Friday, January 30, 2009

john martyn

Ah, sad to hear that John Martyn has died. 'Solid Air' is a beautiful record.

There's a nice tribute to him over at the Guardian, where Erwin James recalled the time when Martyn played a Prison show which he saw. Like all of James' writing, it's rather beautiful.

John Martyn was on top form – he seemed to go into his own dream world as he played through his set, many of the songs the majority of us were hearing for the first time. And then something magical happened. He put down his Strat and called for an acoustic six string. The band slunk back to the shadows. "Some of you may know this song," he said. Then taking a deep breath he steadied his voice and sang, "May you never lay your head down without a hand to hold, May you never make your bed out in the cold…" His signature song, the classic made famous by Eric Clapton's Slowhand cover, but most truthful when sung by Martyn himself. Until that moment we had been a rowdy bunch, revelling in our entertainer's onstage revelry, relaxing in the ambience of the music, chilling, dreaming. But suddenly Martyn was singing directly to each and every one of us: "Well you're just like a great strong brother of mine and you know that I love you true/You never talk dirty behind my back and I know there are those that do/ Won't you please, won't you please, won't you bear in mind, love is a lesson to learn in our time/Won't you please won't please won't you bear in mind for me … "

Those lines meant so much to us, among us the down, the defeated, the betrayed and the betrayers – an anthem for relationships, a hymn to friendship and love. "And you're just like a good close sister to me and you know that I love you true/You hold no blade to stab me in the back and I know that some do…" The words could not have been written for a more needy audience. As he sang, the depth of our exposure was near tangible. Even Crusher looked like he was going to cry. When he finished we stomped, yelled, whistled and cried for more. But with lock-up upon us there was no time for encores. Martyn bade us farewell with a giant, rasping, "Keep on rockin' brothers!" And then we filed calmly out of the gym and back to our cells, feeling for a while like members of the human race once more.

The next day the gym cleaner found Martyn's big mineral water bottle. It stank of vodka – that made us howl. No wonder he was on such good form. Thank you John. Wherever you are now, I hope you have a hand to hold.
Over at his website, Graham Coxon recalls Martyn fondly, too:

i last saw john martyn at the mojo awards when i gave paul weller an award. it was a mass photo of all awardees and awarders (?) backstage somewhere in front of a big sheet of backgroundy paper and it was hilarious. i was next to paul who wouldnt stop having his beer in shot and was talkin in swear words to jerry dammers who was grinning and answering in swear words and not taking the slightest bit of notice of the photographer who was trying in vain to get all these tipsey musicians to pay attention and watch the birdie.. i was leanin on john's wheel chair which was under the control of phil collins and trying not to stare at him. every time john held out his hand a boy would appear and slap a drink in it. john was laughing his head off and swinging his head around to everyone and chattin the fraff...
i saw him in real life around 3 times and each time he seemed to be red faced and out of control with glee and mischief and making everyone else the same way. he was very funny indeed..
well the last time i saw him i thought "christ this man is amazing, how long will he be around for?...logic says he shouldnt even be here now! does he have this much energy?.....will i ever see him again?....will i ever see him play again?... no one plays the guitar like him.....he is a one off, like davy graham and jeff beck and nick drake and pete townshend...i have to shake hands with him and say"

"hi john just want to shake your hand and say how how much...i..." by which point john has taken my hand in his huge and very warm hand, shaken it heartily and has continued to fall about in his wheelchair laughing at me like a loon.....amazing....lovely...

when i talked to danny thompson, who plays upright bass on many of the songs on my new album, about john he said that when they went to pubs together in the 70s before they drank a drop they would give the barman £200 and say "ok..thats to pay for the damage we are going to cause tonight"
Click here for one of Martyn's characteristically marvellous performances.

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