LEST WE FORGET John Martyn

Paying our respects once more to the late folksinger and guitar maestro,
who passed away in 2009.

 

BY ROB PATTERSON

 

With news
arriving of a Martyn tribute album
featuring the likes of Beck, Devendra
Banhart, the Cure’s Robert Smith, Vashti Bunyan, Beth Orton and the Blind Boys
of Alabama (!) being assembled, we thought we’d revisit this Martyn
appreciation we published last year in our first print issue, as it’s never
before appeared online. For additional information on Martyn, check our original
obituary
as well as the gentleman’s official website. – Ed.

 

 

Who? English folkie of Scottish origins who emerged in 1968
and soon added jazz brush strokes to his style before cutting two albums with
wife Beverly Martyn contemporaneous with (and equal to) Richard & Linda
Thompson. Back solo with 1971’s Bless The Weather, he recorded a
number of astonishing albums of mind-blowing progressive folk with a global
musical reach throughout that decade and beyond.

 

 

Why? Martyn mixed blues and jazz inflected atmospherics,
stratospheric guitar explorations, steppin’ razor rock steady, piquant Celtic
folk, Eastern modal harmonics and more as if it was all one music.

 

 

What Gives? His peers and running buddies Richard Thompson
and Nick Drake – who, also like Martyn, were produced by Joe Boyd for Island
Records – have both found high favor with the American musical cognoscente. But
Martyn remains little known on these shores despite the fact that he’s a
songwriter to rival both, as original, inventive, stunningly adept and
adventurous a guitar player as Thompson. And his loamy voice – like a be-bop
saxophone blown with whiskey breath from a maw chewing on Scottish thistles –
is even richer and more seductive than the singing of both his iconic mates.

 

 

Prime Ingredients: British folkies Hamish Imlach, Davey
Graham and Clive Palmer (Incredible String Band), plus Skip James, Lee
“Scratch” Perry, Robert Johnson, John Coltrane, Terry Riley, Debussy.

 

 

Must Have Discs: Solid Air, Sunday’s Child (albums); Sweet Little Mysteries (compilation); The Man Upstairs (DVD).

 

 

Signature Songs: “May You Never,” “Head And
Heart,” “One Day Without You,” “Spencer The Rover,”
“Couldn’t Love You More,” “Sweet Little Mystery,”
“John The Baptist.”

 

 

Star Support: Eric Clapton (recorded Martyn’s “May You
Never” on his Slowhand album and took him on tour as an opener),
Phil Collins (produced Martyn’s 1980 album Grace & Danger), Levon
Helm (played on John & Beverly’s majestically moody Stormbringer),
film director Anthony Minghella (who commissioned Martyn to record the song
“You Don’t Know What Love Is” for the soundtrack to The Talented
Mr. Ripley
).

 

 

Will Take Your Breath Away: His Echoplexed acoustic guitar
workout on “Glistening Glyndebourne,” the heartwarming sentiment and
fecund folk simplicity of “May You Never,” and his downright
dangerous high-wattage folkie dub take on “Johnny Too Bad.”

 

 

Acolytes: Richard Buckner, Beth Orton, Judie Tzuke, Cocteau
Twins, Everything But The Girl.

 

 

For Those Who Love… Thompson, Drake, highly evolved folk,
utterly original guitar wizardry, and everything from Jamaican dub to trip-hop.

 

 

One Way Not Forgotten: Less than a month before his death
on January 29, 2009, was honored as an Officer of The Order of the British
Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to music.

 

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