Live At Leeds (Deluxe Audiophile Vinyl)
The Enigmatic John Martyn
Few artists have influenced and inspired whole generations of new musicians, but with a career that has now entered its fifth decade, John Martyn is one such artist. Everything But The Girl, Morcheeba, Sade, The Verve and U2’s The Edge all cite John as an inspiration. Just when you feel that you’ve heard all he has to offer, when you’ve finally pinned down and categorised his music, he undergoes yet another metamorphosis. Folk? Blues? Reggae? Jazz? Rock? Trip Hop? Funk? John refuses to conform to any particular music genre whilst simultaneously embracing them all. His guitar playing has evolved over the years – acoustic guitar in the 60s, to electro-acoustic in the 70s with a wah wah pedal, fuzz box and echoplex, to the 80s which saw him playing electric guitar almost exclusively in a full band setting and the 90s which saw trip hop and funk enter his music. There was no Hogwarts for John, his guitar wizardry is self-taught; never one to stick with a successful formula, he constantly experiments with new sounds and influences to evolve his music. John is renowned as a live performer and every performance is different with new ideas, colours and textures being brought to familiar songs. Many of the songs on John’s studio albums have evolved from exploring and pushing back accepted musical boundaries during free and less structured live performances.
As we begin the new Millennium in a world that lacks compassion, John Martyn and his music is a breath of fresh air. John is an incurable romantic who sings from his heart; no other artist sings with such commitment and emotion. People have fallen in and out of love listening to the most enduring and magical songs of deep sensitivity that have been sung over his thirty five year plus career. A truly progressive artist, John has never been one to stay with a tried and trusted sound, preferring to explore, experiment and break new ground. His trade mark melodies and lyrics are in a class of their own and his voice which is steeped in pleasure and pain, joy and fear and love and hate, expresses emotion like no other and can reduce even the strongest of men to tears.
John Martyn was born Iain David McGeachy on 11th September 1948 in New Malden, Surrey, the only son of two light opera singers. John’s parents separated and his early childhood was spent in Glasgow, John recalls, “you went out and kicked a few heads or you were looked on as a pansy.” John learnt to play the guitar at fifteen and on leaving school at seventeen he started playing in some of the local folk dubs under the wing of Hamish Imlach, who encouraged John to play the guitar. John was influenced by many different music genres including Debussy and soon began to explore music on his guitar. Davey Graham was one of John’s first heroes, as was Clive Palmer who founded the Incredible String Band and became a good friend. John and Clive lived together for a while in a shed near Alston in Cumbria. “Those were wild times, and Clive was a remarkable man, a great musician and down to earth, absolutely no bullshit, taught me lots of things to play.” With a growing reputation on the club circuit in the North, John decided it was time to move on and he started playing in the clubs around London such as Les Cousins and the Kingston Folk Barge, and was soon signed by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. John’s debut album, London Conversation, was recorded in mono and released in October 1967. An album of innocent songs that won praise from the music press and launched a career that has spanned five decades!
July 1968 saw John playing live for the BBC’s Night Ride radio programme and he was soon to be featured again on the same programme with the release of his next album The Tumbler in December 1968. The jazz flautist Harold McNair, who played on The Tumbler, joined John and he performed a number of songs including Dusty, Hello Train, Flying On Home, Seven Black Roses and The Easy Blues, which was to appear 5 years later on Solid Air. The Tumbler was produced by Al Stewart and like London Conversation, was again in the folk tradition but early jazz influences were evident, as were beautifully simple and touching lyrics in love songs such as The River and Dusty that was inspired by John’s happy memories of Hampton Court (where he stayed with his aunt) and the annual Fair.
In 1969 John married Beverley Kutner, a singer from Coventry, who was recording at the time with producer Joe Boyd of Witchseason. John was originally hired to be Beverley’s backing guitarist for recording sessions but they were soon to record together and in summer 1969, Stormbringer was recorded at A&R Studios in New York and was released in February 1970. The album featured the Band’s Levon Helm on drums and other session men including the Mothers of Invention’s Billy Mundi. Would You Believe Me featured the introduction of the echoplex guitar technique that John pioneered, and which became a key part of his solo concert performances in the 1970s. John was inspired by the saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and in particular his album Karma. “The only reason I bought the echoplex was to try and imitate Sanders’ sustain on my guitar.”
