The Garage, Glasgow
What a long strange voyage these past 30 years have been for John Martyn-watchers. From boss acoustic fingerpicking through free- wheeling jazz, reggae and hip-hop experiments, the good ship McGeachie (his real name) has sailed, with occasional becalmed moments but with the interest always sustained by the mystery of where journey’s end might be.
With his last album, Church With One Bell, Martyn delved magnificently into the psyche of the American south, where strange fruit hung on trees and the sky cried, and while that album was underrepresented here, in favour of a fairly inclusive trawl through his not insignificant catalogue, its suggestion of Martyn as a kind of Clyde Valley Dr John held good.
The voice, no longer slurring his words but wrapping them, clearly decipherable, in a gorgeous growl, part grizzly bear, part teddy bear, is a bluesman’s voice, carrying in turn rage, indomitability, and hurt, and the guitar playing has traded in the clawhammer heroics of long ago for a spare, direct, and emotive searching against his trio’s grooving expertise.
If the Cat Don’t Walk’s confident voodoo strut reinforced the Dr John thesis, the beseeching, bewildered Give Me A Reason posited the gospel according to a T Bone Walker or a Little Willie John. Martyn at his best lives up to such comparisons, although in this sort of form, especially on the languidly jazzy Stealin’ In, the tense paranoia of Johnny Too Bad, or Solid Air’s tender mercies for his departed pal, Nick Drake -each song still sounding fresh after 20-odd years, he is entirely his own man, a true home-grown original to be cherished.
26 July 1999
23 July 1999