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Friday, 30 January 2009

John Martyn 11th September 1948 - 29th January 2009

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Today I want to pay a small homage to an overlooked and often under-rated musician called John Martyn. Music is a big part of my life, so please forgive me if it appears that I am trying to push it upon you occasionally? I'm really not... Honestly...

You might not even know who John Martyn is, or indeed was.

You might not have noticed that John passed yesterday morning at the age of 60, although it would be fair to say he had been half in love with love and life, and death, for many years.

What was it Keats wrote: "...for many a time I have been half in love with easeful death..."

The Guardian said of John yesterday when the news was breaking, "John Martyn was one of those people, rare in the narcissistic world of rock and pop, who realised what he produced was far more important than who he was. He treated life as a game – a tragic game, but not without its comic absurdity.

At the Mojo awards in 2008 Martyn, a famously heavy drinker whose right leg was amputated following an abcess below the knee in 2003, said as he took to the stage:

"I promised them I wouldn't get legless before the gig …"

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John Martyn was unique, an individual, no other quite like him, a singer-songwriter and talented guitarist who flirted with many music genres, more often than not jazz and folk, blues and funk, although he didn't like to be pigeon-holed - Who does? I read about him somewhere that, "...throughout his life he kept searching for new musical forms in which to express essential themes: love, loneliness, and what it means to be alive."

And that is perhaps just what we bloggers and writers are doing now, you might say...

You might not have heard of John Martyn because he believed the music itself to be more important than the cult of personality, that appears to sadly drive so much of the music business today.

Photobucket In a career spanning over 35 years, by the time he released his perhaps most famous album, Solid Air, in 1973 it appeared that he was unstoppable. John's music and unique style of guitar playing has gone on to influence so many poets, artists and musicians today.

John was also well known as a good friend to the tragic and ethereal folk giant Nick Drake, of whom later in life - when his too early dimmed star was rising once again - he refused to talk about, saying..., "He was killed by the indecent, parasitic opportunism that pervades the music business".

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and
"I don't want to talk about Nick. It's creepy, ghoulish and strange; this lionisation is too late when you're dead. If they'd dug him enough then, he'd still be here now..."

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John played in his time alongside Donovan, Richard and Danny Thompson, Dave Gilmour, Eric Clapton and John Paul Jones, among others. He influenced a wide variety of musicians from U2 to many who do not even mention his name.

John was a gentle and sensitive giant, but was one whom life troubled perhaps even more than he dared write about... Child of a broken home, born in Surrey to light-opera singers but brought up in Glasgow by his grandparents, he struggled with the vagaries and whims of the industry throughout his career, "I often thought of faking my own death and watching the record companies f***ing drum up all the shit they can..."
- Classic Rock 6/00.

I believe John wrote this particular loving and wistful song years ago for his small stepson, it's called May You Never - This is John's performance on TV's The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973.



Lyrics:

And may you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold
May you never make your bed out in the cold.

You're just like a great strong brother of mine
You know that I love you true
And you never talk dirty behind my back
And I know that there's those that do.

Oh please won't you, please won't you
Bear it in mind
Love is a lesson to learn in our time
Now please won't you, please won't you
Bear it in mind for me.

And may you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold
May you never make your bed out in the cold.

Well you're just like a good close sister to me
You know that I love you true
And you hold no blade to stab me in the back
And I know that there's some that do.

Oh please won't you, please won't you
Bear it in mind
Love is a lesson to learn in our time
And please won't you, please won't you
Bear it in mind for me.

May you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold
May you never make your bed out in the cold.

You're just like a great strong brother of mine
And you know that I love you true
And you never talk dirty behind my back
And I know that there's those that do.

Oh please won't you, please won't you
Bear it in mind
Love is a lesson to learn in our time
And please won't you, please won't you
Bear it in mind for me.

May you never lose your temper
If you get in a bar room fight
May you never lose your woman overnight
May you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold
May you never make your bed out in the cold.

May you never lose your temper
If you get in a bar room fight
May you never lose your woman over night
May you never lose your woman over night
May you never lose your woman over night.

