Robert Elms show

Robert Elms
London Live (94.9 FM)

[So Sweet ends]

RE: I always look forward to any JM album and thankfully we have a long time to look forward to them for. This is a big sense of expectation that builds up over the years...
JM: How unkind...

RE: And this one is no exception because it took about four years since we had a proper record. I mean, the last album was lovely. But last time was an album just of covers; this is an album in which, apart from two of the tunes, you have written them all. And that is one of yours, and that is So Sweet. Welcome to London Live, mister John Martyn.
JM: Ah, wotcher!

RE: Er, is it four years in the making or do you kind of spend three years sitting around scratching your bum, and then think: I want to make a record...
JM: There's a bit of the old... You have to sort of apply the hubnail now and again just to liven yourself up... A friend of mine advised me to get a keyboard. He said, you must get this thing...
RE: This wasn't any old friend, this was a famous friend, as I understand...
JM: Yes, P.C.*), yes. Anyway, and I went: Yes, of course! It must be fantastic, if you recommend it, my dear old jazz friend... and off I trodded. I was forgetting I had not played the piano since I was four! [laughs] So not only I was confided with a keyboard with all these mad sounds and beautiful, you know, samplers and all kinds of built-in nonsense. And it took me like two and a half years to discover that I could not really play the damned thing! [laughs]
RE: Why, did you get back to the guitar then?
JM: Yeah! [laughs] I managed to sort of struggle through a few parts but I was never good enough to leave them intact so I had to get somebody else to... I said, listen, it should sound a bit like this, if that's OK with you. [laughs] No-one thought it embarrassing, really.
RE: Did it make you write slightly differently, or not?
JM: Yes. I do not know why exactly, - it simplified things.
RE: Really?
JM: Yes. I am not saying it is a simple record but it is a simple thing...
RE: But it is back to... I mean, I only had it long enough to hear it a couple of times, but it seems to me to be back to doing what you do best. There's a lot of love songs in there and you are very good at writing love songs. And your greatest songs in one way or another I think have probably been love songs.
JM: I like old business, it is good.
RE: And there's a lot of very strong melodies in there as well, which is another thing... I feel the last album, [Church, ed] great album that it was, it wasn't as melodic as your own...
JM: No this one is ... I don't know why that was, actually, I don't know where that came from. I got a bit ill about three or four years ago...
RE: This is the exploding pancreas incident...
JM: [laughs] Yes. Percy and the Exploding Pancreas.. Percy and Patricia, the Pancreas Twins. Yeah, that annoyed me and I could not really play much. So I ended up playing single notes. Which is where some of the tunes came from. Which is good, though, it's a good thing.

RE: Do you like the process of writing and recording an album? Or is it a grind?
JM: There is no hard and fast about that, you know. Sometimes it is really beautiful. But actually I prefer working for other people.
RE: Do you? Writing for other people?
JM: Working for other people. In the studio I prefer working on other people's music rather than my own. Simply because there's somewhat less responsibility. What annoys me is that I get to feel a bit more responsible every time I have to consign something to tape, you know what I mean?
RE: Is this pressure, man?
JM: [like Austin Powers] Yeah, baby. [laughs] It's not a hangup, I'm not saying that, but you do feel a bit different as you get on a bit, you know what I mean.
RE: I guess also... when you have got a back log of music... I mean, you have been doing this for what, thirty years now? It's very alright to mention that...
JM: [laughing] Also! Also!
RE: When you have got a back log of tunes... I mean, you could spend the rest of your life, couldn't you, going out and playing May You Never....
JM: Flogging May You Never and bla bla bla bla.
RE: And Solid Air, you know, marvellous, marvellous songs that are part now, I think of the canon of kind of great English music.
JM: Bang! [laughs]
RE: I mean, you could do that for the rest of your life, couldn't you?
JM: Yeah, of course. But there's no point to that. I mean, it is really silly. It's like, you know, it's like, you'd end up [starts singing] 'I'm a pink toothbrush, you're a blue toothbrush.' You know what I mean, you would end up really being silly. There's no point. I think, if you don't keep going, things get... Ah, don't know what. [sighs] Very hot here, really.

RE: But a while back, you did do that thing of rerecording a lot of your old songs. Why did that come about?
JM: I did that because I felt that they would be better represented in the format of... No Little Boy, you are talking about, yeah?
RE: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. I just thought they were better represented with a band setting. Because things like Bless The Weather and Man In The Station were lovely at their time, but they were very very hidebound because of the format of just acoustic guitar, acoustic bass and just very minimal drums. I preferred... Ever since I got interested in group music, it just twisted my head a little bit, I suppose. And I really wanted to hear the stuff represented in a larger format.
RE: So which do you prefer, do you prefer the older versions or your...
JM: I prefer the newer versions...
RE: You do?
JM: I do yeah. I have to say I haven't listened to them for a long while. I have been too busy for this sort of nonsense. I just tiddle along, you know, really trying to write the next one.

