01 Jan 1994
Final chapter by Mark Cooper is about early John Martyn.
Johnny Too Bad
He's a jazz man, he's a folkie and he's been a drinker. Singer songwriter john Martyn has been most things, apart from commercially acceptable. Now in his twenty-sixth year of recording, the Glaswegian has amassed a huge back catalogue of quality and distinction. He's the ultimate cult artist who can tour anywhere, any time and still draw a reasonable audience.
He made a succession of albums with his first wife Beverley, in the seventies, but his naturally slurred delivery masked some serious drinking and drug problems.
In a brave but abortive bid to break through, he had a couple of albums produced by Phil Collins -including arguably his best work, Grace & Danger- and Eric Clapton recorded the lovely May You Never. Nothing happened commercially and, in 1988, Martyn was told by his doctor to stop drinking or die. He dried out and now lives in something approaching domestic bliss, recording his always beautiful music as and when he feels like it.
Once you pass a certain age, you get a shock every time you look in the mirror. I don't know if this is a particularly male trait but my mental picture of myself seems permanently stalled somewhere around an idealized seventeen. I never quite recognize the forty-something man with the receding hairline who stares back at me these days because I'm always expecting to see a golden youth with long, curly hair, unlined skin and an ever-present smile. No matter that when I actually was seventeen I was still recovering from terrible teenage acne and could only dream of being allowed enough hair to cover the collar of my school shirt: in my mind's eye I will always look rather like John Martyn on the cover of the first album he recorded with his wife Beverley in 1970, Stormbringer! Truth is, the best I could hope for back then was to look a bit like John Martyn on the sleeve of his 1969 solo album The Tumbler.
In early 1969, Martyn looked positively boyish, as if he'd only just run away from home. The cover shot of The Tumbler has him standing in front of a wide-angled lens, framed against green trees and a blue sky. On the back, he's standing beside a small river. He's wearing wide-bottomed trousers, a waistcoat and a white, open-necked shirt. Paul Wheeler's sleeve-note poem has John 'clambering, bumbling, splashing, twiddling and tumbling' about like a gleeful child. The sleeve and the music wear their late-sixties, summery innocence proudly but, nevertheless, John's hair still only barely covers his ears. It's like looking at one of those mid-sixties sleeves of American bands on the cusp of psychedelia: they've already taken their first trip but their hair hasn't quite had time to grow yet and their clothes are still more preppie than jumble-sale chic.
Later that year, John and Beverley went to Woodstock and recorded Stormbringer! Now John looks like a full-blown member of Island's hippy family, with long locks to match those of Stevie Winwood or Richard Thompson on the sleeve of the label's cheapo-cheapo 1969 compilation, You Can All Join In. His curls disappear into the fleece of his Turkish coat, and Beverley, black-haired, beautiful and also clad in one of the coats you simply had to hitch to Istanbul to own, rests her head dreamily on his shoulder. They are sitting on the grass at dusk in summer and they look idyllically happy at a time when happiness was almost confrontational, when a smile and a peace sign were thought enough to levitate the Houses of Parliament and make the straight world realize the obvious error of its ways.
Oddly enough, it wasn't the dreamy Beverley who impressed me most at the time. I already knew most of Brian Patten's love poems by heart and could mouth the words to all manner of love songs, but girls -real girls- were still mostly far off and untouchable as far as I was concerned. John and Bev looked the complete couple and such intimacy was completely unimaginable to me when I was seventeen. No, what really impressed me on the sleeve of Stormbringer! was the fact that John wasn't wearing any socks. 'Cool' was not a fashionable term back then, even though we all read Kerouac's On The Road with feverish hunger, but John's bare feet and dirty gym shoes were definitely 'far out'.
