John Martyn celebrated twenty years as a performer in 1986 and what a celebration it was! Piece By Piece, John's fourteenth studio album was released in February on vinyl and CD, followed by a strictly limited CD release with bonus songs, a 12 inch Classic John Martyn single and, of course, the worlds first commercially available CD single Classic John Martyn in digi pack format!
Although he had originally begun his career as one of a wave of new British -mostly Scottish- folk singers in the late '60s, John Martyn was quick to test the boundaries of his chosen genre. A period spent working in Woodstock with such as The Band's drummer Levon Helm opened the young folkie's ears to the possibilities of folk-rock, and an interest in the work of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders led him towards introducing jazz elements into his own work.
If the The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) scheduled all its footage of John Martyn, his fans could be forgiven for thinking that their Christmases had all come at once! Classic 1970s programmes such as The Onedin Line, Multi-coloured Swap Shop, Animal Magic with Johnny Morris, The Generation Game, Morecambe and Wise, Blue Peter with John Noakes, It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Mastermind punctuated by rock, folk, blues, reggae and jazz from John, now there’s a thought! Luckily you don’t have to wait that long, Christmas is here thanks to Universal Music. John Martyn at the BBC; we have even removed the other programmes! There are three concerts and bonus material abounds in Extra Features.
Although he has recorded for a variety of other labels, John Martyn is one of last great undiscovered gems in Island Records' back-catalogue. His gravel-rough, sugar-sweet vocal delivery, expressive guitar playing and the folk-jazz ambience of the majority of his work make him ripe for reappraisal. His run of albums between 1971 and 1980 can all be deemed masterpieces.
John Martyn loves seaports and he's always lived close to the seaside. Back in 1975 the singer and family lived by the sea as well -in Hastings, East Sussex. When the 27-year-old Martyn came to Bremen/ Germany on September 17th, 1975, to play his second-ever concert in Germany, he also came to one of Germany's biggest harbours. And he performed for an audience that was open to listen. Open like the sea, in fact, not caring one iota about pigeon-holing his music. People simply wanted to hear one of the UK's most notorious musical talents.
John Martyn combines musical longevity with a perverse and pigheaded streak. Constant changes in musical direction over his 37-year recording career have meant his flirtations with charts and playlists have been few and far between, but fans will affirm his music is both addictive and intoxicating -a heady brew.
John met Al Stewart (Year Of The Cat) on the London folk club circuit. Stewart was already well known, being contracted to CBS Records and having released a single The Elf. In June 1968 he took to the stage to introduce John at Les Cousins and subsequently produced The Tumbler, which was recorded at Regent Sound, Denmark Street in London’s Soho, on 11th July 1968 and released in December the same year. John’s previous album, London Conversation (IMCD319), had been well received however The Tumbler documents an early step forward in his musical progression.
Sunday’s Child was recorded and mixed during August 1974 at Island Studios in Hammersmith and released in January 1975. The sessions were short but intensive, producing songs of considerable contrasts from the rock ‘n’ roll Root Love and Clutches, to the traditional folk song Spencer The Rover. The overall feel of the album is one of contentment and John called it “the family album, very happy purely romantic...a nice period.”
John and Beverley moved from London to Old Town in Hastings, a move that was to greatly influence his writing. Hastings is a seaside resort and fishing town on the South coast of England "where you just can't get away from the weather." Island Records decided that John should revert to recording solo and Bless The Weather was completed in just three days. John Wood and John himself co-produced the album and it was released in November 1971.
"It felt natural", says John at the beginning of Fine Lines. John described Inside Out, released in October 1973, as "everything I ever wanted to do in music... it's my inside coming out." The free-form jazz orientated experimental album features sublime guitar work by John and superbly varied bass playing from Danny Thompson. Traffic's Steve Winwood (keyboards) and Chris Wood (sax) also contribute, as do Remi Kabaka (percussion) and others. The intensive recording sessions took place over a few days and were largely late at night with no cutting, editing or splicing. It was "live" and tracks were faded out where necessary. The album won John a Golden Disc from Montreaux and received glowing reviews from the music press who described it as 'music from inner space' and a 'cosmic foray.'