Woodstock was a great experience for John, “Hendrix lived virtually next door. He used to arrive every Thursday in a purple helicopter, stay the weekend, and leave on the Monday. He was amazing… a good lad.” John felt that Stormbringer was just a little bit ahead of it’s time, saying “… a whole lot came from that record… like people started using drum ideas and stuff, and nobody had really thought of using drums with acoustic instruments before. But ifs difficult to say that sort of thing without being conceited.”
Whilst John and Beverley were gaining popularity, other performers were still struggling. A young Elton John was hired by Warlock Music to record a publisher’s demo of artists signed to the label. Elton sang seven songs in total inclusing Go Out And Get It, Sweet Honesty and Stormbringer, which were recorded at Sound Techniques in Chelsea in July 1970. John and Beverley’s last album together was The Road To Ruin, which was released in November 1970. John had disagreements with Joe Boyd over the production of this album and, because of the numerous overdubs, John felt that the recording lacked spontaneity. The album featured the introduction of Danny Thompson on double bass.
The Road to Ruin, John explained “is really an adolescent’s view of mortality, you know the idea, isn’t all fun, we’re all doomed but we may as well enjoy it: we’re all going one way, but we may as well get down to it while were here.” The album was well received, “The Road To Ruin stands apart from other John Martyn albums… it enjoys distinctly jazz instrumentation in what is basically a rock format,” wrote Zig Zag Magazine.
John and Beverley moved from London to Old Town in Hastings, a seaside town “where you just can’t get away from the weather”, and John adopted two year old Wesley, Beverley’s son by a previous relationship and soon became the father of My Baby Girl, Mhairi in February 1971.
Island Records decided that John should revert to recording solo and with a young family to look after this was a forced career break for Beverley. John was unhappy with the situation, “they didn’t want to hear Beverley sing, which is a terrible thing, I still think they’re extremely wrong.” Bless The Weather was released in November 1971; an album which John felt was “very innocent, very beautiful and a pleasure to make.” “Most of the songs on Bless The Weather were very quick. I’d been writing songs in the studio on the day they were recorded. It’s much nicer like that… to be spontaneous. There was no re-writing, it just came out very naturally. I much prefer that approach,” said John, “People kind of sat up and took notice of me after that album, I don’t know why…”
The instrumental Glistening Glyndebourne showcased John’s technique of playing acoustic guitar through the echoplex to stunning effect. “Without elaborating on Bless The Weather too much, let me say that it is a fabulous album, quite definitely one of the very best of 1971, and one which you should spare no amount of trouble over to possess. Every song is a gem…” wrote Zig Zag.
John and Danny were now inseparable both in the studio and on the stage, with inspired and legendary performances punctuated by their own brand of humour. John was producing the most extraordinary sounds from his acoustic guitar with the echoplex and the pair had an almost telepathic understanding. “I think I’ll always use Danny Thompson because he’s got real feel for my music and I’ve got real feel for his.”
Recorded in 1972, Solid Air was released in February 1973 and was regarded by many as John’s best album to date. The album received tremendous reviews, “once in a while you hear a song that finds its way deep into your memory, and you find yourself humming along. This album has more than its share of fine songs like that, but noticeably Go Down Easy and May You Never.” Twenty six years later, in 1999 Solid Air was voted as one of the best chill-out albums of all time in Q Magazine, “With mellow jazzy flourishes and warm acoustic sounds, Solid Air is the musical equivalent of a reassuring hug… the man Beth Orton calls The Guv’nor achieved the impossible: he made a quiveringly sexy folk record.” The beautifully simple May You Never was written for Wesley and Don’t Want To Know was John’s comment on greed, ugliness and the noxious world he saw developing. In 1998 five of the songs from Solid Air were used for the soundtrack to a new BBC film Titanic Town. The film is set in Belfast in 1972 and stars Julie Walters as the politically naive Bernie who is trying to bring up a family against a background of IRA shootings and homes, which are constantly raided by the army. John’s emotive voice and lyrics make a telling contribution to a very disturbing and moving film. Over The Hill was also used in the film soundtrack to Scrapple in 1999. Solid Air was well received and has recently been remastered and re-released by Island Records. John’s popularity and reputation was growing fast and he toured America supporting Free and Traffic.
