John Martyn on Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit.’
I first heard ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1964 in the company of Hamish Imlach, who was busy with my musical education at the time. We were also busy getting stoned. I’d never heard of Billie Holiday or the song, so it had considerable impact on me, especially as it as the first protest song by a black woman I’d heard.
It’s beautiful but, you might say, a tad sad, and something that is musically way beyond my compass. For such a great song, it has an amazingly unmemorable tune — quite tricky, really. Billie’s voice is indescribable — very feminine but in your face. This is not one of her smoky bar performances. She is, however, my favourite female singer ever.
9 August 1996