Of course, I already knew John Martyn rarely wore socks because I'd been going regularly to Soho's Les Cousins club to see him play since the previous summer. In fact, I tried rigorously to avoid socks myself when I wasn't stuck at boarding school at Cranbrook in Kent, trapped in a ghastly brown tweed jacket, grey trousers and a tie, endlessly combing my hair in the hope that it would grow magically over ears that, according to my peers, stuck out like those of Mad's Alfred E. Newman and over collars that never quite hid the spots on my neck.
John Kendall-Carpenter, an ex-England rugby international, was Cranbrook's headmaster in that era and John Kendall-Carpenter ran the school as if it were still the fifties, or, indeed, the thirties. 'There is some ability here which needs directing towards justifiable targets,' he wrote in one of my reports. 'I am not pleased to discover that he has been discourteous in class, and I warn him here and now that if there are recurrences of it in the future, I will give him a good spanking for juvenile behaviour.' This was the end of the summer term of 1969 -the same summer I'd skived off school one Saturday morning, hitched a lift to the local train station with my friend Dave Roberts (who during the next two summers hitched with me to Turkey and then to India), and went to see the Stones in Hyde Park. We marvelled at King Crimson, the butterflies and the Hell's Angels and got back to school in time for tea.
Two worlds were definitely colliding but, fortunately, we hadn't been missed. Kendall-Carpenter would definitely have thrashed us for that escapade but then he thrashed us for anything he termed 'insolence'. That could mean being caught smoking in the upstairs room of Mrs Humphrys' village cafe or simply wearing the wrong facial expression during assembly. He embodied arbitrary, despotic power and we loathed him. To depose him, however, was unimaginable, and I was far too protected to even dream of running away.
According to my house master's report for the Autumn Term of 1968, my main interests were folk music and rugger. The 'folk music' of that report was all the rage at Cranbrook, thanks to the acoustic guitars of two boys in the year above me -Sean McMillan and Ted Holden. We'd all grown up on The Beatles and the Stones and our particular boarding house, Cornwallis, was infiltrated very early on by Jefferson Airplane, Love and Moby Grape thanks to my friend Angus' holiday in San Francisco. You couldn't actually play that stuff yourself, however, or hope to ever be that far out. The new folk music was a little more accessible. Sean McMillan was my elder brother Nigel's best friend and Ted was soon going out with one of my closest friends, Susie. Sean used to wear a fireman's coat (very hip after Granny Takes a Trip) and a neck scarf and he could sing. Ted was more the guitar virtuoso. He knew enough about tunings to play Al Stewart's Ivich (written after the Sartre character from Roads to Freedom), John Martyn's Seven Black Roses (in which you had to intermittently slide the capo down the guitar's neck to alter keys) and even Paul Simon's version of Davy Graham's Anji, then the litmus test for any aspiring acoustic guitarist. The acoustic guitar was somehow the symbol of everything we all dreamed of being, the talisman of that other world that lay beyond school, the world where boys just a tiny bit older than you could grow their hair, throw a sleeping bag over their shoulders and, well, just 'ramble'.
'Rambling' was pretty big with us back then. Sean and Ted did a great version of Tom Paxton's Ramblin' Boy as well as his I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound. We all longed to be 'bound' somewhere, to be out on that open road instead of trapped at school for prep and early bed. Paxton and Dylan embodied the dream, but they were American and not exactly available. Somehow we heard about Cousins, and my best friend Gordon, a dayboy with infinitely greater freedom, even went there. I already knew about John Martyn, Al Stewart, Ralph McTell, Roy Harper, Mike Chapman et al. thanks to the listening booths of Bromley's W. H. Smith's, where I'd hang out as often as possible in the holidays, asking to hear all the new releases. I was itching to see the singers, but I was still only in the fifth form and my parents were happier with the idea of the local tennis club.
Finally, in March 1968, I got to go to my first 'popular music' concert. Shamefully, it was Esther and Abi Ofarim at the Royal Albert Hall; there were seventeen encores and my mother and little sister came too. Despite the happy couple's undoubted triumph and Esther's interpretation of The Bee Gees' Morning of My Life, the whole business still seems a little sorry to me even now.