John says “It felt natural” at the beginning of Fine Lines, on the album Inside Out, which was released in October 1973. It was recorded over a few days in the early hours of the morning satisfying John’s need for spontaneity, this echoplex extravaganza and very experimental album is a celebration of love which John described as “everything I ever wanted to do in music… it’s my inside coming out.”
Sunday’s Child released in January 1975 was described by John as, “the family album, very happy, purely romantic.” An album of contrasts from Root Love to the traditional Spencer The Rover (later dedicated to John’s son Spenser who was born in May) and My Baby Girl which was written for John’s daughter Mhairi. Lay It All Down and You Can Discover ooze emotion; unfortunately, there was no room for Ellie Rae, a delightful song John performed on tour during 1974. John toured extensively to promote Sunday’s Child and was joined by Danny Thompson on bass and John Stevens on drums, with Paul Kossoff making a guest appearance for the last few songs of some gigs. Kossoff was struggling with drug addiction and John tried hard to help him. The gig at Leeds University, on 13th February 1975 was recorded with a view to releasing a live album, but Island Records expressed little if any interest in releasing it, saying they 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 and Island even arranged for EMI to press the records. John’s decison to distribute his own album proved not to be as easy as he hoped when, having advertised the release, EMI produced unsatisfactory ‘jumping’ test pressings way behind schedule. The problem was soon solved and John sold the limited edition of 10,000 by mail order and from his own front door in Cobourg Place, Old Town, Hastings for the princely sum of £ 2,50 plus 50 p postage and packing. Even John doesn’t have a copy of the original. “I sold them all, it was very profitable for me. I mean every morning for months I woke up and there was another couple of thousand quid lying on the floor. It was wonderful. It was also a nightmare. I never worked so hard in my life, opening all those letters, having to personally reply to every one of them, making sure all the right letters went into all the right envelopes. Dear Frederick, or was it Cecil? Woburn… But I learned a lot from that… But it was very effective, I was the first of the record independents. It was great. Terribly hard work, though… I would never do it again. The only way to do it would be to hire people to take care of everything; it was just too difficult for me and Bev. It didn’t help matters either when there was a three week delay between the time EMI said they’d deliver the albums and the time they actually arrived.”
The album epitomises a John Martyn concert with an electrically charged atmosphere, incredible music and of course, banter, assisted by a certain traditional herbal remedy! Paul Kossoff played guitar at Leeds but had not played for a couple of years due to his poor health. His playing was erratic and had to be cut from the album. John recalls, “I remember actually rejecting the stuff – because it was a weird band at the best of times. I only really put Kossoff in to help him get back on the stage, because he wasn’t too confident… It was a weird band because upright bass and very heavy Les Paul very distorted, is a strange combination. It didn’t actually work that well for me. He only used to come on for the encores.” So what equipment was John using at the time? “Just the average stuff, Gibson Boomer pedal, an Electro Harmonix Big Muff, Fender amp, echoplex and a phase shifter. Nothing exotic really.” Nothing exotic? Yeah right!
The album was marketed on a shoe string 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 the uvver mob. Just send free quid as soon as you like to my gaff and my latest live waxing can be yours!” Despite the limited marketing Live at Leeds quickly sold out and the New Musical Express announced on 8th November 1975 that, “Live at Leeds has now sold out its limited edition of 10,000 copies. As a result no further orders can be taken.” Many of the copies were numbered and individually signed by John, and as the first live John Martyn album rapidly became a favourite with fans.
John’s working title for the album was Ringside seat. John wanted some photographs for the release and so he and Danny Thompson went to the famous Thomas A’ Becket boxing gym in London’s Old Kent Road. A friend of Danny’s called Neville kitted them out in shorts and gloves for what should have been play-fighting. Having had a tough upbringing in Glasgow, where ‘you went out and kicked few heads or you were looked on as a pansy’ John was more than capable of looking after himself but what he didn’t know was that Danny had been regimental boxing champion during his National Service! John got carried away and stuck a few punches on Danny’s chin. Danny recalls, “I said if you hit me again I’m really gonna whack you. So Neville tried to intervene because John’s a street fighter not a boxer, so John hit me again and I hit him and then there’s real blood flowing down! He never did shoe me the photos!”
