Kossoff’s best known records, and Paul Kossoff returned the favour later, playing in John’s band for the LIVE AT LEEDS album.

The first two John Martyn albums. LONDON CONVERSATION and THE TUMBLER both released in 1968, were in the folk tradition but contained some touches of remarkable lyrical ingenuity and jazzy instrumentation which set him apart at the time from his folk contemporaries. There is a sense of Spring and seasonal rhythm in these albums, of a fresh new talent bursting forth and of a poet drawing imagery from both the light and dark sides of nature. Compare the delightful Sing A Song of Summer, Knuckledy Crunch And Slipledee-Slee Song and The River with the menacing Gardeners and Seven Black Roses. There are also childhood reminiscences, like Dusty and Fairy Tale Lullaby and distinctive renditions of old and new musical classics, like Cocaine and Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice.

On these albums there are also beautiful songs of first love and partings like Hello Train, The River and Fly On Home, where lyrics of apparent simplicity are deepened with touches of irony and ambiguity, imbuing their subject matter with intrigue and mystery. These are classical Martyn touches which attract him to a discerning following, always keeping them wondering. The Tumbler also featured one of the last recordings of the great jazz flautist Harold McNair, who died of cancer not long after.

‘Those were basically acoustic albums. I was listening to Jansch and Graham and doing all the acoustic chops. I never played slicker or faster. It was a show off British exercise. The Tumbler material was influenced by my partner at the time, Paul Wheeler, a Cambridge philosophy student, who taught me the value of the British intellectual tradition, in the Graham Greene/Noel Coward sense. We decided not to play the American way, but be self-consciously British in everything. It was great, I enjoyed all that, but its potential for creativity was limited. I got bored with the folk/ acoustic thing. You can’t keep churning that out, it stifles innovation, kills the personal touch’.


In 1969 John met and married a singer from Coventry, Beverley Kutner, who was making records at the time with producer Joe Boyd. The pair were signed up by Warner Brothers in America who sent them to Woodstock at the height of the folk-rock revolution. Working with Doors and Crosby/Stills/Nash producer Paul Harris, they came up with the STORMBRINGER album, a pace-setting acoustic rock adventure, with folk guitars filled out by pounding drums, piano and bass.

STORMBRINGER showed the influence of the Band on John’s musical direction, and featured the Band’s Levon Helm on drums and a range of other session men including the Mothers of Invention’s Billy Mundi. The mysterious title track included another innovation, a wash of strings. But this song Woodstock, a paean to the people of the pinewoods, is still in the TUMBLER tradition. Would You Believe Me is the critical song on STORMBRINGER containing intimations of the long and stormy passage ahead (‘Its such a long long way, so many turnings’). This piece also featured the introduction of the echoplex guitar technique which John pioneered and which for years ahead became the highlight of his solo concert performances.

THE ROAD TO RUIN is another joint love album, celebrating country life and domestic peace, and the importance at the time of love as a philosophy (‘What you feel is what is real’ from New Day) in harmony with natural rhythm (Tree Green). John was ‘happy as a man could naturally be, living in the middle of a mystery’. These were peaceful days when nothing seemed to really matter. As John recollects, ‘At the time I was into heavy duty Kaftan and Bells’. The title, ‘Road to Ruin’, he explains ‘is really an adolescents’ view of mortality,.you know the idea, isn’t it all fun, we’re all doomed but we may as well enjoy it: we’re all going one way, but we may as well get down into it while we’re here’. The song itself shows Martyn at his most mysterious and surreal, ‘moving down the road to ruin’ and blown along by calibre session men like Dudu Pukwana (on Sax), Paul Harris (on piano), Dave Pegg (on Bass), and introducing Pentangle’s Danny Thompson on double bass – the start of a historic partnership between the two men.

Danny Thompson proved to be another formative influence on John’s musical career, the ‘first real jazzer’ that he played with for an extended period. Stories about the two men’s exploits on tours over the next seven years are part of rock legend. John remembers, ‘Aye, there was the time we played naked in Bolton town, and the time he actually nailed me to the floor under the carpet, with real nails, and proceeded to order and eat a full hotel breakfast at a table above, as I was coming to…’.

