Johnny Boy Would Love This
Johnny Boy Would Love This – Introduction
I first heard about John Martyn in 1967 through a huge man on a tiny motor scooter and it was he who eventually introduced me to John. At that time John was mostly playing acoustic guitar exclusively and I was immediately struck by his voice and the purity of his music. I also liked him as a person and it was for those reasons I signed John Martyn to Island records.
John was the first non-Jamaican artist signed to the label and his first record was London Conversation (that cover photo incidentally was taken on the roof of my apartment). Unfortunately at that time he had no credibility on the label due to the fact that the retailers only knew Island for Jamaican music and therefore didn’t support the release, as a result, the album didn’t sell well initially. I always stood behind John and never had any conflict with his musical direction, in fact I embraced all the jazz and world influences he pioneered.
It wasn’t until after Solid Air that I remember John becoming way too dependent on things that were very bad for him. On stage or in the studio he was never a problem and that’s when I was mostly with him. I heard stories about him and the rages he would get into but I personally never saw any of that.
In 1977 I produced John’s One World album, it was a wonderful time; Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi from Traffic were around, as well as the brilliant Jamaican writer and producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. It was recorded outside, mostly at night, at Blue Mountain’s farm in the country. Small Hours remains one of my favourite tracks to this day.
I loved John dearly and it is an honour to share these memories as part of his tribute.
Founder of Island records
1. Let The Good Things Come – David Gray
John Martyn was a true pioneer within the world of acoustic music, and his work has left signs on the road for all of those who would follow. As well as being a deft guitar player and passionate singer, he was always very much alive to the possibilities of the studio, where he was a vivid creator of mood and atmosphere. As a writer he was a master of understatement, who always managed to conjure songs that were deeply poetic, whilst using only the simplest words and phrases. Entering into his music, is like finding another place to be.
2. Glorious Fool – Clarence Fountain and Sam Butler
Formerly of The Blind Boys of Alabama
We never got the chance to meet John in person but yet we were so blessed to hear his music. We fell in love with Glorious Fool from the moment we heard it, we loved his music so much we decided to record I Don’t Wanna Know on our upcoming album. May his work live forever… a musical brother, may God bless him.
3. Small Hours – Robert Smith
I first heard Small Hours on the John Peel Show late in 1977 and fell instantly in love with it… One World very quickly became my favourite John Martyn album… And these beautiful songs were, are and always will be an inspiration and an enchantment.
4. Stormbringer – Beck
Beck Hansen in many ways has followed a similar path as John Martyn being mysterious, musically curious and soulfully artistic throughout his career. Beck has been a long admirer of John’s for many years. In 2006 he covered John’s Go Easy… Here, Beck does a haunting version of Stormbringer true to the spirit of John and at the same time made it all his own.
5. Over The Hill – Ted Barnes featuring Gavin Clark
There are some artists that come into your life and will remain a fundamental influence throughout your own musical endeavours. John Martyn is one of them for me. It was his unique way of drawing on so many musical worlds that made his guitar playing and vocal style such an inspiration. To me his music was raw and emotional, full of aching and longing, beauty and joy.
6. I Don’t Want To Know – The Swell Season
John was a really important influence on me and when he sang the blues it was so gentle. With I Don’t Want To Know the minute I heard it, I remember thinking, it’s just so beautiful and to sing it was very inspiring.
7. Bless The Weather – The Emperors of Wyoming
We first heard John Martyn’s Solid Air in 1973, and it changed our ideas about what acoustic folk music could do and what it could be. John used the full range of his voice, at once, gorgeously warm and sweetly inviting, then gruff, distant, tattered, cathartic, like no one else. His songs and performances were deeply personal, immediately inviting, hypnotically captivating, and, as it turned out, irreplaceable.
8. Couldn’t Love You More – Lisa Hannigan
The first time I heard Couldn’t Love You More was on the train from Birmingham to somewhere. Once I stumbled upon it on my friends tape, I played it over and over for the rest of the journey. There are a few reasons why it remains my favourite song, John’s incredible voice, the dreamy arrangement and the pure and shining sentiment of the lyrics among them. I can’t do the song justice in the describing or the singing of it but however…
9. Go Easy – Vetiver
I never met John Martyn, and only know him through his albums and songs. Go Easy has always been one of my favourites, a weary plea of tender tones that has brought me through tough times. I can always count on his music to do that, to lift the spirits and stir a great depth of feeling, just when I need it most…
10. Solid Air – Skye Edwards
I can remember when I first heard Solid Air, I was around 20 years old, it was at my friends flat off Lavender Hill in Clapham, South London. It was a bright sunny afternoon. The sound of the double bass and the twinkling of the piano was just delicious. I was totally smitten. Then, when John Martyn’s voice came in “you’ve been taking your time, and you been living on solid air… ” I melted and was completely hooked. Almost 20 years later, it was a bitter sweet feeling recording Solid Air. I was excited to be doing a cover of one of my favourite songs but I was sad knowing the John was no longer with us.