I asked Danny if he had listened to Live at Leeds recently and what he thougt of it after all these years. He said that he had listened to it a couple of years ago and thought, “this is unbelievably good, I think the playing on it is amazing, the dressing room was awash with crème de menthe and brandy! I would still stand up today and say that is a great live gig.” John has good memories as well, saying of Danny, “Off all the musicians I’ve come into contact with, Danny has taught me the most… particularly about style and jazz technique” and of John Stevens, “John’s the best drummer I’ve ever worked with.” The album confirmed his reputation as a witty and original stage performer with a wicked line in banter and repartee, and this, coupled with excellent album reviews, was bringing John Martyn the audience that was to stay with him for years to come.
“Live at Leeds is an excellent album… a very honest and straightforward representation (colourful language included) of a typical John Martyn at a time when he was accompanied by the excellent Danny Thompson on bass and John Stevens on drums.” Wrote ZigZag Magazine. Although Live at Leeds was re-released in the late 1980s on vinyl and then on CD, this is the first time on audiophile quality vinyl courtesy of Turning Point Records and thanks to them we can continue to enjoy Live at Leeds on vinyl, the way it was originally intended, for many years to come.
September and November 1975 saw John touring again and by the end of the year he was totally exhausted. He decided to take a sabbatical and using all his savings he visited Jamaica where he met Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Encouraged by Perry he soon started playing again in sessions and appeared on Burning Spear’s Man in The Hills. The sabbatical continued through most of 1976, “I honestly believe I would have gone completely round the bend had I not gone and done that.” Paul Kossoff died in March 1976 and John wrote Dead On Arrival about the loss of his friend, a song that he performed later that year, but as yet remains unreleased, as does One For The Road, which John performed on the same tour. 1976 also saw John record a single with John Stevens’ Away called Anni on which John took lead vocal and guitar.
Island then released a compilation of earlier, more acoustic material, So Far So Good, which featured a live version of I’d Rather Be The Devil. The album won John a gold disc at Montreux.
John’s time in Jamaica clearly influenced his next album, One World, which sold well charting at number 54 and became a true favourite with the critics and fans alike. In the summer of 1977, Chris Blackwell asked producer Phil Brown to work with John, and the Island Records mobile studio was set up on Saturday the 16th of July 1977 and One World was recorded in three weeks in the courtyard of a house in Theale, Berkshire. The house was in the middle of a lake and equipment was set up on each side of the lake so that it picked up the sound of water lapping, and a distant ‘strangled’ sound on the guitar which was perfect for lead solos. Most of the recording was carried out between 3am and 6am and these quiet hours before dawn created the most magical atmosphere for recording, resulting in two of John’s most popular songs, One World and Small Hours. An album of contrasting music from Big Muff, which was co-written by dub master Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, to the enchanting Couldn’t Love You More and the echoplex extravaganza Small Hours. “Guaranteed to chill your spine” – said Melody Maker.
1978 saw the release of In Search of Anna, a film produced by Esben Storm which tells the story of a newly released convict trying to pull his life together, who returns home to find that his girlfriend, Anna, has vanished. John wrote the theme tune Anna (which was based on Small Hours) and some of the incidental music. Dealer and Certain Surprise also featured in the film along with other music by AC/DC of all people!
John played rhythm and lead guitar on Neil Ardley’s Harmony of the Spheres in 1979 and played on television in a South Bank Show special about the album, but it was October 1980 before John’s next album Grace And Danger was released. John’s marriage with Beverley had finally broken down and the album is a collection of very powerful, personal and painful songs. John Giblin played bass with Phil Collins on drums and backing vocals, John and Phil were both going through divorces at the same time and this strengthened their friendship. Chris Blackwell, who was a close friend of John and Beverley’s, and who found it too openly disturbing to release, delayed the album for a year. John later said that it was “probably the most specific piece of autobiography I’ve written. Some people keep diaries, I make records.” Two of the songs were also used in films. Save Some (For Me) in The Morning After in 1986 about a woman who wakes up with a hangover and no memory of how she ended up in bed with a dead man! Sweet Little Mystery in Mad Dogs and Englishmen in 1995, a thriller about an aristocratic Englishwoman who is addicted to heroin. By this time John had become bored with the limitations of the acoustic guitar and solo performances and started to concentrate on electric guitar with a full band setting for his music.