‘Aye, those were wild times, all part of the Jazzy thing. I was determined to live that lifestyle, look sharp, be sharp, be on the ball non-stop, smoke all the dope, drink all the juice, just get to it and be Jack the Lad, and Danny Thompson, forgive us all, was just the same. It was difficult for people, they didn’t know what to do with us, it was wicked, we didn’t pay bills, we demanded money with menaces, sometimes we scrapped on stage, we buggered about and just generally cut swathes. It was very funny, we were so wicked on stage, people just couldn’t ignore it. The last time we ever played, Danny arrived on stage totally rat-arsed from drinking all day with Billy Connelly and fell through his double bass, totally smashed, in the middle of one of my delicate acoustic numbers. Haven’t seen him since, the boot’s on the other foot now, he won’t return my telephone calls… the bastard. Of all the musicians I’ve come into contact with, Danny has taught me the most… particularly about style and jazz technique. I’m greatly indebted to the man. I hope that we’ll be able to work together again. Are you reading this Danny my boy?’

With Danny’s help the two albums made during the early seventies, BLESS THE WEATHER (1971) and SOLID AIR (1973) turned John Martyn into an established figure on the concert circuit. His reputation as a live act with a difference, coupled with excellent album reviews, brought the people in; and John acquired a loyal following that has stayed with him through thick and thin, the high times and the long silences. By this time John was performing by himself or with Danny Thompson. The Martyns had set up home in Hastings in Southern England and, in addition to Wesley, Beverley’s son by a previous relationship, there were soon two more children, Mhairi and Spencer.

Both albums took further John’s unique fusion of folk, rock and jazz, deploying in addition to Danny and Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention’s Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol and others. BLESS THE WEATHER is a subtle and rich pastiche of gentle songs about love and contentment, with the echoplex complementing and giving electronic depth to John’s characteristic touch of mystery. In Go Easy he pleads for ‘life to go easy on me’, and in Back Down The River, almost the inverse of Road To Ruin, we find him ‘Rowing back down my river, chasing my tail to the sea, rowing back down my river, trying my best to be free, rowing back down my river, trying my best to be me’.

Piece By Piece Tour ProgrammeBlessing the weather (‘that brought you to me’) and singing his ‘songs to the sea’ the music ebbs and flows like the tide in late evening. Walk To The Water is the highlight, a surreal invocation of the spirit of place, the earth and water goddess, a personification of beauty and love and the movements of the earth, the tide, moon and sea. She who walks on the water is the feminine principle, lying at the heart of the matter and on the shoreline of consciousness, drifting in to move the minds and hearts of men. Like Tim Buckley and even Dylan or Cohen, Martyn’s lyricism in this as in much of his later material, makes explicit use of images of femininity and romance to illustrate intimations of the transcendental, the wellspring to the classical poet of all that is inspiring and life enhancing.

SOLID AIR is much moodier. The title track describes his feelings at the tragic loss of a friend, guitarist Nick Drake. ‘Nick was a beautiful man, but walking on solid air, helpless in this dirty business an innocent abroad. He was killed, like Kossoff, by the indecent, parasitic opportunism that pervades the music business.’ This album also features May You Never and Don’t Want to Know, perhaps John’s best ever song, where he tries to distance himself from the tragedy, the destruction and greed which he sees in the world around him. Other tracks on SOLID AIR contain some of the best examples of John’s use of natural imagery, of water, sea and air, to express sensations of loss and separation. In Over the Hill and The Man in the Station, the travelling musician is longing to be at home, to be whole again, ‘back where I come from’.


