Singing In The Rain
Of all the people we’ve seen this year, one of them, means more to us than any of the others. John Martyn; and his inclusion in Liquorice is both timely and essential. John’s music is highly cathartic, and deeply emotive. His personal ‘philosophy’ of love as the only answer is manifested in a quite remarkable fashion within his superb songs. And coupled with this is his seemingly inborn dislike and mistrust of the music business and its nefarious activities.
Singing in the Rain.
Okay for John and okay for us. A rainy Saturday, it sang for us and we sang back, in and out of the puddles and the matchbound United supporters. Stepping off the boat train into a Manchester not quite its usual self. Not so orange, the chuggernauts remaining in their depots, taking their part in a protest against violence on the streets a few days before. Nothing could put us off. Our appointment was for 6 o’clock at the University but the genial giants (in heart and body), alias Martyn and Tompkins weren’t yet on the scene. Time now for our patiently grumbling stomachs. A cheese barm (roll to you, maybe, but barm to them that knows) and a drink or two.
Danny rolls into the bar, sinks a pint, and leaves. We follow. In the Main Debating Hall, we enjoy an informative chat with Tour Manager Tim, smiling friendly behind the dark shades. Danny’s soundchecking, John comes in, it’s “hello chaps” for us, and we sit and watch the pre-match echoplexery. All around the empty echoing hall, the night’s punters press their faces like rabid beavers against the glass.
What’s it do for ya, John, playing to faces up against the glass. And us? The man himself is ready to go. “Rightyho then chaps, come this way.” He’s warm and friendly, but how’s he feelin’? “Tired man, fuckin’ tired.” Does he realise he’s done 60 dates in Britain alone this year? “Is it that many, no wonder I’m fuckin’ tired.” No wonder indeed.
In the Guest Room, he yawns his way onto a long couch affair, and we just let it flow on with the Newcastle Brown. On from where we’d already begun. This is what we observed, and were part of.
Liquorice (Malcolm Heyhoe, MH): What do you think of all this gigging you’ve been doing this year. What’s it doing to you?
John Martyn: “Oh, at the moment it’s borin’ me to death, really borin’. It’s lovely when you’re on the stage, right, really good when you have a play, but all the drivin’ about the fuckin’ motorway and goin’ to poxy hotels. Even if they’re flash, but the flash ones are poxier than fuckin’ Mrs. Wigginson’s.”
Liquorice (Paul Hunter, PH): Has that been goin’ on a long time, then?
JM: “Years, man, fuckin’ years and years and years. Like three and a half, in living memory, and before that it went on as well. It’s just fuckin’ silly.”
MH: What’s it mean in terms of Beverley and the kids at home? How do they take it if you’re zappin’ off doin’ gigs.
JM: “Pretty bad, man.” (said with head in hands and mock tears).
PH: Why do you carry on giggin’ then?
JM: “I’m not carryin’ on giggin’ … This is the last one for a long period of time.”
PH: Why have you carried on for such a long time?
JM: “‘Cos I’ve had no fuckin’ money! One has to live.”
MH: And as a musician, it’s got to go to a certain extent out of your hands into the hands of other people. That’s where it gets fucked up.
PH: Have you been handling the money or has it been out of your hands?
JM: “It’s been in my hands since … the last five months I’ve had money in my hands.”
PH: Has that made any difference?
JM: “Not really, no, but it’s a fuckin’ sight harder. The way they work it, right, agencies and things like that, if they get the bread paid to them, then they can pay the money to you. So they get the money first and fuck you about for months, possibly years, and they’ve got your bread but you can’t really convince them of that. I finally sat down and thought about it … Now if they only get 25%, now why should they have my 75% at the same time as they’re making out on their 25%? It suddenly dawned on me that without being able to book me, they weren’t gonna even get 25%. So in the future, everything gets paid to me, directly on the night please, and in my own name, forget all this fuckin’ Blackhill Enterprises an’ all the rest of it.”
MH: Andrew King and people.
JM: “Yeah, exactly, let’s have ‘John Martyn’ on the cheque.”
