Ain’t No Saint
I was an honour to be asked by Universal Music to undertake the task of compiling this boxed set, but how do you endeavour to give a taste of such an incredibly important, inspirational and gifted artist? My remit was to provide a career retrospective and much more. As you can imagine it was the “much more” that instantly grabbed my attention but how do you begin to select songs that seek to represent (in some small way) the work of one of the most influential artists in music over the last forty years? Help!
When the telephone rang at two in the morning I knew it was John before I answered and as the conversation flowed like a meandering stream so did John’s accent from Saaarf London to Glaswegian to rich plumy and well spoken. John was pleased that I was compiling Ain’t No Saint but couldn’t resist an all knowing chuckle at the size of the task ahead, no doubt casting his mind back to the hours and hours of late night recording sessions captured on reel to reel tape!
Extraordinarily gifted and compassionate, John is an artist of astounding depth. John’s music provides a profound insight into the nature of his nobility, the love, pain, guilt, joy and atonement of his very existence. Wondrously intimate, John’s bewitching and heart wrenching music is an enduring story of love and relationships, a mix of fact and fiction where the boundaries of reality and illusion are often blurred with brutal discomfort.
Included on the 4 CDs that comprise this box set is one song from each of John’s 22 studio albums, from 1967s London Conversation to 2004s On The Cobbles. The studio songs form the backbone of this release and my aim then was to include as much previously unreleased material as possible to provide value for money and interest for the countless fans who have followed John’s career over the years and who already have most of his releases. Personally I find it disappointing to buy a compilation only to find that I already have many of the songs therein, and so I went hunting for those elusive ‘neverheardthatbefore’ out takes, different versions of songs and live recordings that span John’s career in the hope of compiling The Lost Ark of John’s music, John Martyn; Ancient and Modern.
Courtesy of the Universal Music tape library I was provided with a listing of ¼, ½, 1 and 2 inch reel to reel tapes and other media to set me on the right track (Sorry) and after visits to the library, the mastering studio and many hours listening, you have the final result and I sincerely hope you find this an enjoyable release and a worthwhile addition to your music collection.
The first four outtakes come from the Solid Air recording sessions in 1972. The delightful In The Evening was recorded on 12th February 1972 by John Wood ably assisted by Richard Reeve and Phil Ault. A very early jam of John’s masterful creation Solid Air, clearly a work in progress, is followed by Keep On, both recorded on 13th September 1972. A progressive blue grass rendition of The Glory of Love written by William J. “Billy” Hill was recorded by engineer John Burns on 11th September 1972 being very different to the light hearted blues inspired version of the song that was released the following year on Inside Out.
An instrumental of the title song of this boxed set follows from an Inside Out recording session on 7th July 1973 and is augmented by Remi Kabaka’s outstanding musicianship on African drums the songs working title being “Morocco.”
Eight More Miles is a favourite of John’s and was recorded on 16th August 1974 at Hammersmith Studios during the making of John’s next studio album Sunday’s Child.
Having returned from a sabbatical to Jamaica, John started to record One World and our next three songs the compelling anti-racist and fiercely moralistic Black Man At Your Shoulder, poignant All For The Love of You and pain saturated Working It Out are taken from a home demo tape recorded in November 1976. Space Peace was recorded by engineer Phil Brown during the One World studio sessions at Basing Street Studio on 29th July 1977 and a simplified less busy version of the song became Small Hours a blissful hypnotic fusion of John’s hushed heartfelt vocals and waves of mesmerising guitar.
Our last outtake Anna was released only in Australia as a single and was written for the 1978 film In Search of Anna produced by Esben Storm which tells the story of a newly released convict trying to re-establish his life, and find his girlfriend, Anna, who has vanished.
John’s live performances take on a heightened quality with a near claustrophobic intensity because they represent a pure exploration of one way music can be played. The informality of the live setting appeals to John and encourages spontaneous magical song excursions without making claim to being definitive or permanent, always leaving the way open for future interpretations.
