The Well Kept Secret Tour
Jeff Allen, Drums
Jeff is a leading session drummer whose credits read like a who’s who of the record business. Formerly in East of Eden for four years he went on to play with Bonnie Tyler, Barbara Dickson, B.A. Robertson and on literally hundreds of records.
Danny Cummings, Percussion
Introduced to John by Tommy Eyre of the Grease Band, Danny is a top session player who has played with Linx, Level 42, Central Line and ABC.
Ronnie Leahy, Keyboards
Ronnie, founder member of Stone the Crows and now a top session man, has played live with many artists, amongst them Alvin Lee, Jack Bruce and Jon Anderson. This is his first tour with John.
Alan Thomson, Bass
Alan is a young virtuoso bassist who formed his own band in Glasgow called The Arthur Trout Band. John Martyn’s cousin played in the same outfit and when John saw the band he pinched the Bass player. Alan’s main influences are Gong, Bill Bruford and Weather Report.
Through changing times and trends, through ‘love ‘n’ peace’ to political clampdown, from youthful romance to confused middle age, from child to father, from husband to divorcee, from drunk to sober, from novice to pool, John Martyn has resolutely, honestly and inspirationally remained true to himself. Whatever style his work approaches, it’s distinctly assimilated into the man. Whatever words he cares to adopt, he invariably invests them with a personal poignancy.
Whatever anyone else sees sound sense in undertaking, John Martyn has always, will always follow his heart.
John Martyn was born in Glasgow in 1949, the only child of two soon divorced singers. He first fell under the influence of his mother’s love of Debussy at an early age and, later, was welcomed under the formative wing of the infamous Scots folkie Hamish Imlach who introduced him to the local folk scene. At seventeen he was playing solo, exhausting neighbourhood opportunities and planning an essential move south.
On arrival in London he was signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island label as the first white artist on his budding reggae roster and LONDON CONVERSATION was released in February 1968. A promising, basically acoustic work, it featured John’s own distinctive rendition of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice and that well worn trad floor spot Cocaine. Acclaimed as it was for its interpretive flair, it was THE TUMBLER, released in December that year that really let the cat out of his bag.
With a healthy disdain for strict folk conventions, THE TUMBLER featured guest jazz flautist and saxophonist Harold McNair to add hints of further dimension to Martyn’s growing perceptions and then, in ’69, Martyn really let loose, meeting and marrying Coventry singer Beverley and honeymooning in America. The relationship, which was to have a lasting and changing effect on Martyn’s musical vision, blossomed into STORMBRINGER, recorded at Woodstock and released in February 1970 with, among others, The Band’s Levon Helm and The Mothers’ Billy Mundi providing experienced support. Indeed, Martyn has credited The Band’s Music From Big Pink as his biggest incentive to experiment with electric guitar and pursue his own relentless search for an individual and distinctive sound.
ROAD TO RUIN, released in November 1970, was another collaboration between husband and wife and heralded the duo’s real break into jazz, confounding their critics by inviting Dudu Pukwana, Chris Macgregor, Ray Warleigh and Pentangle’s brilliant bassist and Martyn’s subsequent long-time side-kick and sparring partner Danny Thompson to ‘blow along’.
Wesley, the first of the Martyn offspring effectively put an end to Beverley’s playing and performing career and added a strain of responsibility and tenderness to John’s songwriting which surfaced on BLESS THE WEATHER and is still manifest today. Released in November 1971, it’s now generally accepted as Martyn’s first true masterpiece, the well of inspiration from which all his subsequent albums spring. The light hearted version of Singing In The Rain pre-empts the volatile showman whose cheeky cockney impersonations, quick wit and razor sharp repartee have entranced and enraged his audiences ever since. The title track marks the debut of his relaxed bluesy simplicity set to permeate his future work, discarding the flash rock effects of the time and it’s head swelling exhibitionism for the jazzer’s pure search for true expression. Or, as one critic so acutely put it, ‘One right note says more than a fretful of wrongs.’