MH: One of the things that has always struck me about you, is that you’ve spoken up about the shit aspects of the music business.
JM: “There’s so many of them that I’ve nearly lost me voice, speakin’ up about the fuckin’ shit aspects.”
MH: Is there anybody listenin’?
JM: (A hoarse little whisper) … “No, of course not. You take it for granted, people can listen to it till they’re blue in the earhole but it doesn’t make any fuckin’ difference at all. Lew and Leslie Grade still run the fuckin’ Palladium, still goin’ round and round every fuckin’ Sunday bastard night. And there’s idiots like me still drivin’ up and down and fuckin’ toleratin’ the Blue Boar. It’s just fuckin’ ridiculous, and people are lyin’ to you about fuckin’ contracts, ‘Oh, the contract hasn’t been signed man,’ and then you find it lyin’ about, various things like that.”
MH: What do you do about it then?
JM: “You can’t do anythin’ about it, people doin’ bummers off gigs.”
MH: Just piss off back to Hastings.
JM: “Yeah, exactly.”
PH: Is there any viable way of doing it without the music business? You were obviously trying with the live record.
MH: We know you got fucked about but come on tell us, it was a good move wasn’t it?
JM: “It would have been fantastic if it wasn’t for EMI EMI fucked it all up simply by a seven week delay on the pressing, and when I should have been at home sitting doin’ albums, I was away on tour so Bev had to do them. Like we advertised it on EMI’s word that it would be pressed by Tuesday. So that people were already writin’ the day I got the albums; I was getting complaints like ‘where’s my fuckin’ album’. And of course I was away on tour.”
MH: Tell me John, why has it got ‘Island Records’ stamped on it?
JM: “Because they own everythin’ I do.”
MH: And there’s no fucking way of gettin’ out of it?
JM: “Oh, no chance.”
MH: ‘Cos you once said it was a scholar’s and a gents agreement between you and people.
JM: “Oh, it still is, but I mean there’s no real way round it.”
MH: So in a sense, they’re behind it…
JM: “Oh, absolutely yeah, it couldn’t be done without them sayin’ ‘yes’, put it that way. If they wanted to say ‘no’ it can’t be done. Then that’s it, it can’t be done.”
PH: You are going to take a break from gigging, but presumably you’ve still got a recording contract.
JM: “Yeah, I’m supposed to do another album. I’ll probably do it around February or March. I’m not really sure.”
MH: Have you been writing much?
JM: “The odd tune here and there. There’s not really been a lot of time to rehearse and stuff. And before sort of performing new material, I have to fuckin’ get to know it, I don’t know what I have to do, I just sit with Danny for a week and work it out.”
MH: With Danny, what’s your relationship because you seem pretty close as people as well as musicians.
JM: “I couldn’t fucking do without him really, he’s terrific. We keep each other insane.”
MH: Yeah, that’s a good quote. And John Stevens? I thought he was good.
JM: “Yeah, John’s the best British drummer I’ve ever worked with.”
PH: And you wouldn’t settle for less and say you’re not havin’ a drummer at all.
JM: “Yeah, that’s exactly it, yes.”
PH: Right, you’ve got very high demands, haven’t you.
JM: “Yep.” (laughs)
PH: It’s the only way to get anywhere is it.
JM: “Is it? I dunno. (laughs) Look, you can only do what you feel to do.”
MH: You once said, and I’ll quote you again Mr. Quotability, ‘If you don’t do the things you feel, you ain’t gonna sleep easy.’ You still feel that even though you’re still zappin’ about the motorways.
JM: “Exactly, I feel to get out in two weeks time in fact, and I shall get out in two weeks time. No it’s not, it’s 17 days minus 16 and counting.”
MH: Tell me what you’ll do when you come off that stage in Brighton and you think you’ve finished.
JM: “I don’t think we’re doing Brighton.”
Tim (tour manager): “Newcastle.”
MH: Tell us what you’re going to do, get extremely pissed?
JM: “I shall get exceptionally drunk and I shall drive giggling all the way back to London and from there I shall catch a train back to Hastings.”
