[Slowhand] John Martyn Tribute - EC mentions
turbineltd at btconnect.com
Fri Dec 12 03:26:04 EST 2008
Now this is the guy I first met in the adjacent urinal stall of the King
Bill pub, (King William the 4th. in Ewell, Surrey - a popular folk club of
the day), one Friday evening in 1968. I half-turned and uttered, "who's on
tonight"; he replied, "I am". He went on to play a blistering acoustic set.
So, he can deny his folk roots as much as he likes, it was still the vehicle
to his later fame.
Boozy Martyn hits new peak
By SIMON COPELAND
THE barman is having trouble with the drinks order.
He's poured out two glasses of brandy and one of port but there's a
problem... they should all be in the SAME glass.
When I point this out, he blanches and even in seen-it-all Brighton feels
compelled to ask: "God, who's that for?" It has just gone noon.
The answer is a huge Orson Welles figure sitting in the corner in a
wheelchair - hell-raising singer-songwriter John Martyn.
If people know anything at all about Martyn it's the fact he should be more
successful and that he likes a drink... or several. The two things are not
Martyn may well be the cult artist's cult artist - a writer and performer
whose wonderful mix of folk, blues, jazz, rock and dub has never caused much
overtime in the charts compilers' office.
But the 60-year-old guitarist's profile is higher now than at any time in
his 40-year career.
A raft of names from Paolo Nutini, Beck and Portishead to Paul Weller, U2
and The Verve have acknowledged their debt to him and Martyn's "back slap"
guitar sound has been credited with inventing everything from trip-hop to
A new box set, Ain't No Saint, collecting four decades worth of rarities,
classics and live tracks has won rave reviews.
And this year he won a Lifetime Achievement gong at The Radio 2 Folk Awards.
Phil Collins and Led Zep's John Paul Jones paid tribute and Eric Clapton
sent a message saying Martyn was "so far ahead of everything, it's almost
That Martyn was around to collect the award was something of a miracle. He
has outlived many of his contemporaries but survival has come at a price.
In 2004, a burst cyst forced him to have his right leg amputated - the
latest in a litany of career-sabotaging scrapes, ranging from alcoholism,
drug addiction and womanising to punch-ups and near bankruptcy.
Still, thrilled as he was by the award, Martyn's contrary enough to insist
he doesn't actually like folk.
"They always put me in the folk rack," he sighs. "I've dabbled with the odd
song but I don't like that finger-in-the-ear stuff. 'Fancy a pint of real
ale?' No, I don't... just go away! I've never been the morris dancing type -
I'm a funky not a folky!"
Even so, it was two largely folky albums on the Island label that made his
name - 1971's Bless The Weather and its 1972 follow-up, Solid Air, which
included his signature song, May You Never.
They paired his unique, slurring vocals with effects-drenched guitar on
gorgeous, emotionally raw songs. Nothing sounds like them and they should
have made him a star.
Martyn is sanguine about it. "Lack of success really doesn't bug me at all,"
he insists. "Clapton calling from Antigua, Phil Collins flying in from
Switzerland to shake my hand is f****** wonderful. That means more to me.
"I've never had a career plan. I like serendipity - I like things to happen
by chance. For years I didn't even use a setlist.
"But I've never starved, I've never really been short of money and I've
always had fun - I'm doing what I love."
Martyn's two best albums were to come before his golden age ended - 1977's
funky One World, which included a collaboration with reggae legend Lee
Perry, and 1980's Grace And Danger, a beautiful, harrowing work about the
breakdown of his marriage to singer Beverley Kutner.
The latter's fate was typical of Martyn's luck. Island boss Chris Blackwell
found it so disturbing he shelved it for a year. When it did come out it was
widely praised but didn't sell.
Meanwhile Collins, who drummed on Grace, used it as a blueprint for his own
divorce album - Face Value - which sold millions.
Martyn's lack of success may have been partly down to his taste for drink
and drugs and his distaste for the music industry.
It all sparked some legendarily bad behaviour with his long-time
collaborator, double bass player Danny Thompson. Martyn recalls: "We'd check
into a hotel drunk and Danny or I would slam a load of money on the counter
and say, 'That's for the damage'.
"The receptionist would always look bemused and say, 'There isn't any', then
we'd say, 'There f****** will be!' There always was too."
When we meet in Brighton, Ireland-based Martyn is about to go on tour
playing Grace And Danger in its entirety.
Doesn't he find it strange to be playing something so personal 30 years on?
"I don't feel nearly as grumpy about life as I did then," Martyn says. "I
was distraught at the time of writing . . . but now? It doesn't have me
reaching for the razor blades."
There was a point just after Grace when Martyn almost looked like success
was within his grasp.
His music became more commercial and two albums even sneaked into the Top
30 - but many fans thought he'd lost his way.
Martyn denies any plan to be a star, saying: "Nothing could be further from
the truth. You're missing the point of music if you think like that as an
artist. I never had career ambitions at all. It was the managers who felt
"I ended up doing all kinds of things I didn't want to do for all kinds of
people I didn't want to do them for."
Warming to his theme, he adds: "Managers are mostly bumbling philistines who
put money before all else and don't understand the power of music or what it
is to be a musician.
"I spent the Eighties working my way out of contracts where no one
understood where I was coming from. They saw this gravy train, climbed on
and thought if they paid me £100 a week that was fine but it wasn't because
I was earning two grand a week.
"I don't like getting f***** over. I don't want to be hoist by your petard.
If I'm going to get f***** over I'll be hoist by my own, thank you very
Yet Martyn doesn't seem bitter despite the fact the Eighties and Nineties
were tough. Not only was he still not selling albums but he was also no
longer making good ones.
Throughout the interview, Martyn downs several drinks to combat flu but his
mind and memory are razor sharp. He's amusing, self-mocking company too as
his accent slides from Surrey, where he was born, to Glasgow, where he was
If nothing else he admits he's lucky to be still going - unlike his friend
Nick Drake about whom he wrote Solid Air. Drake died of a drug overdose in
1974, depressed and frustrated at his own lack of success.
Martyn says: "I don't think anyone realised how troubled he was, how severe
his mental illness was. Poor Nicky, none of us knew what to do about it. It'
s odd how huge he's become since. And he's a gay icon now - he'd be appalled
These days, despite being dogged by ill health, Martyn is still making
He's almost finished a new album, called Willing To Work and is due to
record with his hero, the US jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders.
"Losing a leg has slowed me up a bit," he notes drily, "and it's turned me
into a fat git now but I'll keep going. I'm a hard person to kill."
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