Fortunately, Esther and Abi acted as something of a bridgehead and, a few weeks later, Gordon and I went to Cousins for a Saturday evening session featuring Mike Cooper, who now lives in Rome and combines a love of Hawaiian music with avant-jazz leanings. Back then, he was a country-blues specialist with a National steel guitar, a Western moustache and a big, quavering voice. I still remember Electric Chair which had driving slide and an unfortunate hero who kept begging the judge to send him direct to the ' 'lectric chair'.
Cooper was impressive enough, but Cousins itself was awe-inspiring. First and foremost, it was in Soho, the very heart of London, and secondly, it was profoundly Bohemian without being the least bit frightening. The club itself was little more than a long, rectangular cellar with a small stage near the entrance. It cost around seven shillings to get in and, as they didn't serve alcohol, it didn't matter that everybody else seemed older than us. Instead there was terrible coffee and sad cheese rolls and, on Saturday nights, an all-night session from midnight till 6 a.m.
Jansch, Renbourn and The Young Tradition had all played there regularly in the mid-sixties and now it was home for a new generation of singer-songwriters. Yet Cousins wasn't really folkie then: Lol Coxhill would come by after husking at the South Bank and blow his sax, The Third Ear Band were regulars and I once saw Davy Graham put down his guitar and devote twenty-five minutes to explaining why the Vietnam War was profoundly unjust to an apparently rapt full house. I promptly made it my spiritual home, and for the next two or three years I went there almost weekly.
John Martyn and Al Stewart were regulars among regulars at Cousins in the late sixties and I first saw Martyn a week or two after I'd seen Mike Cooper. John was great mates with Andy Mathews, Cousins' owner/ doorman. He'd hang around the entrance chatting loudly to Andy and swapping personae at the drop of a hat, switching from Scots to Cockney to Posh. He was big, nervous and speedy all at once but, above all, he seemed to embody all the eclectic freedoms of the club itself. Cousins didn't exactly separate the performers from the audience, and John would bounce onstage, throw open his guitar case and start chatting to the crowd while he changed strings. In 1968, his repertoire was a mixture of blues standards like Winding Boy and Cocaine Blues and his own originals, which were deeply romantic, and in the case of Fairytale Lullaby and Sing a Song of Summer, on the Donovan side of twee. The voice hadn't developed its trademark blend of growls and slurs as yet, but what was already extraordinary about Martyn was the sheer physicality of his guitar playing. Even when he was singing ditties to all things nice, Martyn hammered the guitar strings with his fist, constantly yanking the bass strings with his claw of a thumb and slapping out rhythms that were already far funkier than those of his peers. Al Stewart and Roy Harper were lyricists, and we hung on every rhyming couplet and every new composition like they were sermons from the mount, but Martyn was already the music itself. He'd rock back and forth on his stool -wild, free, and just a little bit crazy, yet somehow more human than the others, more like yourself.
I had been a disaster at music at school since the age of seven, when I was officially pronounced tone deaf. Until the age of thirteen, I had a sixty-year old music teacher named Miss Smith who sat at a piano and ranked our class in ability along two rows of folding wooden chairs. I sang every note horribly out of tune and was permanently stationed in one of the last three chairs in the second row. Nevertheless, after I'd seen John Martyn a couple of times, I decided that I simply had to learn the guitar. No matter that to this day I cannot tune a guitar, I acquired a little acoustic and set about trying to master the odd chord and the difficult art of fingerpicking. As a small boy, I had spent hours throwing a soft cricket ball against our kitchen wall to practise my forward defensive. Now I applied the same dogged patience to the guitar. I had no rhythm and no ear, but after a couple of years I could play the opening flurry of Al Stewart's Love Chronicles, most of The Incredible String Band's You Get Brighter and various doodles that I regarded as the bedrock of my developing repertoire. John Martyn's songs were almost all in tunings that defeated far more accomplished guitarists than me but I could 'hammer on' and slap the strings in pale imitation of his style. I was a lot better at simply rocking back and forth on a stool while clutching the guitar. It might as well have been a tennis racquet, but if you can't imitate the skill, sometimes you have to make do with the manner. After all, the guitar was only the pathway to being less like a schoolboy, a pointer to a world where you would never have to wear socks.