SOLID AIR was very successful both here and in America, where John was asked back again and again. At one point he did three tours in five months. ‘Everywhere you went people were saying ‘this guy’s happening’ and it all just went to my head. I had also discovered cocaine and heroin. I was doing dope and acid at the time and drinking as well… You can imagine the state I was in. Anyway the industry wanted another SOLID AIR and they let me loose in the studio, a totally free hand… they must have been mad.’ The result was INSIDE OUT, released in 1973, John’s favourite album. ‘It’s very strange, a lovely album, it’s everything I ever wanted to do in music, it’s my inside coming out. It allowed me a vision into my own half-finished self. It was all heartfelt, creative stuff… It was also one up the bugle for everybody, for all those folkies who play jigs by the rote and think Nina Simone is too rhythmic’.

INSIDE OUT won John an award, a Golden Disc from Montreux. It was very experimental, containing skilful free-form rock-jazz fusions, some extraordinary guitar work and, like Tim Buckley, a purposeful exploration of the use of his voice as an instrument. Most of the tracks were recorded during late night sessions with Danny Thompson. Bobby Keyes, Remi Kabaka, Stevie Winwood and (on one eight of ‘the second last note’) Traffic’s Chris Wood. The result is wild and high, music from inner space. The Western Isles will never quite seem the same after a listen to John’s treatment on guitar of the classic tune ‘Eibhli Ghail Chiuin Ni Chearbhail’. Other instrumental and vocal highlights, mixing sawing bass lines, acoustic melodies and wild ecstatic guitar filled out with keyboards, saxes and drums include: Make No Mistake, Look In and Outside In. John’s outlook on things at this time is illustrated in the lyric to Look In: ‘Its nothing but a look in the mirror, its just another cow in the corn, Just another gift from the Indian giver, just another blow on the horn. Look in, look out, look up, look down, look everywhere but don’t look for me, Get in, get up, get out, get on, get it, everything you can for free, I’m trying to make loving, make love in a peaceful place’. INSIDE OUT was precisely that, an attempt to shake loose from convention and constraint, to release the power and energy that lies trapped within, to hit that perfect note and find that peaceful place.

SUNDAY’S CHILD, recorded in 1975 was ‘the family album, very happy, purely romantic, a nice period for me before I went totally Raj Bongo’. A more settled collection of songs, the music also contains a number of contrasts, from the driving Root Love to the tender My Baby Girl. The boogying Clutches shows the influence of Little Feat, with whom John was later to tour the States, confirming an American following built up during earlier tours by himself and with Free and Traffic. Always eclectic John uses a pure folk treatment for Spencer The Rover, and straight country for another old number Satisfied Mind. His choice of these two songs for this collection exposes torn yearnings, for the freedom, wildness and adventure of the road on one hand, and the pull of tranquil domesticity on the other. Call Me Crazy with its spacey echoplex finish and its lyric of both being moved in love and yet ‘moving on’ sums up the tension he felt.

LIVE AT LEEDS followed in 1976. In a mood of defiance against the industry, Martyn recorded, produced, designed and marketed his own live album. He even sold it from his own front door. It’s now very rare, a collectors item. Even he has now got no copy. ‘I sold them all, it was very profitable for me. I mean every morning for months I woke up and there was another couple of thousand quid lying on the floor. It was wonderful. It was also a nightmare. I never worked so hard in my life, opening all those letters, having to personally reply to every one of them, making sure all the right letters went into all the right envelopes. Dear Frederick, or was it Cecil? Woburn… But I learned a lot from that… But it was very effective, I was the first of the record independents.’

By this time John’s marriage to Beverley was under severe stress. ‘I was Jack the Lad in those days – which didn’t help things at home really. What’s the phrase by Lord Buckley: “There’s a lot of good ways for a man to be wicked”; that’s it. This may also have contributed to my downfall, to my mistakes. You’re four thousand miles away from home, and what are you going to do, no thankyou? I was nice laddie…. but easily led. Actually it was pure joy. I’m a reformed chap now, totally true…’

Island responded to LIVE AT LEEDS by putting out a compilation of earlier, more acoustic material, SO FAR SO GOOD (1977).


In 1976 John Martyn went to Jamaica, staying on Strawberry Hill, on the wrong side of the fence that separates the rich whites from the poorer blacks, but ‘close enough to hear the pigs being slaughtered from down the valley’. John remembers playing with Lee Perry on a Max Romeo album. ‘They asked me at the end of the session how I’d like to be paid, in counterfeit dollars or blue films. I took the dollars, ‘de yankee dallah’.’