John is accompanied by Danny Thompson for the first of our live songs at The Empire Theatre, Edinburgh on 22nd August 1973 and performs the superbly engaging Bless The Weather and stunning vocal outpouring of emotion Make No Mistake.
In 1975 John toured extensively to promote Sunday’s Child and was again accompanied by Danny Thompson on bass and also by John Stevens on drums, with Paul Kossoff making a guest appearance for the last few songs of some gigs. The concert at Leeds University, on 13th February 1975 was recorded with a view to releasing a live album, but Island Records didn’t think the time was right for a live album, so John produced, designed and marketed his own album Live At Leeds with their blessing. The album epitomises a John Martyn concert with a thrilling ecstatic atmosphere. John recalls, “…it was a weird band because upright bass and very heavy Les Paul very distorted, is a strange combination.” The album was marketed on a shoe string budget and in John’s own inimitable style the Melody Maker advert read “Look ‘ere, I’ve made this album. Now keep schtum and don’t tell de uvver mob. Just send free quid as soon as you like to my gaff and my latest live waxing can be yours!” John Burns and Brian Pickering recorded the rehearsals and concert on 16 track Dolby 2 inch tape and the beautifully crafted love letter So Much In Love With You, Spencer The Rover and charming My Baby Girl are included here for your listening pleasure. One of the cases of the four concert reels is amusingly annotated, “It should be noted for posterior-erity that Koss came into the truck and did a great big THIS in the loo which we can’t get rid of…. This will cost extra of course.”
The next eight songs were all recorded at The Rainbow Theatre a live rock music venue on Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park, London. We join John on 16th March 1975 sharing the bill with Procol Harum and Richard and Linda Thompson amongst others as he performs an effervescently seductive You Can Discover, timeless Solid Air, wild but controlled I’d Rather Be The Devil and an electrifying echoplex drenched Outside In, all recorded by Leo Lyons for Chrysalis Records on the Virgin Mobile Unit. We then move forward to 21st November 1977 when John performs Big Muff, an intoxicating One Day Without You, Dealer and awe-inspiring Smiling Stranger over two sets. The first accompanied by Danny Thompson, and the second by electric bass, drums and keyboards courtesy of Steve Winwood, all recorded by engineer Alan Perkins on The Manor Mobile Unit.
We now spring forward to 12th August 1981 for the first of some television recordings that feature on this boxed set. A Little Night Music was recorded by BBC Bristol and included here are Johnny Too Bad and a particular favourite of mine, the heartbroken and tormented meditation on loss; Hurt In Your Heart.
1986 saw John celebrating twenty years as a performer and we join his band of Foster Paterson (keyboards, vocals), Colin Tully (saxophone), Dave “Taef” Ball (bass) and Arran Ahmun (drums) at the Montreux Jazz Festival on 18th July. John robustly delivers the powerfully dark John Wayne, followed by the wonderful Angeline and Mad Dog Days all being recorded by David Richards for Montreux Mountain Studios.
John’s last album with Island Records was Foundations a concert recorded at London’s Town and Country Club on 13th November 1986. Our next two live songs are the beautiful and immeasurably underrated The Moment and Fisherman’s Dream, both recorded the night before at the same venue by Nick Reynolds and Andy Rose on the Fleetwood Mobile.
We return to the BBC for our remaining live songs, the wishful Sweet Little Mystery and almost sacred May You Never from Later With Jools Holland on 5th November 1992, and then a fiery guitar fuelled Step It Up from the same programme on 1st June 1996. The prophetic Sunshine’s Better was recorded for Andy Kershaw’s BBC radio programme on 12th August 1996 and the last song is One For The Road again from Later With Jools Holland and broadcast on 14th May 2004.
I hope you enjoy this opulent compilation of John’s work, past and present. As I write these notes John is at home in Ireland recording a new album provisionally entitled Willing To Work. Oh yes! There is much more music to come from the unique talent that is John Martyn.
Honest and intimate, it’s the very simplicity of John’s music that makes it so complex.