Unfortunately, I have no recollection of the first time I heard John Martyn’s voice or masterful guitar work. I don’t recall what grabbed me ‘hook, line and sinker’ and made me a devotee of his music. I don’t know at what time he became my favourite musician of all time, assuming a mantle previously held by Powderfinger, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Ben Harper, Ani Difranco and Nick Drake.
But he has sat there on top for a number of years now and I’m continually amazed by his words and thoughts and their interplay with some of the most majestic guitar picking my ears have beheld. Later compositions, ‘riddled’ with synthetic drum beats, electronic organ and Kenny G-esque saxophone have taken a while to grow on me, but grown on me they have – simply the evolution of music through the hazardous waters of the 1980s and early 90s.
By all accounts, John Martyn lived, played and drank hard and it was this hard living life that no doubt shortened his illustrious life and career. His last few years were troubled by illness, one such bout necessitating a double amputation at the knees. His understated (in my eyes) talent is illustrated by this relatively brief wikipedia entry.
Martyn passed away on the 29th of January this year, right about the time Storm and I had passed the worst of the Nullarbor, and I only found out this morning whilst doing a trawl for some notation of ‘May you Never’. I’d dreamed a few weeks ago that I’d seen him in concert and that he was shortly to die. I remember feeling immensely sad as I awoke from that dream, regretting that I’d never had the pleasure to see him play in the flesh (particularly during his 1970s heyday). It is a sadness that I feel acutely today; ‘A little strange’ given that our assocation lives purely within the musician/listener interface. Still you can’t help how you feel and I am truly saddened…
So, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with John Martyn’s music, I present to you my all time (thus far) playlist of his tracks. If you’re rich or iTunes inclined, you could do worse than download some of these tracks… The difficulty will be in shortening it by some measure… Many of these songs have a number of versions – studio and live – and I have selected those which I think are best.
1) Couldn’t Love you More – One World (1977) CD2, Track 2 (There are a number of versions but the one from the ‘One World’ Album is my favourite and possibly the most beautiful song ever…)
2) May You Never – Solid Air (1972-3) Track 7
Ok, they’re probably my two all-time favs. The next are chronologically listed (1 per album) to give an idea of change in times and style
* Sandy Grey – London Conversation (1967) Track 2
* Sing a song of Summer – The Tumbler (1968) Track 1
* Woodstock (Track 5) and Traffic Light Lady (Track 8 ) – Stormbringer (1969-70)
* Head and Heart – Bless the Weather (1971) Track 6 – A number of other excellent songs on this album.
* Over the Hill (Track 2) and Go Down Easy (Track 5) – Solid Air (1972-3)
* Ain’t no Saint – Inside Out (1973) Track 3
* My Baby Girl – Sunday’s Child (1974-5) Track 4
* One Day without You – Sweet Certain Surprise (1977-81) Track 12
* Hurt in You Heart – Grace and Danger (1980) Track 6
* Never let me go – Live in Bristol (1983) Track 9
* Don’t want to Know – Philenthropy (1983) Track 2 – covered by Beth Orton on her first album
* Spencer the Rover – BBC in Concert 1986 (rel 1992) Track 2 (Folk song cover)
* Fisherman’s Dream – Live at the Shaw Theatre 1990 (rel 1995) CD1 Track 9
* Bless the Weather – No Little Boy (1993) Track 12
* A Little Strange – And (1996) Track 5
* The Cure – Accoustic – I’m not sure which album but you can get it on the DL by right clicking the link
I’d be more than happy to make a compilation for anyone who’s interested…
RIP John and I hope you enjoy some of his amazing music…