By the spring of 1969, I'd seen John Martyn five or six times at Cousins and I was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to change his set. I could get a smile out of Andy Mathews and loved the stoned feeling of staggering out into the dawn to see polythene bags of peeled chips sitting in front of unopened Soho cafes. Gordon and I would wander down to the Embankment and stare across at the Festival Hall while sharing a tea stall with the odd tramp. I'd even skived out of Cranbrook a couple of times after lights out and hitched up to London for the occasional unmissable all-night line-up, the teaming of, say, Mike Chapman, Third Ear Band, Marc Brierley, Sam Mitchell and Jackson C. Frank. Cousins was everything that Cranbrook and Bromley wasn't, and I couldn't wait to get out there and ramble, footloose and fancy-free.
Unfortunately, my A levels were set for the summer of 1970 -more than a year away. After an enthusiastic physics master followed me up to the sanctuary of the upstairs room of Mrs Humphrys' cafe and caught me smoking, I decided I had to keep a low profile in order to survive. My parents had finally taken my brother away from Cranbrook in circumstances which still fill me with fraternal pride: one Sunday evening at church he simply failed to kneel or so much as sit down for prayers on the grounds that enforced worship is necessarily a contradiction in terms.
I loved the schoolwork, English and history particularly, so I started working at night -high in the roof of Cornwallis in the privacy of the lower-sixth study with the dansette spinning Cream, Dylan and Martyn's The Tumbler. I dozed in class during the day, my reports becoming increasingly gloomy, but I was surviving.
Meanwhile various like-minded spirits had decided that it was time to start our own Cousins at Cranbrook. A local singer-songwriter was booked for the first Saturday night session, some tables and chairs were set up in Big School, Cranbrook's old assembly hall, Ted and Sean opened the evening and a good time was had by all. It was a ghastly parody of everything I now held dear but it was better than nowt. I got a phone number from Andy Mathews at Cousins and we promptly booked John Martyn for the second evening for the princely sum of £ 25.
John didn't drive and he was picked up from Staplehurst, the local railway station, by a friendly master. He was dressed pretty much like he is on the sleeve of The Tumbler and only carrying a guitar case when he arrived. Like all aspiring middle-class hippies, I clung to the rather Puritan belief that when 'you got nothing, you got nothing to lose' and was greatly impressed by this lack of baggage.
I'd seen John bouncing onstage at Cousins enough to be used to the abandon with which he moved but, up close, the way he swaggered upstairs to Big School seemed positively dangerous. He was bold and free but also tangibly nervous and highly strung and obviously capable of almost anything. He promptly threw open his guitar case, which contained a couple of paperbacks, various articles of clothing and innumerable packets of guitar strings, and proceeded to re-string his instrument, testing each one by pulling it a good two or three inches from the fretboard and letting go. The odd one broke and he shrugged philosophically. We chatted about Cousins and Al Stewart, and about his nocturnal train rides to Hastings where he then lived and where he'd return after gigs on the early-morning milk train.
Meanwhile the boys in Big School were chattering with excitement. John Martyn can only have been three or four years older than many of us at the time but he made records, he had long hair by the school's standards and, most importantly, he clearly never had to do what he was told. Our fun was only being spoilt by one thing, the presence of a young music teacher called, I believe, Les Johnson. Mr Johnson walked around the school with his nose in the air and a cravat round his neck, exuding a distaste for Cranbrook's bourgeois values. This should have made him our natural ally but unfortunately he was also a snob, whose every rarefied gesture indicated that he only approved of classical music, sherry and certain symbolist poets of the nineteenth century. Tonight, Les Johnson was sitting among the boys and talking loudly in an alternately waspish and disparaging tone. Here was our freewheelin' world made manifest and we had to put up with this idiot wrinkling his nose.
