First of a series following from my Inspirations series, where I’ll offer a beginners’ guide to some of the artists I love. Three albums and five tracks.
A virtuoso musician with a voice to melt the coldest of hearts.
Solid Air (1973)
The definitive John Martyn album, where he found his voice and the musical themes he would develop over the next three decades. The feel is late-night, languid and luxurious. Solid Air, Don’t Want to Know, Go Down Easy and The Man In the Station all have that repetitive, hypnotic groove, Martyn’s slurred voice like a baritone sax. To avoid a one-tone album, it’s seeded with contrasting tracks – the aggression of I’d Rather Be The Devil and Dreams By The Sea and the lighter acoustic sound of May You Never and Over the Hill.
One World (1977)
After Solid Air Martyn ran a zig zag path between his free-form experimental side (Inside Out) and his warm acoustic side (Sunday’s Child). One World is still experimental but manages to include the warm, loving side of Martyn’s personality, even in the instrumental passages.
Grace and Danger (1980)
Created with Phil Collins as they both floundered in the wreckage of broken marriages, Martyn’s record company were reluctant to release this album. According to Wikipedia “Chris Blackwell … was a close friend of John and Beverley, and found the album too openly disturbing to release. Only after intense and sustained pressure from Martyn did Blackwell agree to release the album.” While biographers could poke holes in the way Martyn seems to adopt the victim role in the breakup (as with Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks) there’s no denying the pain that permeates this album, harnessed by Martyn and Collins into a cathartic and ultimately beautiful experience.
My selection has tended to focus on Martyn the singer rather than the acoustic guitarist – that’s another playlist to be done one day!
Other people’s selections
John Martyn biographies
- Detailed biography by John Hillarby on johnmartyn.com Folk? Blues? Jazz? Rock? Reggae? Trip Hop? Funk? John refused to conform to any particular music genre whilst simultaneously embracing them all. Without fail he always took the less travelled road in search of new experiences and inspirations.
- An obituary and an appreciation (The Quietus) – John Martyn’s fuck-you attitude, his life-long refusal to do anything other than what he wanted may have led to ill-advised decisions in terms of a perfect oeuvre but who gives a shit about that? Certainly not him. John Martyn was a starsailor, still is.
- John Martyn – the three-year wake – “He didn’t want anyone to see that soft underbelly. He wanted to be portrayed as the hard man, and people thought he was a bit of a braggart, a bit arrogant, and of course he wasn’t.”(Danny Thompson)