John enjoyed the place ‘musically’ but not ‘politically’. ‘The white people down there still have all the money and the clout, the blacks were slaves, brought there by white cruelty, and they aren’t going to forget that. Yet they’re all slaves in a way, the whites as well, who’re slaves to the colonial tradition. The blacks still resent it, but because it’s the status quo don’t question it’. It was John’s first experience of working intensively with black musicians. ‘I learned there that all that stuff about there being no difference between black and white is absolute garbage. There is a difference. If you want the truth the blacks are hipper than we are, they’ve got more vibes and have lost less. They’re a wee bit closer to the ground, stronger… that’s for me’.

The Piece By Piece Tour ProgrammeThe sounds of Jamaica and its politics influenced his next album, ONE WORLD. To make this he returned to England and disappeared into the studios with Island boss and close friend, Chris Blackwell. The result was a masterpiece, a smooth, slick more commercial collection of songs. Although to some it seemed as though he was selling out, ONE WORLD was a great critical success… and sold well. Most of the old tensions and themes are contained in this marvellously consistent contribution to rock legend: separation (Dancing and Dealer), deep sentiment (Couldn’t Love You More etc); and a new one – the terror of excess (Dealer, Big Muff). It also contains a wide variety of musical moods, from the soothing and gentle to the rough and the funky.

But ONE WORLD also marked a change in John’s attitude: ‘At the time I suppose I was becoming more concerned. I didn’t like what was happening to me. I was becoming the epitome of the hippy era, the long haired father figure bearing down on mother nature with the lovely wife and lovely children, happy smiles and brown bread. I wanted to get a bit harder. So I changed the point from where I write and moved it to a less personal, more global, I suppose political, area’. The song One World is also John Martyn at his most mysterious and metaphysical, it is (perhaps paradoxically for this era of his life) a song not about separation but integration. The album closes with Small Hours. This is an echoplex anthem (complete with Canada geese) and the last time he used this technique on record. The song is an old re-statement of hope and love ‘for a new day’s dawn’.

The ambiguity and irony in the songs of One World, like John’s song lyrics generally, are not, he explains, the result of purposeful attempt to write metaphorically. ‘The multiple meanings just pop out, I like to open up the possibility of differing interpretations, it deepens the mystique. When the muslims actually closed the Gates of Perception they lost much of their following: the whole attraction was the fact that the Koran could mean anything to anybody. I like the concept of differing interpretations, its a nice area to work in… apart from anything else it doesn’t tie you down… No-one can call you a liar… because they don’t understand what you’re saying… I read Yeats and Burns a lot… maybe there’s an influence there’.

After ONE WORLD there followed a long silence. It was three years before the next recorded album. During this time John’s marriage with Beverley, that had withstood the strains of the ‘life of a music man’ for so long, finally broke up. But true to his Scots background, and in contrast to many of his musical contemporaries who were at this time entering the folds of religious conversions of one kind or another, John simply went on a binge (‘essentially the same as usual, just more extended’). It was, he admits a ‘dark period’ in his life, during which he was crazier than normal, doing things almost with a death wish.

The album that resulted, GRACE AND DANGER, John admits, was ‘difficult to make’. It’s a painful collection of songs, whose titles (Hurt in Your Heart, Baby Please Come Home, Our Love) require no further exposition. But the mood is powerful, overwhelming in parts, the lyrics beautiful, and the music excellent, showing the influence of Weather Report and involving musicians like John Giblin on bass and Phil Collins on drums and back-up vocals. ‘Danger’ also rocks, and includes some new John Martyn classics like Sweet Little Mystery and the anarchic Johnny Too Bad. DANGER is a fine album, confirming John Martyn as a musician and lyricist in a class of his own, and solid proof that creativity thrives on adversity. ‘Grace and Danger was very cathartic, and really hurt, I was really in love with that woman.’ However, John and Beverley’s marriage had by this time irretrievably broken down, and the Martyns were divorced within a year.