John did two sets that night and Johnson whispered loudly to his acolytes throughout the first. During the interval, I muttered something to him about Johnson's attitude, which during the course of the evening had come to symbolize everything I hated about school. After all, for all Johnson's affectations of individualism, it was only because he was a teacher that he could behave like such an asshole. Calling attention to this display of petulance was like a red rag to a bull to John, who could probably smell antiquated authority in every pore of the building. A couple of songs into the second set, right after The Gardeners, a jokey Gothic tune about things behind the woodshed, Martyn suddenly laid down his guitar and stared menacingly at Johnson. 'Who are you looking at, petal?' he enquired.
The whole room withdrew into a stunned but sniggering silence as Martyn proceeded to shred Johnson and his dandyism very publicly and very personally. I can't remember much of what he said but I do remember its menace and his refusal to let Johnson off the hook. It was brutal. The teacher stuttered a couple of lame ripostes and soon left the room. Martyn carried on with his set as if nothing had happened and then disappeared into the night, heading for Waterloo and the milk train.
I was impressed and a little frightened. There was nothing twee or polite about this John Martyn; the man I'd met seemed to feel things deeply but be barely in control of his own emotions. He sang about love but his rage was palpable. Perhaps I was realizing that, to my enduring chagrin, I would always only be able to feel like a critic. Everything in my minor public-school upbringing had taught me that profundity and originality was something to study and admire either in the past or in those most distanced and Olympian of beings, poets, artists and musicians. John Martyn was very much of the present; he wasn't much older than me but he seemed party to a wild and sacred fire that I found almost shocking. He wasn't inhibited by the English disease of politeness. He wasn't mediated, there was virtually no gap between his emotions and his music and he didn't seem to apologize very much. I could still identify utterly with his music, but the man himself was almost scary.
John's set finally changed pretty soon after that. He stopped doing Sing A Song Of Summer, married Beverley and went to Woodstock. A few months later the couple launched Stormbringer! at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with a full band1. Nick Drake opened the show, staring at his feet, playing extraordinary finger-style guitar and disappearing as quickly as possible as though to deny he'd ever been there at all. John later wrote Solid Air, one of his most enduring, smoky songs, for Nick, but that night he smacked an electric guitar while the lovely Beverley sang the extended, muscular funk of Sweet Honesty, another arrogant gauntlet thrown at the feet of our elders' hypocrisy. The couple made another album together, Road To Ruin, whose sleeve notes informed us that 'We think we can safely say quite categorically that this music has nothing to do with dying or anything like that ... Lots of love, John and Bev.' Briefly, they were the royal couple of a certain kind of hippy optimism.
Bev soon retired to raise their kids while John's music continued to ferment. He'd discovered the Echoplex, a simple device that enabled him to send spiralling loops of sound out of his guitar, set up recurring bass patterns and rhythms and then throw back chords and clusters of notes in answer. The Echoplex was stunning in a small club like Cousins and it became the mainstay of Martyn's act throughout the seventies. You couldn't really call him a folkie any more -not least because his vocal style was gradually turning into a husky, slurred blend of growls and caresses. By 1973's Solid Air, he sounded like a blend of jazz singer and drunk.
I survived Cranbrook and got a place at Cambridge despite failing my French A level, a subject I'd lost interest in with the arrival of a fatally weak teacher named Blunt whose nickname you can guess. I didn't really want to go to university. I wanted to travel the world for the rest of my life, cleansing my system of anything remotely bourgeois. I wanted to ramble.
