Published On: Tue, Jan 29th, 2013

John Martyn – It’s A Celebration Bitches

The following is a small piece marking the fourth anniversary of the passing of one of Scotland’s, and Glasgow’s in particular, best musicians.   For those in the Hard-Copy readership who’ve either never had the pleasure of hearing him, or maybe just heard a couple of tunes, this is the chance to get acquainted, or reacquainted, with the one and only, John Martyn.

This is going to be a Youtube-heavy mix of live performances showcasing his work.  I’m currently writing this at the business end of a box of wine, listening to the big man’s “In Session at the BBC” album.  Now people give out to our Broadcasting Corporation, but it wasn’t always a “morally bankrupt waste of space”, as it’s some of the greatest ever Music Television came through Broadcasting House (I’m talking about the Old Grey Whistle Test of course, not Top Of The Pops).   Most of the BBC’s superlative output was headed by John Peel, the kind of man you’d have loved to see run the country for a week or two, and if you haven’t listened to this congregation of classics yet, I’m sure your Spotify or Deezer subscription will have it for you.  Let me tell you, it’ll be the best couple of hours you’ll spend all week.

We’re going to get you started on your John Martyn journey, in this particular article, with some classic live performances.

One of my favourites is the magnificent “I Don’t Wanna Know” from the album “Solid Air”, especially with this version, done with the folk house backing of the BBC wünder-series Transatlantic Sessions, a series that the big man would flourish on in his twilight years.  I reckon this is even better than the album version.

This is one of the best workings of the track and underlines Martyn’s ethos that none of his songs were ever finished, that they were always subject to tweaking and reinvention.  In my opinion, the above version is better than the studio one, it seems darker than the original, with a bit more of an edge to it.  Another telling example of this is the song “Couldn’t Love You More” from the album “One World”, which can be played in so many ways, each as encapsulating as the last.   The following three are some of the best examples. (The first of which was recorded at my alma mater – Stirling University – a wee while ago)


This next one is a performance on the “Old Grey Whistle Test” with the virtuoso double-bass player, Danny Thompson, not their first collective collaboration, and by no means their last.   The standup bass playing in this particular version stands out and accompanies the guitar and drum perfectly, giving the song a darker, more rustic feel (a box of wine really brings out the wanky art critic in people)

Yet another version comes from this concert in 1978, an exceptional version, some may say

There are so many Martyn tunes that are well worth listening to, it would be redundant of myself to suggest all of them to you.   Yet, I find myself giving a list of my favourites, which is no bad thing, to be honest.  ”Fine Lines” is one of my very favourites and is another one that is, almost, completely different live on the “In Session at the BBC” record from its recorded version.  In the interests of fairness, one must surely listen to all versions before coming to a decision.  Another such example is the song “Make No Mistake” – a cracking song in it’s original form, but arguably better on the “Live at Leeds” album than on “Inside Out”, it’s studio counterpart.   The same can be said of “So Much In Love With You” when both versions are heard.

Spencer the Rover, from “Sunday’s Child” is a proper classic as well, but so is “Solid Air” the ground-breaking 1970 album’s title track.  Written for Martyn’s friend, the singer-songwriter Nick Drake (who Martyn once described as having “a bit of trouble in his nut, lovely man though”) This recording is from Rockpalast in Germany in 1978.

The final song of this particular series is, arguably, the best.  Small Hours was written by John in the midst of a brutal divorce from his wife Beverley, and is a perfect accompaniment to a night where sleep has eluded you and you’re sitting staring at the stars.   The 1980 album “Grace and Danger” was written after the divorce, and Martyn left all of the brutal emotions he was feeling show through his songwriting.

So there you have it, a pile of tunes from one of Glasgow’s greatest ever songwriters, who happened to die 4 years ago today.  If this gets even one more person experiencing the magic that is this guy’s music, then yaldi is all I can say…yaldi.   So get him listened to and don’t act like you’re not impressed.

P.S Get yourself a John Martyn: Live at the BBC DVD available for about £8.  The phrase “well worth it” comes to mind.

Words by The Wanky Art Critic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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