The Foundations Tour
John’s Band for The Foundations Tour;
Foster Paterson – keyboards and backing vocals
Arran Ahmun – drums
Taj Wyzgowsky – guitar
David ‘Taif’ Ball – bass
LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS
The coming year is a landmark for John Martyn. It is 20 years since his first professional shows, the start of a career that has claimed a special place in British music.
Martyn’s remarkable talents deserve to be celebrated. His albums provide extraordinary evidence of his skills as a vocalist, musician and songwriter. Each year has brought a fresh chapter in the evolution of Martyn’s music, the man’s formidable vocal range and his innovative song writing.
Martyn’s formative years as an artist were spent on the folk circuit, although he has subsequently produced a unique blend embracing the improvisational qualities of jazz, the lyrical sensitivity of folk music and the emotional depth of the blues. Martyn, however, defies simple categorisation. He has always been open to experiment, to the constant regeneration of his music.
In the 19 years since the release of his first album, Martyn’s progression has been forever unfolding; consistently avoiding the temptation to stick to what is clichéd and stereotyped.
Martyn’s first album, LONDON CONVERSATION, was released in 1968. It was hardly a commercial blockbuster, but it did give Martyn considerably more presence on the club circuit.
His second album, THE TUMBLER, released the following year, clearly showed the growing maturity of Martyn’s music, and in particular his fascination with jazz. The album featured saxophonist Harold McNair – a bold stroke which defied all the rules of the insular folk atmosphere of the time. “I got bored with the folk/acoustic thing. You can’t keep churning that out, it stifles innovation, kills the personal touch,” says Martyn.
In 1969 Martyn met and married Beverley Kutner, a singer from Coventry who was making records with producer Joe Boyd.
John and Beverley went to Woodstock, in upper New York State, at the height of the folk-rock revolution and, working with the Doors and Crosby, Stills and Nash producer Paul Harris, they came up with STORMBRINGER! The album clearly showed the influence of The Band on Martyn’s musical direction and, indeed, featured Levon Helm on drums.
THE ROAD TO RUIN album, recorded in London, continued the flow of subtle improvisation, incorporating percussion and the work of three woodwind instruments. Also on hand was acoustic bassist Danny Thompson, who was to become one of the mainstays of Martyn’s recording projects throughout the Seventies. “Of all the musicians I’ve come into contact with Danny has taught me the most… particularly about style and jazz technique,” says Martyn. “I’m greatly indebted to the man.”
At this point Beverley dropped out of professional music with the onset of motherhood. For his part John went on to make BLESS THE WEATHER, in retrospect a real breakthrough album for him. It was altogether a much simpler album in terms of instrumentation and outlook, and much warmer in its emotional stance.
A full year elapsed from the release of BLESS THE WEATHER to Martyn’s next recording session in November 1973, a recording date which resulted in one of his finest albums, SOLID AIR. The album also revealed a new twist in Martyn’s style and direction. His vocals were now slurred and strangled to the point of effacement, becoming another part of the instrumental mix. It was still possible, in most instances, to decipher the lyrics; but more important than the words themselves was the feeling in the way they were delivered.
It was hardly a new technique. It summoned up the growls of the early blues singers as well as the jazz tradition of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. Martyn has often cited the importance he placed on the American blues singers of the first half of the century and one in particular with whom he identified was Skip James, whose I’d Rather Be The Devil was included on SOLID AIR. The album provided a real breakthrough for Martyn, who established a rising reputation in both Britain and America. “The industry wanted another SOLID AIR and they let me loose in the studio, a totally free hand… they must have been mad,” says Martyn.
The result was INSIDE OUT, released in 1973, Martyn’s favourite album. “It’s very strange, a lovely album, it’s everything I ever wanted to do in music, it’s my inside coming out. It was all heartfelt, creative stuff… it was also one up the bugle for everybody, for all those folkies who play jigs by the rote and think Nina Simone is too rhythmic.”
INSIDE OUT was very experimental, containing skilful, freeform rock jazz fusions, some extraordinary guitar work and, like Tim Buckley, a purposeful exploration of the use of his voice as an instrument.
It was followed by SUNDAY’S CHILD. It was, according to Martyn, “the first family album, very happy, purely romantic, a nice period for me.” It was also rushed in execution. Although Martyn swears he is against recording to deadline, on the evidence of the Inside Out and Sunday’s Child albums he is one artist who thrives on the adrenalin run of working at a considerable clip. His next two studio albums, paradoxically perhaps, nevertheless both took a long time to record.
In a mood of defiance against the industry Martyn recorded, produced, designed and marketed his own live album LIVE AT LEEDS in 1976. He even sold it from his own front door. It’s now very rare, a collectors item. Even he has now got no copy: “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.”
Island responded to LIVE AT LEEDS by putting out a compilation of earlier, more acoustic material, SO FAR SO GOOD (1977).
In the same year Martyn went to Jamaica, an experience that was to widen his music vision. He remembers, for instance, playing with producer Lee Perry on sessions for a Max Romeo album. “They asked me at the end of the session how I’d like to be paid – in counterfeit dollars or blue films. I took the dollars, ‘de yankee dallah’.”
