Tributes Paid As Folk Legend…

Tributes paid as folk legend John Martyn dies aged 60.

Legendary musician John Martyn died yesterday at the age of 60.

The giant Scot developed his own unique style, a mix of blues, folk, jazz and special effects. He was a hugely talented guitar player and songwriter. Artists as varied as Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Led Zeppelin, Dave Gilmour and The Band were major fans. His 1970s albums, from Solid Air to Grace And Danger, were a huge influence on later acts, including U2 and Portishead, The Verve and Paolo Nutini.

Martyn was also renowned for his wild behaviour on and off stage, making him an unlikely recipient of an OBE last month. Phil Collins said last night: “John’s passing is terribly sad. I had known him since the late 70s and he was a great friend. “He was uncompromising, which made him infuriating to some, but he was unique.”

Born in London to Scots parents, he was brought up on Glasgow’s south side, going to Shawlands Academy. He learned to play guitar during the folk boom of the 1960s and his mentor was the wild man of Scots folk, Hamish Imlach. Early in his career, he moved to live near Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix in Woodstock in New York state. Martyn recalled: “Hendrix lived virtually next door. He used to arrive on Thursday in a purple helicopter.”

He was also a close friend of cult singer-songwriter Nick Drake and wrote his classic song Solid Air about Drake’s suicide. His live shows were wild affairs, mostly as a duo with bass player Danny Thompson. At one show, they left the stage to throw out a heckler. Martyn took a string of illegal drugs and famously said he much preferred to be in an “altered” state of mind. Though a hero to the critics, Martyn’s albums didn’t sell as well as they might.

He became frustrated by the music industry, especially after his divorce from first wife Beverley. He returned to live in Scotland in the Lanarkshire village of Roberton but was declared bankrupt in 2000. He then moved to Ireland.

In 2008, he was given a Lifetime Achievement award at The Radio 2 Folk Awards. But his health suffered because of his lifestyle and in 2003 he had the lower part of a leg amputated. The once handsome Martyn had ballooned to around 23 stone and was in a wheelchair. He admitted: “I’ve given the body a fair belting over the years.”

Rick Fulton
Daily Record
30 January 2009