John was now living in Moscow, a hamlet in Scotland and was looking after his ill father. He left Island to sign up with Warner Brothers. John and Phil Collins had become close friends and he produced John’s next album Glorious Fool. Released in September 1981 with its satirical title track dedicated to Ronald Reagan, the album charted for seven weeks, reaching No.25. Amsterdam was written for a friend who had fallen in love with a hooker, Don’t You Go is an anti-war song and a new version of Couldn’t Love You More saw Eric Clapton on guitar. Melody Maker reviewed the album “The accolade genius doesn’t often apply in popular music.” And, “Only Tim Buckley ever dumped this much sex on to vinyl.” John embarked on a massive tour and Alan Thomson joined the band on bass guitar.
Well Kept Secret was released in September 1982 and reached the top 20 in the album chart. During the recording John accidentally impaled himself on a fence near his home in Scotland and punctured a lung. “The songs are warm and intelligent and a majority of Well Kept Secret is pacier and louder than he’s ever been on one album before… it’s a good record, a class record.” Said New Musical Express. John’s trade marks of sensuality and emotion are present particularly on Never Let Me Go, with Ronnie Scott on tenor sax, Could’ve Been Me and Hung Up. John and his band embarked on a thirty-date UK tour. To coincide with the release of Well Kept Secret, Island released The Electric John Martyn on 12th October 1982. The tracks included the US mixes of Dancing, Certain Surprise and Dealer (from the American version of One World), the single version of Sweet Little Mystery and the 12 inch dub version of Johnny Too Bad.
In 1982 the BBC released a video John Martyn In Vision containing live performances from their archives from 1973 to 1981. John then left Warner Brothers and was without a recording contract. In November 1983, John who had recently married Annie Furlong, released Philentropy. “I had some tapes of a Brighton Dome gig and a Bristol gig and I just thought I’d make a live album out of it.” Philentropy is considered by many to be one of John’s best live albums. “A faithful memento of Martyn at his live best – jazzy, sharply recorded, Philentropy stretches Martyn’s voice from poisonous howl to besotted slur – low key but ever so seductive.” – Melody Maker.
John returned to Island Records and recorded Sapphire at Compass Point studios in the Bahamas. The recording did not go well “… the production team had all fallen out, no-one was taking responsibility for anything, too much rum was being consumed all over the place, so I got Robert Palmer in who brought in some other excellent musicians, and that was it … it was all down to Robert in the end.” The Guardian newspaper said, “… John Martyn strikes the perfect balance between virtuosity and modernism. Put simply he is in a league of his own.” Synthesizers were strongly in evidence for the first time and John’s guitar was down in the mix. Rope Soul’d, a song about nothing more simple than beach shoes and Fisherman’s Dream became instant favourites along with John’s heart on sleeve rendition of Arlen and Harburg’s Over The Rainbow.
John has always been concerned with environmental issues and wrote the theme tune to a major series on the environment called Turning The Tide. The series was shown on Tyne Tees Television in the Autumn of 1986 and featured the environmentalist David Bellamy. The theme tune was loosely based on Don’t Want To Know with a new musical arrangement and adapted lyrics. The series ran over budget and plans to release a soundtrack were scrapped.
Piece By Piece was released in February 1986 and to celebrate John’s 20th Anniversary as a performer Island released Classic John Martyn, the worlds first commercially available CD single which featured the tracks Angeline, May You Never, Solid Air, Glistening Glyndebourne and a cover of Bob Dylan’s Tight Connection To My Heart. “Martyn endows the music with all the benefits of a crystalline production technique and Piece By Piece showcases Martyn’s ability to blend his personality and voice with the rigours of jazz instrumentation”. Wrote New Hifi Sounds. The apocalyptic John Wayne was written about an ex-manager, guitar riffs, power chords and crashing synthesisers whip this song into a frenzy. In contrast the haunting Angeline was written for John’s wife, Annie, and was later used in the film soundtrack to Vital Signs in 1990. John was becoming something of a celebrity appearing on television’s Pop Quiz with Mike Read and other guests.
Live from London, a recording of a gig at the Camden Palace Theatre on 23rd November 1984 was released on video on 27th March 1986 and contains an early version of John Wayne. This has now been released on DVD.
John’s last new material with Island Records appeared on the live album Foundations recorded on 13th November 1986 at London’s Town and Country Club and released in October 1987. The album contained three new songs, The Apprentice, Send Me One Line and Deny This Love. John was moved to write The Apprentice having met a particularly ill looking man in a pub near the Sellafield nuclear recycling plant in Cumbria, and Send Me One Line was written for a film called 84 Charing Cross Road, John told me, “Jo Lustig rang me and asked me to write a song for the film so I read the book and wrote the song, I think it’s a nice little tune. I wrote the song and then forgot about it so it was too late to be used in the film!” “Musically excellent” wrote Q Magazine. A Foundations video was also released.