11. You Can Discover – Cheryl Wilson
We were just throwing a couple back before the session, you know how it is. But then he asked me… the question. The question we all have to ask and answer for ourselves maybe more than once in our artistic careers. He wanted to know what I thought. Me. Little me. “I’d love ta stop drinkin’ ya know, but what if ya do and it all goes away. What if your soul can’t stand up when it’s naked and afraid? What if ya can’t create any more? What would ya do then wi’ your straight and boring self? What’s left then Che, eh? Can ya tell me I can be sober and still do this? Ahh, ya can’t can ya, I see the fear and the honesty both in your eyes. I see ’em both.” Two spirits we, colliding towards You Can Discover with a plethora of pain and hope and yearning and joy and fear and beauty and complete abandon. And complete honesty. I now know that we can be naked and afraid. Have no armour and survive in beauty. Ask me today, John. Ask me now. Me. Little me.
12. The Easy Blues – Joe Bonamassa
John Martyn for me is one of those musicians who deserved the notoriety and respect on a much grander scale. He like Chris Whitley was known as a musicians musician but only now is getting more mainstream attention that he needed while he was alive. He was a tremendous guitarist, singer and songwriter.
13. Dancing – Sonia Dada
Until the 1990s I had been familiar with John’s name, but not all his music. I mostly knew him as a writer and performer that influenced other great writers and performers. Sometime in the early 2000s Jim Tullio played me an unreleased live version of Anna. It is one of the most stunning performances I’ve ever heard, an astounding version of the song (with echoplex). I was a fan. Playing John’s tunes is a tricky business because his songs are so imbued with his spirit and seem so dependent on John’s performance, which in most cases is singular, that attempting to cover a John Martyn tune is daunting. I hope that live version of Anna gets released… Dan Pritzker SD
14. Certain Surprise – Sabrina Dinan
A few years ago I was very fortunate to catch John Martyn live. Little did I know then, as I listened in awe to this beautiful songwriter, that somewhere down the road he would come to hear me play in a small pub in Thomastown, County Kilkenny. John clapped along that night and it was enough to make me feel those nervous but happy butterflies in my belly. I just couldn’t believe there he was, just a few feet away from where I stood. When we spoke later in the evening he was warm and encouraging. He made me feel hopeful. With the very kind help I received from Gary Pollitt, I was introduced to Jim Tullio who lovingly produced and recorded this track for the tribute album. It is a great honour to be a part of this record and I am forever grateful to John Martyn, for his songs, his music, his inspiration and for the part he played in creating an unforgettable journey for me that is hopefully just the beginning… Thank you John, Tools and Gaz.
15. One World – Paolo Nutini
I remember seiving through my mates records and landing on the moon. ‘John Martyn – Solid Air’. I hadn’t a clue who he was but the cover drew me in. “You should hear it, he’s Scottish, you’ll love it,” he said. He was right.
From the first slide of Danny Thompson’s bass, to the ode of Jelly Rolls, the record just glistened. Such technical prowess and precision floating through this eerie, soothing landscape. His voice was like some wise old hand demanding to be listened to… Fragile and sensitive, yet strong and deep. His guitar playing was tenacious like a drum, whilst sweet and springing out in these beautiful drones and overtones. It was mesmerising. Hearing that record made me want to find my cloud, roll up a spliff and have a smile and a cry… A relief, like some rite of passage or something. Ever since, I’ve explored his wonder, the stormbringer, the London conversationalist. His music’s got me laid, his music’s made me cry (although never hand in hand). I’ve been fascinated by his words and fearlessness… The fore mentioned wisdom in his songs like May You Never, One World and Over The Hill. The beauty of Couldn’t Love You More or Down To The Water and the sheer honesty in I’d Rather Be The Devil or Dreams By The Sea. Simply, tales of a real man told by a real man. Thank you for allowing me to pay my respects.
1. May You Never – Snow Patrol
The first John Martyn song I ever heard was on a road trip with some friends from Kilkenny ten years ago, we were going to a music festival in their little car and they had a mix tape on. All great stuff butt stuff I’d heard before. Then on comes a song that seemed to make time stand still inside the car. The road still came on in front of us and span away behind but in the car everything but my heart seemed to have stopped. The song was Sweet Little Mystery by John Martyn and I was in love instantly. I didn’t realise I’d heard his music before as I was a fan of Clapton’s version of May You Never since I was a boy and our great friend Iain Archer does an incredible version of it too. I guess that’s why we choose May You Never as our cover but John will always be a sweet little mystery to me. May he rest in bliss.
2. Go Down Easy – Beth Orton
I first heard John Martyn in the shape of Solid Air when I was 17. I was transported by his music to a world of mystery and beauty and love. He was a massive inspiration when it came to writing songs and creating recordings. He was the very first folktroniker if ever there was one!
