Lennon Frightens Me: John Martyn

“Lennon Frightens Me”: John Martyn

SCOTS singer John Martyn has one ambition in life – to be happy. And that doesn’t include throwing himself into the massive publicity machine of fame and fortune.

He and his wife Beverley sing when they feel like it and do enough to keep them from going hungry. Beverley, about to have a baby at any moment, hasn’t been able to work for a while and has been busy looking alter the young son they already have.

“I do the gip on my own at present, in or around London or on the university circuit. People who are always driving for the top get really screwed up. There’s only a certain percentage chance of success and it involves too much hassle.
“It would mean press receptions, and there you have 90 much social politics. It’s just a waste of time.”

John thinks that money is secondary to his well-being and that of his family. Money would make him sell-conscious and would alienate him from other people.

“Dylan has no illusions. He knows what he’s doing. He’s aware. Total security may depend on some measure of fame, but when that happens, you have to watch what you say. Everything becomes so much more important. I have no desire to be famous. I want to be secure and happy.”

He cites John Lennon as an example of what happens to people who have to pay the price of their success. After listening to Lennon’s album, he discovered that it had frightened him — “he sounded really desperate. Of course that’s only what I think about it.”

John’s own type of music has changed considerably in the past few years. Bit by bit he has added instruments and voices to his original base of acoustic guitar and voice. He also destroyed the impression many people have had of him as a folk singer.

“I’ve never been a folk singer. It so happens that myself and a few others around at the time were trying to play, and the only places that would have us were the folk clubs. I don’t do any of the rural ethnic stuff.”

John writes all his own songs, then when he plays them over, other parts present themselves into the number. He isn’t influenced by his physical surroundings, but for the past few weeks has been trying to persuade himself he is.

“I want to go and live in the country. The city is losing its edge. I’m blaming the city for being cheesed off and telling myself I could write better songs in the country!”

He and Beverley and producer Joe Boyd went to the States to record one of their albums. They thought they had more chance of getting better musicians and using more advanced equipment.

“It was a ridiculous expense – we lost a thousand pounds, but it was worth it. We were really pleased with the result.

“We did one concert there – at the Woodstock theatre in Woodstock. That was three months before the festival. I’m glad we didn’t stay to go.”

Now John works when he has to and spends the rest of his time writing songs. They too have changed in recent times.

“I used to write predominantly sad songs. It’s easier to harness sorrow and use it and convey it. There’s money in sadness in the same way there’s money in war. Now I’m a great deal happier, and I find it more rewarding.”

30 January 1971