The Apprentice was released in March 1990 and saw John signed to Permanent Records but unfortunately this proved to be a far from happy and permanent arrangement.
A video filmed during the Apprentice Tour was released in August 1990 and for the first time one of John’s songs, Small Hours, was used for a contemporary dance called Shock Absorber by The Phoenix Dance Company.
John’s second album with Permanent Records Cooltide was released on 9th September 1991. This album was more characteristic of John’s style and the synthesizers were less evident. Tremendous bass lines featured through Jack The Lad, The Cure and the atmospheric title track, which was originally known as Running Up The Harbour.
BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert contains material taken from the BBC archives featuring 9 tracks recorded at Glastonbury in 1986 along with some earlier material. An impassioned and very powerful performance and John’s guitar playing is a feature of the album along with Alan Thomson’s superb bass rhythms. There is an incredible extended version of Outside In, a real classic echoplex extravaganza that I never tire of listening to. “These archive recordings find him at his most mesmerising..” – Q Magazine.
Released in 1992, Couldn’t Love You More consisted of re-recorded versions of classic tracks with guest appearances including Phil Collins, David Gilmour and Gerry Conway. John was working on the No Little Boy album and Couldn’t Love You More is in fact the session tapes for No Little Boy. Permanent released the album without John’s knowledge and John was furious, “I had no idea they were going to release that. They had the tapes and I was in America and when I came back the next thing I knew it was out!” Review Magazine said, “Hopefully this will get a whole new audience to check out one of the most impressive back catalogues around; and for those who have most of that back catalogue, here’s an indispensable addition from a man who can do no wrong – trust him!” No Little Boy was released in July 1993 and Levon Helm, Phil Collins and Andy Sheppard all featured. Some of the songs from Couldn’t Love You More were remixed, but most songs were completely overhauled. Some of the songs were deleted and four songs were entirely re-recorded, Don’t Want Know, Sunday’s Child and Bless The Weather featuring John Giblin on bass, and an excellent new version of Just Now featuring Levon Helm on harmony vocals. The end result was a vastly superior album, much more balanced. “The music is beautiful and Martyn is in fine voice throughout…” – Q Review.
Whilst working on No Little Boy, John was approached by The London Contemporary Dance Theatre to write the music for a new dance, which was choreographed by the highly acclaimed Darshan Singh Bhuller. The dance tells the story of the monsoon season in India, the pre monsoon human frustration and tension, and then the joy and celebration of rainfall. The dance, Fall Like Rain, toured the UK in 1993 and was a major production with thousands of gallons of water crashing on to the stage during the performance!
Island Records released Sweet Little Mysteries: The Island Anthology on 6th June 1994. An excellent overview of John’s music with Island, which spans the greater part of his career. Noticeable by their absence are any songs from John’s first four albums – a little strange! Nonetheless, A well put together package and an excellent introduction to John’s music.
In 1995 Permanent Records released a Live album recorded at the Shaw Theatre, London, on 31st March 1990. To support the release of The Apprentice John had toured for three months in the UK and Europe, including eleven dates at London’s Shaw Theatre, which featured guest artist David Gilmour. In November 1999 Live was re-released as Dirty, Down and Live on the Griffin label.
And was John’s first new material for four years and was released on 29th July 1996. And is an excellent album, which showed clearly that John’s music was still progressing with the use of samples and trip-hop beats. John worked with Stefon Taylor who became a good friend and was clearly an inspiration. John was now signed to the Go Discs label along with bands like Portishead. Unfortunately, this was a short term relationship as Polygram soon bought the Go Discs label. Phil Collins and John Giblin both played on the album, which was received well particularly by fans. John improvised most of the lyrics in the studio! A hidden acid remix of Sunshine’s Better with a superb bass-line brings the album to a close on the CD version. Four of the tracks, albeit different mixes, had featured on the Snooo… CD EP which had been given away free with a T-shirt during John’s 1995 tour. Snooo… was subsequently re-released by Voiceprint.
