JOHN MARTYN appears to be permanently on the edge of a holocaust. Without warning he can flare up into a Glaswegian explosion of words and opinions that sometimes seem to emerge before the thoughts and hang agonisingly in the air while reason catches up.
Beverley drifts calmly from word to word, rarely using two if one will do, and their son Wesley is an explorer, equally eager to dissect your umbrella or to demonstrate the vulnerability of a flying saucer. Such a varied household provides a useful clue to John and Beverley's current album The Road To Ruin. I asked John if he was pleased with the album.
"Yes. You must remember that it was done a year ago. It's very indicative of what we were doing at that time, but it's all changed since then."
Beverley is expecting a baby in February, and after that they plan to move to Scotland.1 "I've been trying to move out of London for a year now," John explained. "I really wanted to come down here when I first started though. I used to go to folk clubs all the time and try to hustle bookings."
He glanced out of the window and indicated a homely block of concrete and glass, planted abruptly across the road.
"We're not meant to exist in these bee cells," he complained indignantly. "It's just a joke. There are more people here (in Hampstead) than anywhere else but it's the loneliest place in London."
Not much has been seen of John lately. His gigs have been rare. Would this change?
"I'm going to do a lot more gigs," he verified. "I've got very lazy. I've done an average of two gigs a week for the last few months, which is really how I like it."
He'd just returned from a gig in Belfast. "It was really fine. It's like the folk scene was over here four years ago. In Ireland they're really glad that you're there. There are maybe five songs that I always sing which I don't want to get away from because I really like them. But there are a pool of about thirty or forty which I can put on. I don't plan my act though."
John is aiming for college gigs. Is this the audience he prefers?
"There's nothing else for me," he replied promptly. "There is very little communication between the audience and me in many folk clubs. In some, 30 per cent are there to hear what I'm laying down, and 70 per cent because it was somewhere to drink with musical accompaniment. There are very few good folk clubs around. They do exist but they're just few and far between. It's the same for traditional musicians."
How soon before John and Beverley do gigs together, John indicated that it would be some time.
"There's plenty of time," said Beverley in one of her few contributions to the discussion.
"Working together really depends on so many factors like musicians," added John.
One consolation is that they both plan solo albums.
"I've got a lot of new songs," John explained. "I want to do a lot of solo electric things. The kind of way I'm playing I don't think a lot of people would know what I'm aiming at. That's not a put down. It you're playing it's very difficult to get people to hear things as you do, if you're not playing structural things."
"Beverley is a lot more into pop. She isn't into unstructured things as much as I am," he continued. Beverley never actually revealed whether she agreed with this or not, but did concede that their tastes differed.
John persevered. "Beverley's tastes are much more jazzy than mine. Her harmonies and mine are very different. She would use tunes I wouldn't even consider."
"After all if we were both the same we would get bored," Beverley announced. "What John is writing now I think is incredible. But I didn't get into 'Woodstock'."
Did John's intention to use electric guitar on his solo album indicate a complete departure from acoustic?
"It doesn't make any difference which I use, I get a buzz out of playing anything I consider I do well. It just happens to be that at the moment I'm playing electric. I'm hoping to take up sax.2 I'd play what is now known as jazz. But I don't suppose that I'd be good enough to play with anyone for a considerable number of years."
What was the likelihood of John forming a band?
"It's difficult to know. The one thing that frightens me about a band is the responsibility. I did a gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with a band."3
John considered how to explain this, searching for a way that didn't attach unintended blame on anyone. Two or three times he spoke out, then rejected what he had said and started again. Finally he seemed satisfied.
"That gig didn't happen because there was a lack of empathy," he concluded. "The musicians were really excellent but they were drawn from different scenes. The guitar and bass player were heavily into Latin music and the drummer was very heavy."
"It's really a drag making a good musician play the sort of music he doesn't feel. It's purely a matter of emotion. You just have to be very careful with a band. The only people I'd really like to play with are Paul Harris and a drummer called Wells Kelly. Even if one member of a band is a bit unsure why he's there, then it ----- the whole thing up."
"I'd rather have a guy play badly but enjoy it. In all great bands it's quite obvious that they get a buzz playing together."
1 This would turn out to be Hastings on the other side of the country.
2 This happened but failed, resulting in the discovery of the echoplex.
3 February 21 1970, launching of Stormbringer!.
Xerox provided by John Neil Munro