MH: The Man In the Station…
JM: “Exactly, and giggle and laugh. And then I hope to go to Jamaica. The guy who owns the record company (Chris Blackwell) has given me the use of a house.”
MH: Chris was once going to produce one of your albums. Is that still on?
JM: “Well I’m not really sure, I don’t think so.”
MH: Can we maybe talk about one or two of the albums. Sunday’s Child, that was done in 1974 when you didn’t work a lot, and the songs seem to me to reflect a kind of family situation. You’re writing about being away from Beverley, One Day Without You, and Root Love. Do you feel that pretty acutely?
JM: “Oh very, I feel it fucking acutely now, I don’t mind telling you.”
MH: What does Beverley think of this?
JM: “She’s completely sickened with the whole thing.”
Laughter and cries of boring from John as Danny Thompson wanders in and writes ‘boring’ on a poster advertising the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
MH: Who’s this geezer in the white cap?
JM: “That’s Tompkins.”
MH: Commander Tompkins…
JM: “David Tompkins, yeah, Commander Tompkins.” (Laughs)
Danny, somewhat slurred: “Look, I’ve just been watchin’ Drake doin’ Spanish.”
JM: “Is it on film?”
DT: “Tele, seen it downstairs on the news. Drake and the Spanish Armada they arrived at Plymouth Hove, I’ve just watched it on the tele.”
MH: Did he stop playin’ bowls beforehand?
DT: “Yeah, he did, I only seen it two minutes ago. Anyway our geezers said bollocks, I’m gonna sort ’em out. We fuckin’ beat ’em 3-0.”
MH: (Manchester) United won 2-0…
DT: “Mind you, two was offside. United. (with derision) Fuckin’ Stretford End.” (Almost singing)
MH: Danny, what’s all this about Robin Denselow?
DT: (leaning forward, almost tottering) “About who?”
MH: Robin Denselow! (almost laughing)
DT: “What about him?”
MH: You seem to have a bit of antipathy towards him.
DT: “I just hate his guts.” (lots of laughter all around)
JM: “How do you know that?”
MH: I was at Drury Lane, and I had an inklin’ from …
JM: “An inkling…” (a burst of raucous laughter, followed by John collapsing into laughter) “Do you think Robin’s got an inkling.” (mock snob voice)
DT: “If you can say what I said on stage was an inkling, then that’s an understatement.”
MH: He gave you a good review afterwards…
DT: “He fuckin’ had to.”
MH: You know that book, The Electric Muse, he fucking mentions you and John in two lines.
JM: “Does he?”
MH: He goes through all this crap about things and he hardly gives you a mention, and it’s supposed to be…
PH: Yeah, I know the whole story about The Electric Muse and he fuckin’ naused it, practically.
JM: “What’s this, I didn’t know it existed.”
DT: “You make sure they pay your fuckin’ royalties.”
MH: It’s a book and a record.
DT: “John Martyn, P-en-ta-ng-le, Karl Dallas. It’s a quadruple album.”
MH: You get a free breakfast with it and stuff, one of those big jobs to fleece people for Christmas.
DT: “Robin Denselow’s gonna get chopped up into little pieces. He’s a fuckin’ dilettante, right.”
JM: “What’s Robin Denselow got to do with the record?”
DT: “I don’t even worry about him, there’s no thing about me ‘n him. There’s a thing about me and any critic in the world. I just fuckin’ hate ’em, they’re parasites. They don’t play, he can’t play fuck all. When I got back I heard he won the folk singing contest at Beaulieu.”
JM: “Who?” (enquiringly)
DT: “De-n-se-low.” (laughter) “I said it proves my fuckin’ point.”
JM: “He won the folk singing contest at Beaulieu?” (Said with tones of incredulity and mirth)
MH: Beaulieu folk festival…
JM: “Vintage car museum.”
MH: Lord Montagu’s Rose Bowl Prize!