The sounds of Jamaica were to influence his next album, ONE WORLD. The record was made in London, with Island founder Chris Blackwell as producer. The result was masterful. It was perhaps the most complete expression of Martyn’s talents yet set to vinyl. Martyn’s eclectic influences were more than evident, but his own attitudes were radically changing. “I didn’t like what was happening to me. I was becoming the epitome of the hippy era, the long-haired father figure bearing down on mother nature with the lovely wife and lovely children, happy smiles and brown bread. I wanted to get a bit harder. So I changed the point from where I write and moved it to a less personal, more global, I suppose political, area.”
It took three years for Martyn to deliver another album, the emotionally exposed GRACE AND DANGER. During that time Martyn’s marriage with Beverley broke up. It was, he admits, a “dark period” in his life, during which he was crazier than normal, doing things almost with a death wish.
Few albums have been so revealing in their theme. It is a painful collection of songs whose titles, Hurt In Your Heart, Baby Please Come Home, Our Love, require no further exposition. But the mood is powerful, overwhelming in parts, the lyrics beautiful, and the music excellent, showing the influence of Weather Report and involving musicians like John Giblin on bass and Phil Collins on drums and back-up vocals.
GRACE AND DANGER is a superb album, confirming John Martyn as a musician and lyricist in a class on his own, and solid proof that creativity thrives on adversity.
In 1981 Martyn signed up to new management and left Island for Warner Brothers. “It was all change then, I was re-shaping my life. I wasn’t married, I wasn’t attached to anybody or anything, and I thought ‘let’s go for it’, let’s make some money, let’s make a band. I’d asked Phil Collins to do the drum job on Grace and Danger and we became really close friends, so he produced the next album Glorious Fool for me.”
GLORIOUS FOOL was another fine album. It includes an up-tempo version of the classic Couldn’t Love You More, with guitar work by Eric Clapton, on whose recent tour Martyn’s band had been the support act. Around the same time Clapton did a cover version of Martyn’s May You Never for his Slowhand album.
The following year Martyn was working with a band and exploring a new heavier and more solid sound. His music now inevitably relegated the acoustic guitar and even the echoplex to a small section of his set; and his tour performances confirmed his reputation as an electric guitarist of overwhelming originality.
His next album, again for Warner Brothers, was WELL KEPT SECRET. It is probably Martyn’s tightest production ever. The music drives along at a furious pace with, at times, touches of unadulterated funk. By the time of its release, in 1983, Martyn was married to the lovely Annie Furlong and had returned to set up home in his native Scotland. A change of management signalled a return to Island Records and new recording sessions at the Compass Point Studios in Nassau. The result was SAPPHIRE, released in the autumn of 1984.
The album incorporates a range of styles, shuffle, soul, funk and reggae, but all uniquely played and mixed in the Martyn mould. The SAPPHIRE tour was one of his most successful, with packed houses across Europe and the UK. After one performance the music critic of The Guardian newspaper wrote: “In an era when empty gestures of style proliferate in music, Martyn’s music speaks with an uncommon candour, intelligence and intensity. At times the combination of guitar and synthesiser creates a sound which appears to come rolling across the stalls like a tsunami wave, pinning you to your seat… John Martyn strikes the perfect balance between virtuosity and simplicity; romance and realism, nostalgia and modernism. Put simply he is in a league of his own.”
Last year saw the release of PIECE BY PIECE, a resoundingly contemporary collection of compositions highlighting the man’s extraordinary vocal range and his highly innovative and electric song writing. On this album Martyn says, “What I’ve tried to do is sing more than play, and have fun with some new sounds, like the strangled duck (on John Wayne). I’ve been trying to sing better for the last few years and push myself in a certain direction. I always find the vocals more difficult to get right in the studio, they’re better live, generally. To get the effect I wanted on the track ‘John Wayne’ I had to go out and get completely rat-arsed, and then I did it on one take. Great effect.”
Because of his already stated concern on ecological matters and the fact they felt Martyn’s music was ‘just right’, he was asked to record the soundtrack for David Bellamy’s television series on the environment “Turning The Tide”.
And now in 1987 there’s a new live album and tour, with fellow Scot Foster Paterson who wrote the title track from PIECE BY PIECE again joining Martyn on keyboards and backing vocals, Arran Ahmun on drums with Taj Wyzgowsky to complete the line-up for what will surely be a memorable series of concerts.
After twenty years on the road and nearly 20 albums behind him, John Martyn has become a key figure in British music. But despite the successes, the bouts of legendary wildness and the cult following, John Martyn has changed little. Unaffected by the hype and the ephemerality of the music business, he remains at heart a Gaelic folkie, a romantic rock-poet and a music professional.
Support Band; CRY NO MORE
Free gigs in the suburbs and a blatantly provocative first single, along with an image owing less than nothing to the London fashion Mafia, do not make for an easy ride to success. However, Roy Hill and Chas Cronk find themselves in a somewhat enviable position; retaining their integrity they have moved into the mainstream with the idiosyncrasies of their songs still apparent and proudly displayed.
These two talented artistes are no newcomers to the music scene. Roy Hill was signed to Arista from 1977-80 and released one solo album and single which received great praise from the music press. Meanwhile Chas Cronk was playing extensively throughout the US, Japan and Europe with the Strawbs, with whom he was a major song writing force.
Cry No More have released three singles on Parlophone and the new album will be out in October.