London Conversation, The Tumbler, Bless The Weather, Inside Out, Sunday's Child (remastered & expanded)

1 Jan 2006
Record Collector #319
Euan Andrews
London Conversation
* *
Island/Universal cat. no. tbc (42:07)
The Tumbler
* * *
Island/Universal cat. no. tbc (34:09)
Bless The Weather
* * * *
Island/Universal cat. no. tbc (75:21)
Inside Out
* * * *
Island/Universal cat. no. tbc (59:16)
Sunday's Child
* * *
Island/Universal cat. no. tbc (63:16)

Before and after Solid Air

John Martyn fans are being well served right now. The big man has been touring extensively following a period of illness, and has a new studio album on the way. Meanwhile, episodes from his extensive back catalogue are being remastered and expanded. Recent reissues of the albums with Beverley Martyn, Stormbringer and The Road To Ruin, as well as a deluxe One World are now followed by these new versions of five early solo works.

Having been signed to Island by Chris Blackwell in 1967, the first white solo act on the label, Martyn's first two albums feel like part of the same musical piece. London Conversation and The Tumbler were released at either end of 1968 and are both rooted firmly in the folk mould. Much of the music is carried solely by the 20 year old Martyn's youthfully robust voice and dextrous acoustic plucking, although sitar and flute both pop up in the mix also. Already present is the incurable starstruck romance of Martyn's songwriting, particularly on numbers such as Fairy Tale Lullaby and Back To Stay, though foreboding menace is summoned within The Gardener and Seven Black Roses. There is an almost naive charm to these albums, the sound of a young pretender seeking to make his mark on tradition.

Martyn's next solo record, following the two albums with Beverley, was 1971's Bless The Weather. Apparently coerced into recording solo again by Island, Martyn's musical palette had expanded considerably by now. Danny Thompson's double bass, first featured on The Road To Ruin, is now a predominate part of the sound as it interweaves with Martyn's guitar, and increasingly smeared and impressionistic vocals. The infamous complex receives a major showcase on Glistening Glyndebourne, acoustic loops feeding back on each other to create a shimmering jazzy heatscape of sound.

Experimentation with the echoplex was taken to further extremes on 1973's Inside Out, released just months after the acclaim and good sales received by Solid Air. Winning a Montreux golden disc, Inside Out finds Martyn construct a free-form jazz folk sound far removed from his acoustic beginnings to create a cosmic celebration of love. Similar in intensity to the Miles Davis of In A Silent Way, Martyn described this record as his 'inside coming out'. Tracks include the Celtic drone of Eibhli Ghail Chiuin Ni Chearbhail and the intimate breathless mantra of Outside In. With personnel including Steve Winwood and the ever reliable Danny Thompson, this album finds Martyn at a performing and writing peak.

Eighteen months on and Sunday's Child is a more conventionally song-oriented affair. My Baby Girl and You Can Discover radiate affectionate warmth for family life while traditional folk is re-encountered on Spencer The Rover. Overall, though, it can't help but seem a comedown following the sonic adventures of Inside Out.

More adventures were to come over the next 30 years, some filled with darkness and not all of them a success. Yet his relentless musical roving has always made John Martyn a talent worth watching. There are plenty of extra tracks featured on the last three of these CDs also, including alternate takes and Peel sessions.

Euan Andrews