Thursday, January 29, 2009
Going to get on up and fly away
John Martyn's music was our soundtrack to so many good times - summer sipping in the garden, late night drinks, holidays, our wedding (May You Never) and honeymoon (Bless The Weather) and my inspiration for buying a Martin acoustic. Five years on from discovering John Martyn through Solid Air, an album of instant simpatico and like discovering a long lost relative, I'm still getting my fingers in a reef knot trying to stumble and fumble through May You Never, it wasn't always this way though
I was a Johnny come lately to Johnny Too Bad. Beardy faced acoustic based singer song writers had little appeal and minimal interest for me. John martyn was the bloke who wrote 'May You Never' on Clapton's deeply dreary album 'Slowhand', and one of the performers I skipped through on the marvelous Old Grey Whistle Test DVDs.
I was always thought Nick Drake would be my token folky concession. So I bought all the albums, played all the albums, but found him a bit like Scandinavia - isolated , icy, prone to extended periods of darkness - and not some where I wanted to spend much time.
Ironically it was a song about Nick Drake 'Solid Air' that drew me into the world of John Martyn. This was a much broader musical geography, the folky trappings of 'Over The Hill', the smoky trimmings of 'Don't Want To Know' gave it the weight and warmth of a late night Jazz club or intimate acoustic performance. All perfectly underpinned by Danny Thompson's gliding bass lines, and the echoplex reverb adding an almost dubbish depth to the folk funk of 'Dreams By The Sea'.
Solid Air the album is as rich, plummy and fruity as a bottle of vintage red wine, each note plucked drops glossily from the guitar, and leaks from the speakers on all tracks but particularly on the understated eroticism of 'Go Down Easy' and gentle lullaby of 'May You Never'.
May you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold
May you never make your bed out in the cold.
Davey Graham, Bert jansch and Nick Drake are are all genius acoustic technicians, but none of them have John Martyn's intuitive touch and feel for stroking out the full flavour of a song.
I still don't have much interest in beardy-faced acoustic-based singer song writers - but 'Solid Air', John Martyn (the heavyweight Marlon Brando to Nick Drake's whispy James Dean) and his 70s albums are a joy. I don't skip John Martyn any more instead I sit and study his tone and technique.
So this weekend I'll be raising a glass and spinning some tunes like these to John Martyn another legend lost.
'May You Never'.
It may be morose, but that's the mood of the moment - I'm planning to have Small Hours as my funeral music...
JOhn Martyn : September 11th 1948 - January 29th 2009