DT: “Fuckin’ arsehole prize more like.” (laughter all round)
JM: “Karl Dallas, I remember when it was Fred and Betty Dallas… remember Fred and Betty Dallas in the days of Ewan MacColl? Fingers in the ear an’ all that…”
DT: “Fingers in the earhole, and Shoals Of Herring a million times a night.”
JM: “Jerry Gilbert runnin’ his folk club, tryin’ to play his 12-string, I remember it all.”
DT: “He’s fuckin’ useless, they’re all a bunch of wankers.”
JM: “But he’s booked me twice for fucking £12. But what else, Andrew Means and his piano, Chris Welch and his drums.”
MH: You obviously think it’s a shit then, that they should be able to judge your playin’ in a derogatory sense.
DT: “They shouldn’t be able to even talk about it! What do they know criticising, earning a living off it. The audience are more important, and if there’s 5 million people shoutin’ an’ screamin’, rave, rave, rave, and he says, ‘I don’t like it,’ (in mocking tones)… I want constructive criticism, why it ain’t good, is it out of tune? For a start I’ve been playin’ longer than they’ve been fuckin’ born, right, and no-one knows better than me. (chuckles all round) And Charlie Mingus and a lot of other people who’ve been through the same shit as I’ve been through.”
DT: “I don’t want 16 year old …”
JM: “Let’s hear it for the dodderin’ ole soul who’s paid his dues! (John begins to clap oll Danny)
DT: “… cunt hidin’ behind a pen with dirty pictures on his wall …”
JM: “slopin’ over the hill bass player”
DT: “Bollocks, what’s he know about sufferin’.” (Great laughter)
Danny turns and says in haughty tones, “I’ve suffered for my music man.” He then proceeds to walk headlong into the wall, denting his nose in true Comedy style. Clunk.
“I’m not a cunt.” We all start to laugh. Danny leaves.
PH: Do you generally agree about critics?
JM: “Oh, absolutely, I think they’re useless and they’re only there to keep the media going.”
PH: Do you see any alternative.
PH: Danny’s much more into the musical thing than you are, having much more musical training.
JM: “Oh, yeah, absolutely man, he’s trained to the hilt, trained to kill… He’d do anything for it.”
MH: About the time of Inside out Island put you through a lot of interviews.
JM: “That’s right, I remember three days of ’em.”
MH: Fuck, and you seemed to talk a lot about love as a panacea. Do you still feel that way even 2 years later?
JM: “Of course, it’s not gonna change at all.”
PH: You were saying that you’d done the album with love as the theme almost, a concept.
JM: “Yeah, my one and only concept album.”
PH: And that you were going to have to move on to something else.
JM: “Yeah, cleanin’ my nails…”(we all laugh)
MH: The Star And His Nails! What about some of the geezers you’ve worked with. Liam Genochey, and Al Anderson who played on Sunday’s child?
JM: “Al Anderson I think’s terrific. Liam’s alright. Love the pair of ’em, listen I wouldn’t work with people if I didn’t think they were nice.”
MH: When you record you don’t seem to spend 3,000 years doing it with tremendous overdubs. You seem to get in, and it seems to be very organic. Do you like to work like that?
JM: “Yeah, I like to go in and record when it sounds alright, rarely do I not enjoy it. I have been to the odd session I didn’t enjoy but either things weren’t going well…”
PH: But what about the actual having to make it at a certain time?
JM: “It’s never really occurred, except with Sunday’s child.”
PH: That one was rushed through was it.
JM: “I think it was yeah, in fact definitely was very. I was very choked because after, they fuckin’ wanked me about, sayin’ ‘you got to get it out before August’ or something, can’t remember. The day after I finished, I went on holiday, that’s how tight the schedule was. Then they held the release back for about 6 months! Things like that can really get up your nose. Workin’ your bollocks off and they go, (shouts), ‘come on, come on, where is it!'”
PH: It has all to tie in with the tour…
MH: When you did some gigs in April and May, they advertised you as, ‘He’s Back’, with Kossoff on one page.
JM: “Oh, yeah (with an air of ‘I know they did’) and ‘So’s he’.”