John never entirely recovered from lost loves, including his second wife who pre-deceased him, and as he sang of his good friend, Nick Drake in the title track, Solid Air:

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I know you, I love you
I'll be your friend
I could follow you, anywhere
Even through solid air.

John was a fond mentor to artists coming up on the folk scene, like my much-loved John Smith, whom I blogged about here on the President's Inauguration Day, and came out of semi-obscurity himself in the early noughties to reap standing ovations from those who were desperate to see him play the music from Solid Air once more...

He toured twice with music from Solid Air, and the tour I caught ended up with some dates at the Royal Albert Hall in London, John was rolled on stage in his wheelchair, his arms outstretched as if he were gliding in a 'plane. The musicians who joined him on sax and guitar looked as if they had been dragged in from the pub just outside, with their ill-fitting suits and dodgy haircuts. Only the younger keyboard player looked as if he were holding it all together, marking time sequences, and keeping this about to be runaway train on the tracks...

I've just found something John said about the keyboard player in 2002, "A lovely man but he wouldn't buy you a drink if your teeth were on fire..."

A variety of beautiful guitars were passed into John's chubby-fingered hands, and he rambled through the set, much as I ramble through these blogs... Still hitting all the notes, in the right order, mellowly skimming over the lyrics, so that you couldn't always tell which verse he was on, but it was still beautiful to behold.

And when he elected to master all his energies and pick properly at the guitar strings, and maybe you even closed your eyes, John the virtuoso and unparalleled musician was still there for all to behold. He still had "It".

John Martyn 3 Pictures, Images and Photos

Throughout his life, he was warned away from the demon drink, but it was too integral to his life, and how he wanted to live, shuttling between Ireland where he lived and played and Scotland's music scene, even at an earlier point breaking his neck in a car accident after colliding with a cow! In his earlier career John had taken drugs which were pretty much legion in the music industry (which he also despised) in those years. ...And the effects of substances on his soul were tangible. Perhaps they dulled the pain that stemmed from his losses and perceived failings, his lack of obvious success and the demons that continued to dog him. But John was ever recognised by the musos.

On 4 February 2008, Martyn received the lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards. The award was presented by Phil Collins, a friend. The BBC website says of Martyn, "his heartfelt performances have either suggested or fully demonstrated an idiosyncratic genius."Martyn performed "Over the Hill" and "May You Never" at the ceremony, with John Paul Jones accompanying on mandolin.

Martyn was appointed OBE in the Queen's 2009 New Year Honours list.

John Martyn died on 29 January 2009 in hospital in Ireland, his home, and I read this comment by someone called Michael von Kruger on a tribute page just this morning, and have taken the liberty of posting it here because it is so true, "Others took many of his ideas, commercialised them, simplified them, rubbed off the edges, the grace and the danger, the heart and soul, and had massive global success, and the fame and money that goes with all that. All the things that in a fairer world should have been John's".

Another of John's beautiful and poignant songs to look out for is "Don't Want To Know...", with its refrain that jangles so in our world where hatred and evil, greed and hypocrisy, are sadly never far from us:

And I don't want to know about evil
Only want to know about love
I don't want to know about evil
Only want to know about love.

Sometimes it gets so hard to listen
Hard for me to use my eyes
And all around the cold is glistening
Making sure it keeps me down to size.

And I don't want to know about evil
Only want to know about love
I don't want to know one thing about evil
Only want to know about love.

I'm waiting for the planes to tumble
Waiting for the towns to fall
I'm waiting for the cities to crumble
Waiting till I see you crawl.

Yes it's getting hard to listen
Hard for us to use our eyes
Cause all around that gold is glistening
Making sure it keeps us hypnotized.

And I don't want to know about evil
I only want to know about love
I don't want to know about evil
Only want to know about love.

I don't want to know anything about evil
Only want to know about love
I don't want to know about evil
Only want to know about love.

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"Very few people are trying to reach the heart these days...I feel strongly that there's a great dearth of the heart everywhere right now".
- John Martyn NME 7/1973

"I just want to be happy. I'm fed up of being miserable ...but there's always a melancholy streak in my nature..."