In 1971 at the tender age of eighteen, I bussed and hitchhiked to India for four months with a small and rather awkward guitar that someone had painted blue. We smoked vast quantities of Afghan black and played Incredible String Band and John Martyn songs on houseboats in Benares and Kashmir. At least, Dave did. I continued to doodle and wonder why my doodles never quite transformed themselves into Seven Black Roses. I knew I didn't understand music's most basic vocabulary, but my inability seemed not only cruel but also frankly incredible. This, after all, was what was later dubbed the Aquarian Age and everything was supposed to be possible. Everywhere we went young travellers with hair now well past their collars flashed us peace signs and smiles. The journey cost just over £ 100 and I lost two and a half stone. When I came back I almost felt like somebody, even though I knew I would never be able to play guitar and still hadn't fallen in love.
John Martyn played Cambridge regularly between 1971 and 1974. He was now touring with double-bassist and fellow anarchist Danny Thompson, and the pair raged around the country on a never-ending spree, bellowing, tumbling and mimicking while making probably the best music of their careers. Martyn recorded three marvellous albums, Bless The Weather, Inside Out, and Solid Air, that gradually shook off any traces of tweeness and seamlessly blended folk, jazz and funk in a manner that would only ever be matched by Tim Buckley and Van Morrison. Above all, his music carried an extraordinary emotional openness. Onstage and in his songs he frequently seemed like the violent man of his Johnny Too Bad cover with more than his share of rage bottled up inside, but somehow his overriding wish for love and loveliness still drove the music, even as times grew darker and more cynical. Love was now militant in John's music, and while he frequently behaved like a drunken stevedore on stage, his music was naked male emotionalism.
As for me, I fell in love for the first time to Bless The Weather and, like John Martyn, had to start working out why I couldn't be always smiling and where all the rage and confusion was coming from. I was in ferment in those years, feeling everything on my fingertips and questioning everything. In the summers, I hitch-hiked twice through the Middle East to keep my rambling ambitions on the boil. During term time, I studied, partied and sat up all night discussing the meaning of life through great clouds of smoke. We listened to the Dead, Dylan, the Velvets and Van Morrison but also to John Martyn. I'd outgrown most of the other singer-songwriters and Cousins was winding down, but John's music remained a kind of shadow diary of my emotional weather. I'd stopped wanting to be like him years ago -that kind of fandom seemed like an insult to the religion of individualism to which I rather pompously subscribed- but I still felt he was singing my life.
Cambridge finished and I worked as a postman for a few months then spent six months travelling round South America with my friend Mike. My first love affair finally broke up not long after I returned and I was completely devastated. I'd lost my soul mate: Evie and I weren't going to be together forever like John and Bev. Meanwhile everything was ending. Hippy culture was stale and smelly, England was in the grip of recession and my friends all seemed to be knuckling down to their careers. It was, as they say, the end of an era. I knew it was time to start wandering the world in earnest, but nobody else seemed to agree and I wasn't very good at being alone. As a compromise, I applied to a couple of American universities and headed off for Kent State, Ohio, in the Bicentenary year of 1976. A few weeks before I went, The Sex Pistols played the Screen on the Green in Islington. I was visiting my friend Julian in a flat just around the corner that night but, for some reason, we decided not to go.
I stayed four years in America, the last three of which I spent at the University of California in Santa Barbara. My eight months in Ohio were a cold and lonely disaster, even though I did get to go to Boston at Christmas, where I saw John Martyn opening for Mose Allison in a small club. He was bigger, bearded but still bouncy.
Punk happened while I was studying for a PhD and teaching English to unwilling undergraduates in Santa Barbara. Somewhere around 1978, I cut my hair short and started wearing black. I began writing the odd review for Record Mirror back in London, kicking off with The Sex Pistols' last gig in San Francisco. Paranoia, speed and putdowns fuelled the music as if in direct contrast to the dawn of the seventies. John Martyn had sung beautifully of One World in 1977 but although he was now clearly going to stay the course, he was like a voice crying in the wilderness. I played his albums in what he calls the 'Small Hours' and, like every aspiring New Waver, wore shades during the day. I also finally gave up playing the guitar.
