By Brett Milano
Special to The Globe
It's not easy being a confirmed romantic, says British songwriter John Martyn. "I probably reveal too much of self when I write a song. It gets embarrassing when I meet people from the audience, because they know more about me than I know about myself."
Martyn has recorded a dozen albums of moody, confessional songs. Tonight he makes a rare local appearance at Jonathan Swift's, and he'll be playing a cross-section of his 15-year career: from the acoustic folk of his early albums, to his mid-'70s reggae experiments, to his recent brushes with jazz and electronics. ''I change whenever I get bored," he explains.
Though Martyn isn't a household name, he's got some famous fans. One is Eric Clapton, who recorded Martyn's song May You Never. Another is Power Station singer Robert Palmer, who helped with arrangements on Martyn's new Sapphire album. And a third is Genesis drummer Phil Collins, who produced or played on two of Martyn's records.
His friendship with Collins began in 1980, when he was recording the Grace & Danger album. "I made that record in an emotionally disturbed state, because I was going through a divorce. And Phil was also getting divorced, so we took to each other immediately." It was Martyn's gloomiest record, and also his favorite. "I'll tell you, if you manacled me in chains, and dumped me at the bottom of the Hudson River, I'd still be happier than I was when I made that album."
Today Martyn's life is sunnier: he's remarried and started some new projects, including a soul album1 and a soundtrack for British TV.2 A few more artists are recording his songs, including reggae group the Specials;3 and synth-pop duo Everything But the Girl.4 But he still treasures his privacy, and avoids the music business whenever possible. "I live in Scotland now, miles away from the city... It's a small village with no shops and no pub. That's where I prefer to work; in fact I hope to become even more isolated. I wouldn't mind going to live on an island."
1 Piece By Piece apparently in the making.
2 Turning The Tide, seven documentaries from Tyne Tees Television on the environment starting September 1986.
3 Don't think so. John did cover The Slickers' Johnny Too Bad but that's the other way round.
4 Don't You Go (September 1984)
This was published in The Boston Globe of Monday 24 June 1985, the day John performed in Jonathan Swift's, Cambridge, Massachusetts.