Sometimes you look at a record and sleeve and have to wonder what the art department were really thinking. Thirty five years ago I would have walked past this photograph of a young man in a lounge suit and mentally filed the album with my mums Tom Jones records. It looks a littel middle of the road, some light balladeering going on with a little bump and grind over-sung soul or rock somewhere on the record is what the cover says.
It is however John Martyn. One of the great songwriter guitarists. His echoplex explorations are stuff of legend, his songs are masterpieces, gentle, aggressive and honest all at the same time. If Al Stewart is the gentle fay minstrel from Scotland then John Martyn was the raw open wound.
It’s a compilation which I usually leave alone but I have not been lucky enough to find any John Martyn in my wanderings. Also when I opened it up the label was for a band called the 20th Century Steel Band with the Martyn songs written on a tag stuck to the original Island label. Weird and a little bothersome, was I going to get home expecting to hear the lush sounds of John Martyn but really hear the exotic sounds of the Carribean. It was a thrift store so no way to hear the album first or even to get your money back if it all goes wrong, “all sales are final” signs everywhere around the vinyl.
The promise of May You Never, Over the Hill and Solid Air won out. Along with memories of my late teens years as I listened to John Martyn every Saturday in preparation for the excesses of the weekend. Martyn’s ability to live the rock life was legendary and I believed some of this would rub off on me. Others amped themselves up with the Stones or T-Rex, I prepared with Solid Air. Regardless of my thinking around this it at least got me ready for the assault of 80’s music that was about to assault me with brief foray’s into joyous Hair Metal of the period.
It is a great compilation of the early albums on one l.p. It is however a little jarring as I am always expecting the next song on the original album as they are so ingrained in my memory now.
My favourite festival memory is of the Suffolk ‘n’ Goode festival when the afternoon was Bert Jansch, Roy Haper and John Martyn followed by the Strawbs. I have never seen so much songwriting talent on a stage since and may never again. I have to admit much to my shame I never saw the Strawbs that night, it seemed irrelevant after what went before.