The dance/remix artist Talvin Singh remixed Sunshine’s Better and this 12 minute remix secured John regular radio air play especially on Radio I and was widely played in the dance clubs bringing John’s music to a new audience. John was struggling with his health and whilst seriously ill in hospital he was distraught to learn of the death of his wife Annie, from whom he was separated.
The eagerly awaited cover-album The Church With One Bell was released on 23rd March 1998. A whole generation of blues classics from Portishead’s Glory Box to Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit, The Church With One Bell, which was recorded in one week in Glasgow, reverberates with John’s vast musical talent. The track selection was quite simple, when John and the band laughed, they chose that track – hard to imagine, as many of the songs are not happy! John’s rendition of Glory Box stands out and has become a great favourite with fans at live gigs, and other songs such as Small Town Talk, Strange Fruit, God’s Song, Excuse Me Mister and The Sky Is Crying are highlights. A challenging selection of songs for John to sing but he took the songs and made them all his own as only he can. “There’s a place between words and music and my voice lives right there,” John says. The album enabled John to purchase the Church next door to his cottage in Scotland where he now lives.
On the 30th October 1998 Live at Bristol 1991 was released, a limited edition ‘Official Bootleg’ of 5,000 featuring the line-up of Alan Thomson (bass), John Henderson (drums), Andy Sheppard (saxophone) and Spencer Cozens (keyboards) performing nine tracks in concert. This was closely followed by Serendipity – An Introduction to John Martyn, another compilation from Island, presumably trying to entice those people who didn’t buy the Anthology.
May 1999 saw the release of Another World, made from the One World session tapes, a gem providing an insight into the making of One World and featuring instrumentals and the unreleased Black Man At Your Shoulder. A limited edition of 1,000 copies with a bonus disc, was soon deleted, due to a disagreement between record companies.
John started the new millennium with Glasgow Walker and a tour of Italy and the United Kingdom.
Glasgow Walker marks a departure for John in that it is the first album he has written on a keyboard instead of his trusty guitar. “Phil Collins suggested I should buy this certain type of keyboard (Korg Trinity) which he uses and that’s why it’s taken me three years to make the album. I had to spend eighteen months learning how to get a reasonable sound out of it. I still can’t really play it.” The Mercury Prize Winner Kathryn Williams sings backing vocals on Can’t Live Without and Fields of Play. John’s favourite song on the album is Wildflower, “That’s real heart on the sleeve stuff. You can’t mistake the emotion in that one.” John prefers writing love songs and says “They come easily to me. I don’t know why, it’s not as if I am an abnormally loving person. I’m an incurable romantic and that can be uncomfortable in these troubled and cynical times. But I am proud of it and I am not going to change now.”
So Sweet is about a friend of John’s who finished her relationship with her boyfriend, and said how sweet it was to be free. John asked her if she found it painful, and she replied “Yeah, but sweet.” The funky Mama T is a song dedicated to John’s partner Theresa, or Mama T Razor, as she becomes known in the song. The Sunday Times wrote, “He’s writing now as well as he did in his 1970’s heyday when albums like Stormbringer, Bless The Weather and Solid Air established his reputation as one of the most distinctive talents to emerge from the late 1960’s electric-folk scene.” Perhaps John’s best vocal performance on the album comes last with You Don’t Know What Love Is, which John performs with the Guy Barker Quintet. “Mostly I give my singing seven and a half out of ten,” John says modestly. “But about once every three years or so you hit nine and a half. And when it happens you never really know why it happens.”
This song was recorded by John at the request of Anthony Minghella, a long time fan, for his film The Talented Mr Ripley and also appeared on the soundtrack album to the film. Set in late-1950s Italy, an expert in forgery, Tom Ripley, decides to assume the identity of the son of a millionaire by killing him. Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow starred in the film, which received widespread acclaim.
The New York Session was released on 23rd November 2000 and is an unusual and fun recording of a radio broadcast in 1998. John and the band had been touring the USA promoting The Church With One Bell album. They were very short on sleep and exhausted with all the travelling when they arrived in New York at Radio WFUV. The studio resembled a broom cupboard! Arran Ahmun, Spencer Cozens, Jim Lampi and John were squeezed into the room. John went on air with his back pressed up against the wall in the tiny studio and an amplifier that didn’t want to behave. John was in playful mood and the presenter got more than he bargained for! There has been a plethora of compilations in recent years such as The Hidden Years, The Very Best Of, The Rest of the Best, Classics and Patterns In The Rain, which are of little added value to fans and have not been included in this short biography.
