Imperial College, London

John Martyn: Imperial College, London.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Salewicz
New Musical Express
15 March 1975

Imperial College, London
1 March 1975