MH: What would happen if you said to Chris Blackwell, that’s shit, what would he say?
JM: “It had nuthin’ to do with Chris Blackwell.”
Ha! Ha!, the return of Danny, megaphone to mouth, and loudhailing: “This is the last time we tell you, the whole place is surrounded!” Fits of laughter. “This is your last chance Luigi.”
JM: “I believe they’ve got your mother in there, do you want to talk to him?”
DT: “I’ve got your cover mothered.” (Dissolution in laughter)
JM: “Cut! Take two. Oh mother you shot my dirty rat.”
DT: “I ain’t eatin’ that slop, I’m going over the wall.” (All spoken in angry gaol-like tones)
MH: Hey, there’s some geezers on the roof of Wormwood Scrubs, Irish guys.
DT: “Tryin’ to find holes in it, to try and get in.” (Hysterics once more.)
PH: Do you find life a gas?
DT: “I hate life.”
JM: “It’s boring.”
Danny starts singing, “On a Monday I don’t go to work, on a Tuesday I stay in bed… and Sunday is my day of rest” and walking round the room. Moves to the mike and roars “Robin Denselow is a cunt, still is and always will be!”
DT: (points to toilet) “Oh, in there someone’s written ‘Britain for the British’ and someone’s put [next to it] ‘Let anyone have it who fuckin’ well needs it’. Yeah, let anyone who thinks it have it, it ain’t worth havin.”
Danny makes to leave.
JM: “Where are you going, cunty?”
JM: “Oh, I’ll see you.”
DT: “Anyway you’re doin’ an interview with a critic! Have I ballsed it or anything?”
JM: “Yes.” (smiling)
DT: (not to JM but to Malcolm) “Are you upset?”
MH: No, it doesn’t matter, it’s better that you be yourself, than us prattin’ on.
JM: “If you wanna talk to people, you talk.”
DT: “You’re just sittin’ here, I thought you’d finished.”
MH: It’s alright.
DT: (leaning over against the door) “I do think life’s a gas.”
PH: I wanted a serious answer to that, really.
DT: “Yes I do, of course. I fuckin’ love it.”
PH: You have to, don’t you.
DT: “You don’t have to. If you don’t want to, you can fuckin’ get out of it, can’t you? Get out of that fuckin’ window and jump. As long as you don’t hit anybody on the way down. Quite legal.”
JM: “Don’t land on any old ladies or things like that.”
Danny departs, only to reappear, head round the door.
DT: “That’d be a really typical cunt, landing on some poor harmless old lady.” (Laughter accompanying exit proper)
MH: What about drugs, John. You used coke and stuff in the States. Do you still do it.
JM: “I’ll do anything I can get my hands on.”
MH: It’s hard to get hold of…
MH: And then again, that’s more of a rich person’s…
JM: “Oh yeah, it costs a fuckin’ fortune. In fact I’m going to a neurologist very shortly, ‘cos my nerves are somewhat shot.”
JM: “Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve got a feeling he’s gonna tell me to lay off the lot, which’ll be a terrible drag.”
MH: How much do you do?
JM: “Oh god, depends what’s about, man. If you gave me 8 grams of Charlie and 8 grams of Horse, I’d get thru’ it in a week. (titters) There again, I go months and months without anythin’ other than dope. I’ve always got some dope to smoke.”
PH: Why are you going to the neurologist? Because it’s having some effect on you, is it.
JM: “No, it’s just that I find myself gettin’ paranoid in weird situations. Like I’ll walk into a boozer and I can’t fuckin’ order a drink and things.”
PH: Is that often?
JM: “No. Well it’s happening quite a lot now, sort of happening more and more.”
MH: It’s touring. You’re doing too much.
JM: “I know exactly, that’s it. I’ve only got two weeks to go. Zero minus fuckin’ 15 and counting. It’s all quite under control, I do know that it’s going on, it is about time it stopped.”
PH: Before you met Beverley, were you a lot quieter than you are now?
MH: People said she seemed to zap you up somewhat.
There’s no immediate reply. John is head in hands again.
MH: Too much is it.
