Couldn’t Love You More
John Martyn is unique: an artist who has been held in the highest esteem since his earliest recordings which now date back over twenty years. A writer, musician and singer who has constantly spurned trend and defied the rules, John Martyn has instead charted his own eclectic course through the oft troubled waters of contemporary music.
Born in 1948 and brought up in Glasgow, John has always struck that finest of balancing acts: between simplicity and virtuosity, twixt heartfelt romance and realism, from nostalgia to modernism. He was the first white artist signed to Island records and recorded his debut for the label aged 18. Released in 1968 London Conversation was praised for its interpretive flair. His second album, The Tumbler was produced by Al Stewart and released just ten months later. It showed the growing maturity of his music and his increasing fascination with jazz. The album featured flautist Harold McNair, a bold move which flew in the face of the insular sixties folk movement with their fifties attitudes. In 1969 John married Beverley Kutner. They travelled to Woodstock and, clearly inspired by The Band’s Music From Big Pink, embarked on the sessions which would result in the Stormbringer! album. John’s second album with Beverley was The Road to Ruin. Recorded in London, it featured the extraordinary talents of bass player Danny Thompson and created a collaboration which lasted through the decade.
Beverley’s career plans changed somewhat with a second child on the way and November 1971’s Bless the Weather saw a return to John’s no nonsense, spontaneous guitar/bass/vocal line up. The record was also marked by John’s growing fascination with Echoplex acoustic guitar technique, his undoubted virtuosity is displayed perfectly on Glistening Glyndebourne.
Next up was Solid Air which many regard as one of the two ultimate John Martyn albums. The title track was written for John’s close friend Nick Drake (who would tragically die a year later) and the entire record demonstrated John’s slurred vocal technique reaching a stage whereby it became as an instrument to be used as much for colour and tone as any guitar or keyboard. The follow up was Inside Out. For John this was everything he wanted to do with his music, a skilful almost cosmic foray of free form jazz which featured such stellar side men as Steve Winwood, the ubiquitous Danny Thompson, Bobby Keyes and Traffic’s Chris Wood. Nevertheless, for Island, it was not the critical and commercial success they had hoped for.
Sunday’s Child which was released in January 1975 saw a return to the more conventional song format. Later the same year, John released an official bootleg, Live at Leeds which, despite eventually affording an Island catalogue number, he initially sold by mail order from his home. The following year, John travelled to Jamaica, a visit that included work with the legendary producer Lee Perry which would undoubtedly widen his musical vision still further. His next record would not be delivered for another three years. The intervening period saw the break up of his marriage to Beverley and the 1980’s autobiographical Grace and Danger is painful in its revelations. As Martyn has admitted over the years. “Some people keep diaries, I make records.”
The following year saw a label switch to Warner and the release of Glorious Fool which, like Grace and Danger was produced by Phil Collins. Its release also coincided with Eric Clapton’s cover of May You Never. John’s second WEA album Well Kept Secret followed in 1982 but his career, at this point, could hardly be described as being in the ascendant.
Leaving Warner, John released a second, DIY live record Philentropy in 1983 before resigning to Island. Early sessions for the Sapphire album were barely progressing at Compass Point Studios. The turning point was Robert Palmer’s contribution which turned unproductive sessions into a light mix of soul, funk and reggae, all underpinned by Martyn’s peerless vocals. The Sapphire tour was also one of John’s most successful, playing to packed houses across Europe and Britain.
John’s next Island album, in 1986 was Piece by Piece. Later the same year he contributed the soundtrack to Tyne Tee TV’s series of the environment, Turning of the Tide, before Island released his third live set, Foundations which was recorded at London’s Town & Country Club. John and Island parted company when the label rejected his next album. Undeterred, John toured the length and breadth of Britain before signing to Permanent and the release of The Apprentice in 1990.
Now two years further down the line, John has reviewed the back pages of his musical diaries. The result is Couldn’t Love You More, a diverse collection that is as current as it is retrospective, as current as it looks back.
Produced by Matt Butler, and featuring such stellar side men as: David Gilmour, Alan Darby (guitar); Gerry Conway (drums); Alan Thomson (bass); Andy Sheppard and Jerry Underwood (saxophone); Spencer Cozens (keyboards) together with Phil Collins and the London Community Gospel Choir’s Reverend Bazil Meade (vocals).
Couldn’t Love You More is John’s 21st album.