Battle Scarred And War Weary

Battle scarred and war weary.

JOHN MARTYN is tired. His phrase for it is battle-scarred and war-weary. The reason is simply the amount of live work he’s done over the last three years. Martyn has been on the road almost non-stop.

There’s been a tour of America every year while the current series of British dates is the third time he’s toured here this year.

He reckons he’s now at the end of this phase of his career and that he’ll be spending most of next year away from the rigours of the road: “I’m going to stop after November and clean the brainbox out.” In the meantime, he has been considering the results of what he describes as “three years solid raving”.

Battle ScarredTo begin with, he’s broken through that barrier which separates the so – called `minority’ artist from the one who makes a few bob from his work. “I own my house now”, he says, “And three years ago I could never have filled Drury Lane Theatre.”

As well as getting through to a lot more people, especially in America, Martyn’s travels have brought him into contact with a lot of other musicians who previously were just names on record sleeves: men like Charles Mingus, Yussef Lateef and Loudon Wainwright. On the debit side, the ceaseless pressure has meant that -it’s made me a little hit crazy. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve phoned home at 5 am from a hotel room in LA or somewhere. I try to remain tranquilised now when I’m off-stage.”

And there’s been a subtle change in John Martyn’s playing as well. He’s always had deserved reputation as one of the few genuinely experimental musicians in the country, restlessly developing the range of electronic effects he uses in conjunction with his acoustic guitar. But the lack of time for reflection and thought over these three years has meant that his current act is fundamentally that of 1972: “You do stagnate to some extent. You tend to refine the technique and to get more into the nuances and details of your playing.”

Appropriately, his latest album is a live one, recorded at Leeds University and London’s Rainbow. It’s been pressed in a limited edition of 10.000 and only available by post from John’s home address in Hastings. Most copies have already been ordered, and most cheques have come with a letter to John. “The letters are a real upper. Some of them know the kids’ names, others are from musicians who sent money for the album.”

The next step after the current tour is the recording of his wife Beverley’s first solo album. Martyn’s always been proud of keeping ahead of the pack, and he’s got a lot of half-formed ideas to work on. They include working with electric guitar and maybe a small group, and also a fascination with Bulgarian folk music which has “timings and tonal things that are closer to Indian music than European. It’s like the Chieftains with more bollocks.”

Dave Laing
11 October 1975