Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Two great songs from the sadly deceased JOHN MARTYN, ca. 1977. At the same time as these songs were being performed, other people in all corners of the globe were busy making a god-awesome racket which has moved my heart & loins for 25 years now, but if these Martyn songs don't have the same effect, then I can only assume that: A) you've got a heart of stone, a brain of lead and taste in your backside; or B) you only like the punk stuff I write about. Or a combination of both. Martyn died two years ago next month, and now feels like the right time to present some of his music. There's far too much irony in music these days. You need to listen to a guy who sang it like he meant it. A while ago, a friend of mine burnt me a DVD w/ all of his Old Grey Whistle Test performances, and it's one of the few music discs I've been able to sit through for repeat viewings. OGWT was hosted by a stodgy old git by the name of Bob Harris, a man who looked like he stole his wardrobe from the cast of Robin's Nest, though I'll give him credit for putting on the likes of Tim Buckley, Curtis Mayfield, New York Dolls and plenty other worthy folk on his program. Such performances are all worth a look and all available for easy viewing via YouTube. But back to Martyn. A Scottish bull of a man, he cut a swag of excellent records for Island throughout the 1970s such as Stormbringer, The Road To Ruin, Solid Air, Bless The Weather, Insideout, Sunday's Child, Live At Leeds and One World. In the late '70s he became friends w/ the musically useless Phil Collins, a friendship which lasted until his death. Collins gave Martyn's career a boost by producing some of his music, notably Grace & Danger from 1980, and things got decidedly slick, AOR and beyond my realm of interest. That's OK. That happened to a lot of old timers when the '80s hit. He made somewhat of a comeback in the 1990s when The Wire put him on the cover (and I'll admit that that was when I first became aware of him) and released a slew of records which harkened back to his more earthy, folky and occasionally avant-garde sound of the '70s. By the time of his death, he was a bloated, wheelchair-bound alcoholic who'd had part of one of his legs amputated due to diabetes complications, but he still played often and was still excellent when he did. His "classic" sound hovered somewhere in the vicinity of his pals Richard Thompson and Nick Drake, the Brit folk sound of the day, but his music stretched further than either. In the early '70s, he'd become interested in the music of Pharoah Sanders and Lee Perry, and incomporated elements of spiritual jazz and dub reggae into his sound, the best example of this unusual meeting being his brilliant Insideout LP from 1973. I wrote about it here, if you care: one of the earliest entries on this blog. It's a Desert Isle Disc you've likely been ignoring for far too long. You'll notice in his live version of "One World" above, particulary during the chorus, that the man is fond of what is known to some as the "sex face" when hitting the guitar's high notes. I'll forgive this trivial faux pas for the fact that it means he's putting himself right inside the song. The title track from his 1977 album also happens to be one of the best he ever wrote, a fuzzed-out drone w/ deep, slurred vocals which sounds like the direction Tim Buckley should've gone back to (a la Starsailor) if he'd halted the diminishing returns of the white-boy funk routine he was engaging in when he croaked a couple of years previous. Even better is Martyn's version of the traditional tune, "Spencer The Rover". Originally released on 1975's Sunday's Child, I can't tell you how it compares to other versions of the song (for I've not heard any), though Martyn's treatment makes it sound like the saddest song ever penned, the minimal, cyclical guitar patterns a perfect accompinament to his semi-whispered vocals (perhaps moreso on the sudio version). This track is why we have ears. John Martyn was one of the best there ever was, and to state a simple fact, that's also why you should watch these clips. They're not here just for show. Over and out.


Viva said...

Thank you. I didn't know Martyn and I'm realy enjoying it. Is your complete TOP 50 ALBUMS OF ALL TIME list somewhere available? I wouldn´t like to browse through it post by post.


Dave said...

I never actually wrote about every single LP on the list, but I did list the Top 100 a couple of years ago. Search for it, you'll find it. Glad you dig the Martyn clips.