In 1981 John signed up to new management and left Island to sign up with Warner Brothers. ‘It was all change then, I was reshaping my life, I wasn’t married, I wasn’t attached to anybody or anything, and I thought ‘lets go for it, let’s make some money, lets make a band; and that’s when the band was formed. I’d asked Phil Collins to do the drum job on GRACE AND DANGER and we became really close friends, so he produced the next album GLORIOUS FOOL for me. In fact we were both going through divorces at the same time, so we just got on. It was great fun, you know, like Heartbreak Hotel, taking turns on the phone… ‘Darling please’… all that… Everyone’s the same’.

GLORIOUS FOOL in 1981 was another fine Martyn album. It includes an up-tempo version of the classic Couldn’t Love You More, with guitar work by Eric Clapton, on whose recent tour John’s band had been the supporting act. Around the same time Clapton did a cover version of John’s May You Never for his SLOWHAND album. Glorious Fool features the incredibly doomy track Amsterdam written for a friend who John had advised not to go to that city but had gone nevertheless, stayed for some time and left one night ‘on the six-foot pine express, toes up, dreadful shame’. The song is dominated by Phil Collins’ drumming and a strafing guitar effect which cuts through to the bone. Producer Collins guides John through a litany of dance and jazz rhythms, laced with humour, remorse and even satire. (The ‘Glorious Fool’ is none other than US president Reagan, lying away the future of the world from his White House window/door/floor.) The Martyn/ Collins collaboration produces some new sound, a startling drum-guitar dialogue and a series of haunting vocal harmonies, that make this one of John’s most unusual collections. The duo are at their best in the anti-war song of separation, Don’t You Go, where John’s most precise ever vocal is backed by a solitary piano and a single sustained blow on the vocoder from Collins. The lyric, as always, is intriguing: ‘The army and the navy, they never will agree, Till all the men and all our boys, are gone from our country, Don’t you know, Don’t you know my son, Don’t you go my son, The proud and the Powerful, in whose hands we lie, Never will be pleasured, till all our women cry.’ The wider context of this song, as of the whole album, confirms John’s realisation, through his art, that his own road to ruin also applies to us all, and that we must confront the political absurdities that can lead to our destruction.

During this period, John was working full time with a band, and in 1982 embarked on a massive 32 date U.K. autumn tour, exploring a new heavier and rockier sound, and extending further his traditional audience appeal to a new generation of listeners. The basic group consisted of former session men Alan Thomson (bass), Max Middleton (keyboards), Danny Cummings (percussion) and Jeff Allen (drums). Occasional gigs and the albums from this era involved other fine professional musicians including Jim Prime (keyboards), Jon Stevens (drums), John Giblin (bass), Tommy Eyre (keyboards), Ronnie Leahy (keyboards) and occasional contributions from horn players Mel Collins and Dick Cuthell on record. John’s music now inevitably relegated the acoustic guitar and even the echoplex to a small section of his set; and his tour performances confirmed his reputation as an electric guitar player of genius and originality.

WELL KEPT SECRET is probably John’s tightest production ever. The music drives along at a furious pace, with, at times, touches of unadulterated funk and disco. There are songs of jealousy and pique, of naked secuality, of loneliness and frustration. One highlight is Gun Money which shows a different side of John Martyn, playing frantic, angry, apocalyptic music, Feeling like ‘a dead end face’ with ‘no life to speak of’, this time ‘rockin to (his) ruin’. A more tempered treatment is given to an old Johnny Ace ballad, Never Let Me Go with Ronnie Scott on tenor saxophone. Other tracks like Changes Her Mind and Love Up, get the full band treatment, great stuff for the road. Madonna could learn a lot about disco rhythms from two pulsating numbers on this album, Hiss On The Tape and Back With A Vengeance. Our John was indeed back with a vengeance.


