May You Never By John Martyn
Readers Favourite Song. May You Never by John Martyn.
“May you never lay your head down / Without a hand to hold / May you never make your bed out in the cold”
It was a Friday night in 1976 and I was driving to a party in my mum’s Mini. Back then, we all listened to the pirate radio stations and every Sunday night, between 9pm and 11pm, Radio Caroline would play a listener’s personal Top 30. Suddenly, I heard a voice on the car radio say my name and announce that Radio Caroline would be playing my choice of 30 tracks the following Sunday night.
I knew that John Martyn’s May You Never would be my No 1. His words contained a promise of protection, a guarantee of belonging somewhere – and to someone – for ever.
That Sunday night, the Radio Caroline DJ Roger Matthews used my full name and announced my address on air with a liberality and a frequency that today would be considered irresponsible. I received fan mail and for a few giddy weeks, I was the coolest 17-year-old in Folkestone.
Several years later, my friend Jonathan, who was head of entertainment at the London School of Economics, invited me to hear John Martyn perform live at the university. I went backstage to meet him before the show. He had had a lot to drink and I was disappointed that I couldn’t engage him enough to tell him how much his music meant to me, that I’d placed him ahead of Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones in my Radio Caroline Top 30. I saw him one last time at the Jazz Cafe in London in 2001.
He had twice the weight on him and was in poor physical health but his music and his stage presence remained strong. In spite of relentless requests from the audience, he refused to play May You Never. He said he’d written a lot of good stuff since May You Never and he wasn’t going to play it any more. Ever. So we listened to his other good stuff, secretly hoping that he’d surprise us at the end, but he didn’t.
A few weeks ago, my 24-year-old daughter was home for the weekend and I happened to be listening to Saturday Live’s Inheritance Tracks on Radio 4. She told me the song she would choose as her inheritance track would be May You Never, that she associated it with me and long car journeys when she was a child. I was touched and comforted to know that John Martyn’s music exists beyond time and place.
5 December 2015