The July Wakes
The bonus tracks on this release hail from 1977, the Summer of Punk, no less! The venue is Kennys Castaways, New York, a rock and blues club since 1967 and home over the years to a great swathe of acts ranging from Aerosmith to Yoko Ono, the New York Dolls to Suzanne Vega. We can deduce from JM’s between songs banter that this is the first of two sets from June 19th of that year, itself the last of three nights at Kennys for John and the last night of a month long mini-tour of Canada and the States. As with the bulk of surviving live Martyn from this era, the tape comes from an amateur source and the sound quality isn’t pristine, but these excerpts from a fine and absorbing gig, albeit to a less than full audience (JM had little reputation in the States at this point) easily deserve inclusion here.
The setlist is typical of a Martyn concert of the 70’s, John, never a prolific writer, had seemingly abandoned test-driving a brace of experimental compositions penned since his last studio album, 1974’s Sunday’s Child (for these remarkable pieces, Dead On Arrival and One For The Road, check out Live at Nottingham 1976 from Voiceprint), and hadn’t yet worked up for live performance, or committed to tape, the bundle of songs that would form the backbone of the outstanding One World, released in November of 1977. A segue of Make No Mistake/Beverley/Bless The Weather* had long been a staple of JM’s live set, and opened this one, John experimenting with some unusual chord changes in the extended coda. The Easy Blues is taken at a more gentle pace than usual, and note the softer and very bluesy vocal. John, quite a private and surprisingly shy man off stage, alludes between numbers, unusually for him, to missing his young family, and Over The Hill, Spencer The Rover and One Day Without You*, those songs of separation and reunion, feel especially poignant tonight. There’s a powerful and emotional reading of Outside In, the echoplex suite that may be John’s greatest single composition, over thirty years later, it’s still jolting to realise that the source of this sublime multicoloured tidal wave of rhythm and melody is just one acoustic instrument, and the audience’s roar of appreciation, as the final notes die away, makes up for any lack in numbers and then some! Head and Heart*, which would soon disappear from his live repertoire for good, is topped and tailed with a little improvisational doodling, John keeping it fresh. The raging finale of Skip James’ Rather Be The Devil, with its thunderous gigawatt ocean storm of an intro, has seen one previous release, but we can’t help presenting it once more, this time with improved sound. Wonderful stuff.
*time limitations prevent us from including these tracks