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18 comments:

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

I was saddened to hear of this yesterday on the car radio....

A lovely, lovely tribute Fhina!!!

he was gorgeous in the 70's, but then so was Eric, Dave Gilmour etc...I was watching an early video of David Essex on youtube yesterday and Cat Stevens, they were beau-ti-ful..sigh!!

Their music wasn't half bad either...or no..

Thank yo for compiling this for us...

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Too true, Saz, they were beautiful men, and are wonderful musicians all, and I haven't forgotten about the questions you were kind enough to ask me to pose to you! xxx

Michelle said...

Wow Fhina!!! What an amazing tribute!!! Your writing just flows like beer into a glass!!! Like rain!! Just like beauty!!

I love it!! I love you! And i now think i can learn to love John Martyn!!!

HAPPY FRIDAY!!!!

French Fancy said...

I didn't even know he had died. I loved his 'Stormbringer' album, the one with Beverley and it even introduced me to the Michael Moorcock novels about Elric (with his sword, Stormbringer).

I'm going to dig out my old vinyl copy now and play it in tribute.

A lovely post to a man that many people didn't know of, but those who did indeed appreciated his musicality

Diane said...

I don't know his music but the lyrics are beautiful, as were your words, so I'll look him up. Thank you... xo

Suldog said...

I must say, I didn't know the man. But, any artist able to evoke such love as you've shown here was a success. Bravo to you, and to him!

Maggie May said...

That was a truly wonderful tribute from you and it was clear that you thought the world of him. I have wracked my brain but cannot recall him.

auntiegwen said...

What a beautiful tribute, dear Fhina, and I just love the phrase "solid air" x

Meredith Teagarden said...

What is not to love about a guy like this? Thanks for sharing.

softinthehead said...

Hello just popped over to thank you for visiting my blog. Wonderful post, coincidence as I watched a biography of Nick Drake recently - isn't it funny how those things happen. Great tribute and fascinating information. I will definitely be back, I love the imagery on your blogs, where do you find all those wonderful pictures? :)

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Thank you, all of you for your kindness in dropping by and for your will to seek out something new, or relive a memory, via John Martyn.

One of his CDs was already number 1 in our in-car multi-player thingie, so we were listening to it today while out and about doing things we had to do...

And I was singing along - badly - as I always do, but I've had to try hard not to shed tears today for a man I did not know, yet who I loved through his music and talents.

SITH - All my piccies at present come via those publicly available on Photobucket, until I can work out the technical details of Bloggeur!

Much weekend love to all mes amis xxxoooxxx

evie said...

Hi there

Yes, a lovely tribute.

I've 'followed' John for over 20 years. I've met him on numerous occasions over that 20 year period. I've shared booze and had a puff with him.

He was a complicated man. One who could be violent and dark as well as tender and caring. The music - too often - comes from that anger and hurt that was an integral part of him.

He was an alcoholic and addict. He lived life to excess.

All said however I am terribly thankful for him. Thankful that I shared time with him.

You have a sweet blogging style - lovely to read.

Yx

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Evie, Welcome, and thanks very much for your personal insight into John - Indeed I brushed over the 'artistic temperament' side of the man which I was aware of, but not from any first hand viewpoint such as yours...

Life is often tough for many, and while that does not excuse, and I dare not condone, a life of extremities and addictions, understanding that sometimes helps us shine a little bit of light on what demons drive so many of us, and especially life's artists...

TOM FOOLERY said...

A beautiful tribute - to leave this world knowing you have in some way touched or influenced others say through your music, art or words to me is a measure of a life well spent. TFx

stevie-nicks-news.com said...

You put a lot of reseach and thought into this beautiful tribute. Demons indeed chase the more creative among us. I have been reading a lot about the original Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green this weekend. He and his guitar brilliance are also haunted.

I did a search for Bloggers who list Stevie Nicks in their favorite music and invite you to visit my new fan blog. Feedback welcome!

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Loved your blog on John- very well put...I can't get him out ogf my head of late and it helps to read the tributes from other fans.
Thanks!
i made one too you could read if ya like

all the best,
Tom

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