The story's almost over now. I came back to London in 1980 and started writing about music for a living. John Martyn split up with Bev and documented the sorry tale in 1980's yearning Grace & Danger, left Island Records, made a couple of glossy albums for Warners (one produced by Phil Collins), and eventually went back to Island in the mid-eighties. He started wearing a suit onstage and touring with a band. I became disillusioned with having to write for a living and worked in record companies for a few years. Sian -'the mother of Mark's children', as she sometimes introduces herself in order to 'place' our relationship- and I went on our first 'date', to see John Martyn at the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road, in November 1985. I'd grown up on music that my parents always thought I'd get over. I seem to be from that generation that never got over it.
I've met John Martyn twice in the nineties. In 1990, I interviewed him for Q Magazine2. We met in the Chelsea Arts Club, where he was swarming round the pool table, talking in his myriad voices and showing off. He'd finally quit drinking a few months before and proved deeply and thoroughly uncomfortable with the interview process. So, for once, was I. Doing interviews is rather like doing 'tricks' in another line of work: you get complete strangers to expose themselves to you for a short amount of time and then you never see each other again. I didn't remind John of his gig at Cranbrook because I knew he'd have forgotten it. Instead I acted modern, distant and professional and asked him whether he still subscribed to the rambler mythology. John's music has never surrendered to the merely analytical and, fortunately, he refused to recant. 'I'm still living that life,' he cheerfully admitted. 'I love the idea of the travelling singer; it's half the reason I'm doing this: the man with his guitar against the world, the lonely beacon, the railroad tracks running into infinity, a guitar and a gunny sack... I'm still right into that.'
I couldn't really talk to this man whose music had touched me so much over the years, but then my communion has been with the music, not the man. He still seemed wild, trembly and untamed and I secretly loved the fact that he wasn't prepared to surrender much of himself for idle chatter in a magazine.
A couple of years later, I'd started producing BBC 2's music show Later With Jools Holland. John had a re-recorded retrospective album coming out and I booked him for the fifth show of the first series, alongside the particularly odd mixture of The Inspiral Carpets, The Tyrell Corporation, Joan Baez and a new young singer-songwriter called David Gray. John was an hour late and, despite the fact that he was supposed to be still on the wagon, he swept into TV Centre, calling for stimulants and looking to party. He was portly now, inclined to sweat and, despite being in full braggart mode, visibly nervous and insecure.
When we finally recorded the show, the saxophonist Andy Sheppard and Jools sat in with him, his classic song May You Never came alive again and John positively burned. Most of the artists came to the Green Room after we'd recorded the show to watch it go out on air at midnight. John sat in the corner, looking exhausted and watched himself on screen. He grew teary during his own performance, either because he was shocked at having to look at himself in the mirror of television or because he could feel the music still burning. I went over and congratulated him and had to reassure him how good he was.
The beauty of John Martyn's music is that he doesn't seem to protect himself very much or censor his emotions. He's probably a monster to live with but his heart and soul is in every note he plays. I don't know the man and, frankly, I don't wish to, but I guess I know his soul pretty well through the music. He's gone his own sweet way, he's become a master of a kind and, when I look back over the years, I realize I'm absurdly, tearfully, grateful to him. Here, after all, is a man who's never been afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. As the song says, 'You're just like a long-lost brother to me/ You know that I love you true...'. May you never indeed.
Notes on Contributors
Mark Cooper is forty-one, going on seventeen. He lives with Sian and their two boys, Luke and Cian, in Acton, West London. He is the music producer for The Late Show and producer of Later With Jools Holland. He writes regularly for Q Magazine, Mojo and various newspapers.
1 The gig took place Saturday 21 February 1970.
2 May 1990, Q Magazine #44.