John has a knack of always being at the centre of the “what’s happening scene” and in 2000 Don’t Want To Know was used as the theme tune for the comedy television series Human Remains directed by Steve Coogan and starring Julia Davis and Bob Brydon. Such was the success of the series of spoof documentaries on dysfunctional couples that an update is planned for later in 2001 and the BBC filmed one couple, Fonte and Bunde, as they are known, at the Civic Hall, Guildford during John’s recent tour. John introduced The Fonte Bunde Band to an unsuspecting audience describing them as new musicians “beyond the pale who take musical entertainment to a new high!” A new video film Tell Them I’m Somebody Else… was released on 24th January 2001 and not only contains some stunning live music but also John as we have never seen him before, just chilling out, joking, talking, in the dressing room and behind the scenes rehearsing before the Glasgow Walker Tour. 104 minutes of John Martyn and the best film to date, an essential addition for all John’s fans. John will also feature on a new BBC DVD release to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Presenters of the programme were asked to nominate their favourite moments from the series and Richard Williams chose an early performance of May You Never.
On 12th March 2001 John’s collaboration single with dance artist Sister Bliss went straight into the Official UK Singles Chart at number 31. The song, a cover of The Beloved’s Deliver Me, once again demonstrated John’s versatility as a singer. “John’s brilliant to work with and very approachable. He’s not an ego megastar in any sort of way. He’s just a commensurate musician with a beautiful voice” said Sister Bliss, “He did about 50 vocal takes that were all brilliant. He was just singing it to get the vibe of it and even those vocals were brilliant.”
John is renowned as a live artist not to be missed and loves playing live, “I was born to play, I love to write, that’s me!” 2001 saw John and good friend, Danny Thompson, making a long awaited return as a duo. The ‘Sunshine Boys’ Tour was so called after the film starring Walter Matthau and George Burns as a feuding comedy partnership reuniting to do a television special. Despite the many years apart the rivalry and desire to be best is still there and soon surfaces. A good humoured desire to outshine each other saw John and Danny playing their socks off on tour to the delight of audiences. The Sunshine Boys Tour was a tremendous success and two releases of archive live material were made, Germany 1986 and The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal 1986.
Also released in 2001 for the diehard fans were Live at the Town and Counctry Club 1986 and Live at the Bottom Line 1983, both in the Collectors Series from Voiceprint, shortly followed by Sweet Certain Surprise, an official release of what was originally bootleg material in an attempt to beat the bootleggers. Whilst the quality of these releases leaves a little to be desired they provide a great insight to John’s live performances over the years and his developing style. In the same Collectors Series Live in Milan 1979 was released in 2002, a tremendous solo performance from 1979 and one of the last few solo performances John gave prior to concentrating on a full band setting for his music.
When John isn’t working he enjoys the simple things in life like fishing, swimming and cooking. With his partner, Theresa, John now spends his time in Scotland and Kilkenny in Ireland. John and Theresa met in Dublin in 1998 [and] have been inseparable ever since with Theresa accompanying John on his recent tours.
John is currently working on a new acoustic album and has already completed some new songs including My Creator and a new version of Go Down Easy.
John has been invited to record a song for the Frankie Miller tribute album Something old, something new, something borrowed but most definitely blues aimed at celebrating the work of Glasgow born Frankie Miller. The album features both major Scottish artists and unsigned bands. An ambitious project, the CD will be the first tribute to place the original Frankie Miller versions, directly alongside the cover versions performed by leading Scottish acts. John sings Baby Come Home and makes the song all his own. Future projects include contributing to a tribute album to Davey Graham, one of John’s all time music heroes.
John will be touring in October and November 2002 and remains one of the all time great ‘must see’ live performers. Without fail John always takes the less travelled road in search of new experiences and inspirations. The diversity and quality of John’s music is undeniably stunning. A virtuoso musician with a voice to melt the coldest of hearts.
Now that you are bang up to date with John, let’s turn the clock back and enjoy this new audiophile quality release of Live at Leeds from Turning Point Records. No expense has been spared to bring you the best possible sound quality using two records rather than one, to make the sound that bit better and this release an extra special one for audiophiles and music fans alike. Of all the live releases over the years, Live at Leeds encapsulates all the atmosphere, enthusiasm and improvisation of a John Martyn concert and has a special place in every fans heart as THE live album.