John Martyn: Still His Own Man

Alan Kellogg
Edmonton Journal
John Martyn: still his own man


It's pina colada time in Scotland at folksinger Hamish Imlach's house, and John Martyn (along with everyone else, by the sound of it) is feeling jolly. Why not? The 37-year-old singer-songwriter is currently riding a critical crest on the release of Sapphire, Martyn's 13th album - and clearly one of his best.

Recorded at Nassau's Compass Point studio last summer with pre-production help from Martyn cronie Robert Palmer, Sapphire is a beautiful piece of work - one of 1985's strongest, most satisfying albums to date.

Jack Waldman's and James Hooker's lush, but-never-intrusive synthesizer beds frame a fine collection of songs. From the sensual, smokey title cut to the anthemic gospel-Celtic Fisherman's Dream to a savvy reading of Over The Rainbow, Martyn has never sounded better. I love this record, and slobber over the line, gushing praise. Its author has heard enough. "OK, OK, let's not go on;" Martyn laughs. "Not a bad record - that's it."

"Recording it (in the Bahamas) proved to be difficult. The atmosphere is so lush and we were living and working in luxury. I'm not used to it. (Laughing) But if anyone from Island is reading this, we'd LOVE to go back there. Actually, it did influence some of the songs, being down there.

"Fisherman's Dream was written as a hymn of sorts - while I was overcome by fit of pseudo-religion, watching all these African women. I've got to credit Jack Waldman for helping light a fire under me - we eventually got through 15 tracks in 2,5 days. If nothing else, I think it's the best sounding record I've done."

Martyn's characteristic Caledonian loathing of show-biz pomp and excess is nothing new. Since the '68 [sic] release of London Conversation, he's consistently avoided the usual cliches associated with his field and remained, in musical and human terms, his own man.

Although Martyn's folk roots represent only part of his current musical mix, he'd be the last to deny the influence. Asked about the current state of the British folk scene, he quickly points out where his interest lies.
"I do obviously maintain some link;" - a joking reference to being in Imlach's digs.
"I really don't know much about the English thing, because I confess that I've never been particularly interested in English folk music. I like the music of Scotland and Ireland, the Celtic stuff. (Veteran, controversial Scottish singer-songwriter) Dick Gaughan is my idea of the pure spirit. The melodies are distinctly different and there is this indefinable -something- to it. It's not that I'm hanging around the folk clubs all the time, but I do retain a genuine fondness for that music."

Over The Rainbow doesn't exactly seem a natural for Martyn, and anyway, American Sam Harris' dubious reading is getting its share of U.S. airplay.
"Here, I thought I had come up with something different, and what happens? Yes, I have heard that person's wretched version. My wife Annie and I saw him on television. It came as quite a shock. We roared with laughter - here is this manipulated cuckold stealing MY idea!"

Sapphire's many delights have been lost on radio in North America, but Martyn isn't worried. Indeed, he's hoping to visit these shores in the near future, probably in a trio setting.
"I really don't know that much about sales, about how well one album or the next is received. I don't ever expect any great surge of popularity. I'm happy to be just toodling along at my own pace."

Singer-songwriter John Martyn
… Sapphire's among his best albums

This interview from Canada was printed in the Edmonton Journal (Alberta), Thursday 28 February 1985.

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