The Piece By Piece Tour ProgrammeBy 1983, John Martyn was remarried, to the lovely Annie Furlong, and had returned to set up a new home in Scotland, in the country near the borders, far from his former family home in Hastings by the sea. He was touring widely, and while Island put out another compilation album THE ELECTRIC JOHN MARTYN, John issued his own live collection PHILENTROPY. The excitement and powerful atmosphere of a live Martyn performance shows through on this improvised re-workings of old standards like Smiling Stranger and Sunday’s Child. A gem is the speeded-up but smooth rendition of Don’t Want To Know, a song (in more than one sense) with a future.

After the Well Kept Secret tour, John and Annie took time off to be alone together in the peace and quiet of their cottage home in the Scots borders. There was also a change of management at this time, and John left Warner Brothers to return to the old family fold of Island Records. Island boss Chris Blackwell then sent John off to lsland’s Compass Point studios in the Bahamas to record a new album. The result was SAPPHIRE released in the autumn of 1984. ‘Actually it didn’t almost happen, the production team had all fallen out, no-one was taking responsibility for anything, too much rum was being consumed all over the place, so I got Robert Palmer in who brought in some other excellent musicians, and that was it… it was all down to Robert in the end’

Like many Martyn albums before, SAPPHIRE was widely praised by the critics. Martyn sparkles in a new light, playing relaxed gentle music, with a touch of flippancy for a new era. The album incorporates a range of styles: shuffle, soul, disco, reggae, but all uniquely played and mixed in the Martyn mould that, as always, sets him apart from the rest of the field. The feel of the album can be summed up by the words the reviewers chose to use: adjectives like ‘subtle, smooth, gliding, solid, dreamy, elegant’ and so on. Epithets aside, the product consists of a series of dreamy ballads (Sapphire, Watching Her Eyes, Fisherman’s Dream) and jazzy offerings, with one rocker (Acid Rain) and an electronic (believe it or not) version of the Judy Garland standard Over The Rainbow.

SAPPHIRE shows John Martyn to be contemporary without losing any of his old subtlety and mystery. All the old images are there too: moving water, light and colour, even separation (albeit temporarily in SAPPHIRE) but two tracks in particular (Rope-Soul’d and Coming In On Time) indicate a new state of affairs, that John has indeed come in on time. ‘Almost anyway… Coming In On Time is a strange piece, almost a vision of salvation, a cross between a complaint and a hymn.’ The Sapphire Tour was one of his most successful: with packed houses across Europe and the U.K, new fans, there to see the legend, and old fans, there to reminisce. After one performance, the music critic of the Guardian newspaper wrote: ‘In an era when empy gestures of style proliferate in music, Martyn’s music speaks with an uncommon candour, intelligence and intensity. At times, the combination of guitar and synthesiser creates a sound which appears to come rolling across the stalls like a tsunami wave, pinning you to your seat… John Martyn strikes the perfect balance between virtuosity and simplicity; romance and realism, nostalgia and modernism. Put simply he is in a league of his own.’

And now in 1986 there is the new album, a resoundingly contemporary collection of compositions highlighting the man’s extra-ordinary vocal range and his highly innovative and eclectic songwriting. The music is a showpiece for a battery of warm synthesiser sounds, drum and guitar effects, created by John and his touring partner, keyboards supremo Foster Paterson, saxophonist Colin Tully and bassist Alan Thomson. Highlights include the crashing Nightline, the ballad Angeline, a Foster Paterson song Piece by Piece, and two pure showpieces for Martyn’s voice: Who Believes In Angels and Lonely Love.

On this album John says: ‘What I tried to do is sing more than play, and have fun with some new sounds, like the strangled duck (on John Wayne). I’ve been trying to sing better for the last few years and push myself in a certain direction. I always find the vocals more difficult to get right in the studio, they’re better live, generally. To get the effect I wanted on the track John Wayne I had to go out and get completely rat-arsed, and then I did it on one take. Great effect’. This track is the highlight of a very powerful album. A hypnotic, almost Indian sounding riff played against a wall of crashing synthesiser and guitar effects, the result is apocalyptic and fiery while at the same time sublime and humorous. Listen out for the strangled duck! I am John Wayne is a great song, a classic Martyn performance, in one way his A Day In The Life. Ambiguous as ever, the lyric is explained by John as the product of a ‘moment of passing self-righteousness’. The product is typically awesome, ‘Don’t you dare to look behind you, For you know I will be there, You feel my breath on your neck, Turn and face me if you dare, I’ve come to measure you, I’ve come to fix you up, I am John Wayne, My name is John Wayne, I’ve come to measure you, measure you.’