PH: She must have had a big effect on you, she seems very important to you. Can you put that into any kind of words, or is it all down in the songs.
JM: “I just love her more than anything in the entire world. I think she’s absolutely terrific. I would die for her tomorrow… or now if necessary.”
PH: Does that put any pressure on her at all?
JM: “I’m sure it does, a great deal of pressure.”
PH: What about her album which is coming out.
JM: “She’s doing some vocals in a coupla days time on 5 track. She has got a different approach to me.”
PH: You’ve got no objections to her doin’ albums and touring or whatever. Or does that make things difficult, like if you’re touring.
JM: “I wouldn’t fancy her doin’ a lot of touring. I wouldn’t mind gettin’ a band together with her.”
MH: No Queen Elizabeth Hall revisited, though.
John makes a funny gesture.
A hotel just don’t make it
when I’m thinking about your face
cheap experience don’t shake it
thinking about my place, root love..
a thousand kisses, root love.
(Root Love, John Martyn, 1974)
MH: When she’s at home in Hastings, does she really get into being there, or does she get freaked with you being on the road for two or three weeks.
JM: “Yes, she does get very freaked and pissed off with the whole thing.”
PH: How do you say ‘okay, that’s worthwhile’.
JM: “Screamin’ shit you don’t, it’s not worthwhile! But you realise that if you don’t go away for a few weeks at a time, then there ain’t no juice on the table or roof above your head. So I’m doin’ it for everybody. For the family. And for me, ‘cos I couldn’t exist without it.”
PH: How important is family life?
JM: “Fuckin’ important, and it’s gonna be a fuckin’ sight more important in two weeks’ time, I’ll tell ya. Please god.”
We were guests a bit longer, too. Treated to a smoke and time to gain a little more insight into Looners’ Lives. John dismisses Springsteen as a wanker, but confirms his interest in Weather Report, whose visit to London unfortunately coincided with dates for him in Scotland. Also a current interest in Bulgarian music and Curtis Mayfield’s America Today on which he particularly likes the vocals and production. They are trying to arrange another hotel ‘cos the first one didn’t feel right.
“You’re not gonna do one of your moodies tomorrow, John?” asks Danny. The conflict is between Danny getting home and John’s Sunday Lunch. Danny talks of “retiring” to his home in Suffolk (“16 years is enough” – another man tired of touring). He battles with the telephone. The Tannoy interrupts: ‘Could whoever’s on extension 53, please replace the receiver.’ Danny doesn’t. He gets through. His spouse talks of Doug Lewis of Rolling Stone and reports of Danny ‘screwing on and off stage’ (what does this mean?). “I wouldn’t do that, now would I, John?” he pleads.
Would you, John? we ask. Screw other people, that is. The answer is No.
How many close relationships has he? “People I can trust? Just three. Bev; him (pointing to Danny); and one couple that we know.”
We were also treated to a seat in the wings for the gig itself. And to our request, for them to play The Message. It came straight after the opener, Make No Mistake. Mightily stoned, we were aware of the different angle onto the stage, of the energy going outward into the sweaty, clamouring throng. They loved it, and so did we, observers and yet so much part of the flow: the incessantly moving fingers of John (like a helicopter blade in slow motion); the laughter thrown across from Danny; and the music from out of it all. Cries of “Boring” from Danny waft around and are taken up by the receptive crowd. And thrown back. “Whatever I am, I ain’t fuckin’ boring,” roars Mr. Laugh a minute Thompson. “Are there any critics in the audience?” Now a long outburst on critics, what have we started?
Spirits are high. We yell for the William Tell Overture (makes a change from Ravel’s Bolero?!). Hedgehog Pie rush on and brush and hoover the stage. The rap goes on, and so does the music. All the best of Live at Leeds and more; Live Loud and Electric At Manchester. And they followed two beautiful solos (one each) with a fitting encore. That’s right, you guessed: Singing in the Rain.
John Martyn and Danny Thompson, thanks a lot.
Malcolm Heyhoe and Paul Hunter
15 January 1976