3. Fairytale Lullaby – Bombay Bicycle Club
What hit me the most when I first heard this track was that these guys could’ve been John’s grandchildren, and yet they captured the essence of the sixties era so beautifully… John’s music certainly transcends time. Jim Tullio, Executive Producer
4. Fine Lines – Syd Kitchen
When Syd was recording Fine Lines at my home one morning with Gaz, Lily, Suzi and myself present at breakfast Syd stated he could feel John’s presence all over the house… Little did we know that Syd had only weeks to live himself, he had travelled from Durban South Africa to Douglas Scotland to pay tribute to John, a man he admired so much, ‘Oh what a time we had…’ Jimmy McKnight
5. Head And Heart – Vashti Bunyan
The first time I saw John Martyn was back in 1966 or ’67, at the ICA in London. There was a poetry reading and I had been invited to sing. I was heart beatingly terrified, waiting to perform by myself in front of a live audience, but I watched in awe as up there on the stage a darkly dressed, loose and aloof singer languidly lit a cigarette and jammed it on the end of his guitar in between songs. A glass of beer to his side completed the smokey vision, which I tried to keep with me to teach me that there is nothing to be afraid of out there. I didn’t see him again till years and years later but I remembered the lesson well.
6. Run Honey Run – Morcheeba
This is one of the few tracks John was able to hear before his passing. After John heard the track he called the guys and told how much he loved what they had done. Always an innovator John wanted to record with Morcheeba but time ran out before that magic were to take place.
7. Angeline – Nicholas Barron
In 1987, when I was 22, Mindy Giles who was a Chicago A&R rep at Alligator Records gave me John Martyn’s most well known record Solid Air. Three years later in 1990, I got a chance to meet him and open for him when he was in Chicago working on No Little Boy. I say with no hesitation that at first hearing John, it changed my whole musical life and became my blueprint for everything I wanted to do in music. John was a rebel, a non-conformist, an original and as big a hearted man as you’ll find. Knowing John has made me feel like I belong to something bigger than myself, his words are simple and true, his voice has more emotion in it than anyone I’ve ever heard and his guitar playing is completely original, he is my musical father.
8. Walk To The Water – John Smith
When I think of John I am reminded, aside from the voice, of that right hand slap back thing of his. Out of a million acoustic guitarists I would bet none of them can groove like John Martyn. He had the heaviest right hand in the business.
9. Hurt In Your Heart – Judie Tzuke
Thinking about John Martyn and all his music meant to me over most of my life is an emotional rollercoaster. When I was just 13 I met Theo Johnson at a café called L’Auberge in Richmond. I told him I was a singer and he gave me a copy of London Conversation and told me to go home and listen to it, which I did and here started my fascination with song writing and to this day Solid Air is still my favourite album ever. I have done versions of both May You Never and Head And Heart on my own albums and was so happy to be asked to contribute to this tribute album especially as about 10 years ago John asked for me to sing with him in London, something I was really pleased to do. Sadly it didn’t work out as John was not well at the time. So this album gave me the opportunity to sing for him which makes me happy that I can do something for him and his family.
10. Road To Ruin – Jim Tullio
We originally recorded this track for Levon Helm and as most of you know John and Levon had a long history. Unfortunately Levon has had some voice issues and could not participate. I thought it a shame to not include this song. I’ve always thought that Road To Ruin was one of John’s best early works. I decided to put a vocal on it and finish it myself. For this very special tribute to my friend…
11. John Wayne – Oh My God
Mr Martyn was an innovator and explorer. He made music from the heart and his heart was connected to a uniquely creative mind. Oh My God is privileged to be a part of this great collection of songs and artists honouring the legendary John Martyn.
12. Rope Soul’d – The Black Ships
There are many lessons to be taken from John’s life: You must walk your own path, like it or not. The bad things of life are best transformed into glorious technicolor music. Nick McCabe.
13. Back To Stay – Ultan Conlon
I came to this tribute album a huge fan of John Martyn, but going through his vast catalogue of songs where I found Back To Stay, I realised I was only beginning to grasp the enormity of his talent.
14. Anna – Brendan Campbell
My introduction to John Martyn was late but exceptionally welcome. Some years ago a friend, somewhat horrified at my ignorance, gave me Solid Air. Since then I have found inspiration in his innovative guitar work, distinctive singing style and emotive lyrics. It was a huge honour to add my voice to John’s guitar on this song…
15. Tearing And Breaking – Phil Collins
John Martyn was unique. Completely unique… I first met him in the late 70s when I was asked to play on the Grace And Danger album. We became very close friends from then until he passed away. It’s still difficult to believe we don’t still have him around. You figure that someone as strong and wilful as John would just threaten any illness and it would just go running. He had such power, such emotion, in his music that he could overwhelm the listener even when it was just him and an acoustic guitar. He gave Tearing And Breaking to me as he didn’t know what to do with it. It consisted of the chorus melody and not much else really. Proud of collaborating with him, I wrote the rest, but never considered it my song. It was his song on loan to me. I loved him very much as there was no half measures, literally and musically. I hope people remember him and his music always.
Sincere thanks to Hans van den Berk for the transcription.