The destruction and havoc we create in the world, upon each other and ultimately upon the world, our living environment itself, has always concerned John. The theme runs through many of his best songs, Road To Ruin, Don’t Want To Know, Acid Rain, One World and now I Am John Wayne. And he has just completed recording the soundtrack for the first major international television series on the environment, TURNING THE TIDE, involving world-famous environmentalist David Bellamy, and to be shown for the first time on British television screens in the autumn of 1986. There are plans for a soundtrack single and album, possibly involving other prominent musicians who are similarly concerned about the environment, and plans for an Environmental Tour to coincide with the series. ‘Obviously the subject intrigues me, look where I live…. in these beautiful hills, and I’m just a wee Glasgow boy. I think of what I could do when it comes to it. There’s no point in working for money when you get to my stage, I don’t like doing things for money. Although of course I need money… I always seem able to make some when things get really sticky… Whatever immediately strikes your heart is all right… this one (the environment) goes right to the core.’

Always a hard working musician, and one of the few of his contemporaries who still likes to undertake extensive tours, there are plans for John to play and record with not only some of the leading figures in rock and folk, but also with some of the legendary figures in world jazz. There may also be a project with Scotland’s leading traditionalist folk singer, Dick Gaughan.

Asked whys he does what he does, he says: ‘At the end of the day my music is just information, like looking at a view it tells you something, and in this case it’s emotion, it’s emotional communication. In the border village where I now live there’s all these old men, brave men, been through two wars, as decent as the day is long, hard working, and they’re interesting, they can teach me something and have nothing to gain from me. They know things, and I gather these, that’s also communication, and that’s important to me… truly valuable.’

‘It’s such a long long way, so many turnings’, wrote John in Stormbringer in 1970. Many storms and turnings later, in 1986, John is still playing and performing with all the old fire and verve, but with a newer, more contemporary range of sounds and moods. As the famous Martyn voice has increased in depth, so too the music has become more powerful and the lyrics even more laced with all the old mystery and ambiguity. Intimacy, as always, is conveyed alongside a political perspective: within the Martyn mythology, the measure of the man and his music is also a measure of the world around him and around us. Turn and face it if you dare…

With nearly twenty albums behind him John Martyn has become a key figure and primary influence on the rock establishment which sowed its seeds in the sixties, broke ground in the seventies and still leads the field in the eighties. On the traditional folk scene, John is still regarded highly, but like a British Dylan, as the one who got away. And on the rock scene, with his echoplex, unique guitar styling and smokey vocals, he has become, almost like a British Beefheart, a legend.

But despite the successes, the bouts of legendary wildness and the cult following, John Martyn has changed little. Unaffected by the hype and ephemerality of the music business and the dreadful crashing of loves and lives associated with it, he remains at heart a Gaelic folkie, a romantic rock-poet and a music professional. The individual and charismatic touch in his art is akin to the work of the bricoleur: he absorbs the sounds around him and re-mixes them to affect and to please, to touch the hearts and the heads of those who play his music and listen to his songs. The mode may be contemporary, but the charm, the passion and the power is rooted in his Scots ancestry and in the border hills where he has now made his home. Like the rhymes of the bards that once toured those misty tracks, John Martyn’s songs contain a subtle weave of romance and intellect, emotion and meaning, which uplift the listener, making the world less real. When the song and the spell is over, the listener comes back to earth, but the earth now is not quite so solid as it was before, the cadence of its time is less oppressive, and its laws have only a relative value.

Listen to him… piece by piece. This man’s music will lift your heart and touch your mind.

Brendan Quayle

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