What, You’ve Never Heard of John Martyn?

by David M.

I’m always surprised that more people don’t know about John Martyn’s music. Like Nick Drake, he’s one of those artists who never got the attention he deserved while he was alive. He toured a lot, but concerts were sometimes sketchy, and in biographies, phrases like “drunken craziness” and “boozed-up fistfights” come up all too often.

Let’s stick with the music then. “Bless the Weather” from the album of the same name is one of my favorites, sweet and warm. (As previously, I’m relying on boring YouTube clips for the songs.)

John was also an accomplished guitarist, as “Glistening Glyndebourne” shows. John developed a stage technique (now common practice) where he’d play his guitar through an early echo-plex so that he could duet with himself. “Solid Air” is the song that probably typifies John’s sound at the time — his slurred vocals were an effort to sound like a saxophone, “Fine Lines” being another example.

John was also adept at traditional music, and “Spencer the Rover” always brings a smile. John’s romantic side is evident in “You Can Discover“, and “Small Hours” is mostly instrumental that stretches out ‘to infinity and beyond’.

John’s later work was perhaps too slick, an attempt to place on the charts, “Angeline” being a successful example, and towards the end, he was popping up on too many small labels and re-recording his earlier work. Even his last albums, though, had much to offer. Like many artists whose personal demons created chaos, John’s music stands apart as a wonderful and heartwarming achievement. All of the songs I’ve highlighted are featured on “Sweet Little Mysteries“, a great compilation — start there, and then try the original albums if you like what you hear.






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