Head And Heart exhibited Martyn’s lifelong pacifism and naive belief in the power of love to overcome hardship despite his own admitted lapses into bevvied violence. Martyn’s own spot-on self-assessment, that his music had the rare quality to move both the head and the heart was matched by his boundless experimentation, using his voice as an expressive instrument much like a sax, complemented by Richard Thompson’s masterful electric guitar.
The follow up SOLID AIR is probably Martyn’s most popular album. Released in February ’73, its sheer depth and breadth of adventure make it one of the indisputably great albums of its own, or any other, era. The title track, composed in grief over the tragic death of close friend and fellow Island recording artist Nick Drake is typical of the Martyn to come. The slurred vocals, the loose but lush instrumentation, the lyrics both explicit yet ambivalent all react to evoke the unmistakable atmosphere of a man in puzzled awe and despair of his life yet so in love with his music.
INSIDE OUT, released eight months later, is much free-er; a series of spontaneous if anything, jazz- late night sessions with Traffic’s Steve Winwood and Chris Wood, (of course) Danny Thompson and stalwart Stones henchman Bobby Keyes among others. Martyn has referred to these invocations of the spirit of the moment as his favourite personal recordings.
By this time Martyn had toured the States with (oddly enough) Yes and both Free and Traffic, building an appreciative following enhanced over here by an astonishing solo performance on BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test where he demonstrated his agility with the echoplex – a method whereby the guitarist lays down a rig or chord pattern which is taped and played back to be overlaid with more echoed effects. In clumsier hands it was proving further excuse for exhibitionist heavy metal, in Martyn’s we discovered a stunning device for the solo ensemble to instantaneously tip the emotional scale from rage to soothing slumber.
After the cosmic foray of INSIDE OUT, SUNDAY’S CHILD came as a relaxing surprise. Its release in January 1975 heralded a return to a smoother, straighter song format with a sentimental tinge, intensely personal, intermittently painful. Martyn now decided a live album was long overdue, Island disagreed and so, prior to an extended hiatus in Jamaica jamming with dub master Lee Perry and the mighty Burning Spear he released LIVE AT LEEDS on mail order from his home address – an error that brought fans flocking to his house in Hastings. While Island contented themselves with a barely adequate compilation album of his supposedly more accessible work, Martyn remained silent until 1977 when ONE WORLD revealed further exploits into echoplex funk with the notorious Big Muff as well as gentler infiltrations of melody.
Again silence until October 1980 when GRACE AND DANGER emerged, a breath taking exhumation and exorcism of the breakdown of his marriage with Beverley. Obviously influenced by Weather Report, Martyn risked a rockier sound with Genesis’s Phil Collins on drums and John Giblin providing Pastorius like loping electronic bass. The single, Johnny Too Bad was a misleading reggae tinged shuffle, DANGER is a dark, brooding album apparently shelved for a year because Chris Blackwell found it too openly disturbing to release.
Martyn left Island in 1981 for a better deal with WEA, Beverley finally secured her divorce and John took his first permanent band on the road, recording his most sensual and straightforwardly political album in the Phil Collins-produced GLORIOUS FOOL. Its title track, a sarcastic mock paean to Ronald Reagan, sets an aggressive tone tempered by the pleading Don’t You Go and the swaggeringly sexual Perfect Hustler. This is sweaty dance music for a sterile dance era, as ever refusing to call somebody else’s tune and unflinchingly reflective of the man and his moods be they free and predatorial or lonely and bemused.
WELL KEPT SECRET, John’s new album just out on WEA is a further step forward from Glorious Fool and will undoubtedly be his most commercially successful album to date. Just as it’s unfair to treat your own playing or your own personal record collection as some sort of comment on an era, so it barely does John Martyn justice to set him up as the scourge of fickle fashion. ‘For me’, he says, ‘music is an emotional communication and should be used as such.’ The man and his music stand proudly, often precariously, alone; neither pristine nor perfect nor immune from criticism but more important than all those things, fallibly, unflinchingly human.