The Only John Martyn Fan In Indianapolis

In the late 80s, I spent some time in Indianapolis. My wife came from there, and as soon as I arrived, fresh from North London, she introduced me to some local musicians that she knew. I was a guitarist myself, and I think she figured that musicians, being a worldwide brotherhood of mad bastards, would make me feel at home. I got to jam all over the shop. The music was mainly blues, and her loft apartment was soon playing host to many guys who looked like they had just broken out of San Quentin. Your average blues players, in other words!

There was another music scene in Indianapolis at the time, though. A more folky country tinged one. I was amazed and impressed to meet people who had never been within five thousand miles of Cropeddy, but who had all the major Fairport Convention albums. These same people knew the words to all the major Richard Thompson tunes. Mention John Martyn, however, and it would be glazed expressions all round. The frustrating thing was that not only had none of them heard of him, but due to a monumental cock up on my part, I had left all the tapes I had prepared to bring with me at home in London!

I scoured the record shops, fleamarkets, etc, in order to maybe pick up an album that I could play to the folks. No luck though. We even drove to Anderson, Indiana one day, to see a record store that had a reputation for British imports. They were all there. Every obscure British artist of the last thirty years. All that is, except for JM! Well, I did find a copy of the Tumbler, but that wasn’t quite what I had in mind!

One Sunday, we were invited over to a friend’s house. The garden was full of drunk musicians, and as dusk came and went, we were all gathered round in a circle, playing away. I would play the first few chords of a tune, and they would all join in. Now there were several people there I had not met before, so I thought that maybe one of them might have heard of the big man. I started to play May You never , and instead of participation, I got a polite audience. I finished, and someone said, ” One of yours Pete? Not bad!” Someone else finally said, ” I know that song.” I felt vindicated. I was not alone! There was another soul out there in Indy who knew of JM. Then, the guy finished his sentence! “..yeah, I know that song, it is one of Eric Clapton’ s isn’t it. Off of Slowhand !” Well, after that I thought that JM appreciation would have to be kept between me and my partner!

Some time later, we went to an open mike night at a folk club. There were a few faces there I knew, but also some folk I hadn’t met before. The standard was good that night, and I decided not to go for just my paltry songs. Instead, I went for an odd version of One day Without You that I used to do, deviating from JM’s structure a bit, a bit more bluesy, but still recognisable as his song. It went down pretty well, and a friend came over and asked me if the song was one of mine. Well, I usually did own up to covers straight away, but I was a little drunk, (well, rather a big drunk actually) and I didn’t say it was mine, and I didn’t say it wasn’t. I just grinned inanely! I noticed someone on the table next to ours start to pay attention to me, and give me so me odd looks! Remember, by this time, I was convinced that I was the only John Martyn fan in Indianapolis! Well, this guy from the other table got up, and collected his guitar. He was the next man up!

After a little tuning he announced his first song. “This first number is by a great British songwriter, that I know at least one other member of the audience has heard of!” He proceeded to play Discover the Lover . Not only was it a John Martyn song, but from the same bleeding album as One day Without You. I left the club that night a much drunker, but only slightly wiser man. I had learnt two things. One, I can be a bit of a tosser at times, and two, there was more than one John Martyn fan in Indy!

Pete Grant