RE: What does life consist of now? You live up in Scotland. Is it true it's a croft or whatever that is? Or...
JM: No, it is a church. [changing to Scottish] A kirk, laddie.
RE: A kirk?
JM: A kirk, laddie, a kirk.
RE: With one bell...
JM: With one bell, eh, laddie, eh, the hoots...
RE: And what do the locals think of this strange man with his guitar, and now his keyboard?
JM: [coughs and laughs] Well, they kind of tend to leave me alone. I don't know if they are scared or not. I don't know, they are...
RE: But your accent went very Scottish there!
JM: [laughs] What's that, laddie? No, I don't think they really care. I mean, it is a very small village, the population is sixty. You know what I mean, no pub, no shop, nothing. Zilch. Nichts.
RE: No pub. Is that handy?
JM: Well, it's not bad, is it. I mean, you can't get drunk in public. [laughs] You just keep yourself to the kitchen and the scullery.
RE: Do you like coming out again? I mean, do you like sticking your head above the parapet for people to throw stuff at.
JM: [laughs] To be honest, I am more of a [provisioned] poor college man.
RE: By nature that is fairly apparent, because [we only heard you] that often, so
JM: I try not to. Sort of the money drives me out. No, that's an old lie. No, I must confess, I do get itchy for playing. I love playing.
RE: What, playing live?
JM: Yes. it is a great buzz. You can get a buzz from that you can't get from anything else.

RE: You are going to be playing in London, Shepherd's Bush, on Tuesday June the 13th. I shall be there, the day after my birthday.
JM: Ah.
RE: Is this you and a band, or what's this about?
JM: Me and a band. John Giblin on bass; Arran Ahmun on drums, God bless him; Spencer Cozens, superstar of note, professor of [just about anything]; and Jim Lampi on Chapman stick.
RE: What's a Chapman stick?
JM: It's a piece of wood with fifteen strings on it. Most peculiar looking thing, yeah. It's a cross between piano and something else. I think there's only six hundred in the whole world. I had the dubious... I had the great privilege actually of meeting the man who invented it. He just keeps inventing more of them. It's a fascinating instrument altogether.
RE: Every band should have one...
JM: Every person should have one. It's an egg beater, it's like a fork. [laughs] It's an essential part of life. The Chapman stick should be in every home....

RE: And when you are up, is it the old tunes and the new?
JM: You have to do a few old ones to keep partners happy.
RE: Yeah, if I went and saw you and you did not do Solid Air, or One World, or some of them.
JM: Then you get the pin. I noticed that in Italy, because I was trying to break in all the new stuff, you know, and you could see they got a bit restless. You know, you had to try out Solid Air, or one of those... gold ones...
RE: Which are the ones that you like most of the old ones? Is it the Solid Airs, and the One Worlds?
JM: I like One World...
RE: I like One World... of all of them, that's probably my single favourite song, I think.
JM: [hesitates] Er... Haven't got any favou....
RE: Angeline is a lovely song...
JM: Angeline is very pretty. Er... One World I think is probably the best example of what I would like to be. I just like the chord structure and stuff.

RE: Do you chuckle when you read stuff about 'Mix of blues and funk and jazz'. It's funny.
JM: Of yeah. I know! I am what?! I'm a hybrid!
RE: I never knew you were a hybrid!
JM There you go... Yeah, from the Outer Hebrides... People's perception of what you do just varies from person to person, and anyone could be right. Do you know what I mean?
RE: Sure.
JM: Absolutely anything could be right. Disengage perceptions, I mean and just swing with it.
RE: I guess in terms of the two covers that you have chosen on this record... It shows... I mean, there's a certain lead in the direction there. By covering Cry Me A River, and You Don't Know What Love Is, I mean, like absolute... Cry Me A River is wonderful, except, someone once called it Fry Me A Liver to me, and I have never been able to get my head around it ever since...
JM: [sings] Fry Me A Liver... I'll fry the liver of you...
RE: [laughs] Simply by choosing those, I mean, they are kind of fairly grown-up songs.
JM: Yes, well, I'm a fairly grown up man.
RE: I know it's that!
JM: I know I don't act like it, but I certainly feel like it. [chuckles]
RE: You seem like a happy chap at the moment...
JM: Yeah, I'm cool. I'm in love, and I am kind of walking around and being sweet. And I've got work to do, which is a gas. It has been a long time actually since I have been working sensibly and I like that. It sort of fills up the time. [chuckles] Gets your mind off your life...
RE: We are going to play another track of the album. And I can't remember what we said we were going to do, what was it? Feel So Good?
JM: Feel So Good, please. Thank you.
RE: Well let me key that in and we shall play it.
JM: A song...
RE: As I said, we have got three copies of the album to give away and three present tickets to go and see a certain mister John. Er Martyn that is... on June the 13th at Hammersmith... er Shepherd's Bush, so stay around. [Feel So Good starts playing in the background] John Martyn, thanks so much for coming in...
JM: You meant Shepherd's Bush. Don't mention Hammersmith... You probably meant Shepherd's Bush...
RE: Don't go to Hammersmith. They are only up the road... You can always walk from one to another..
JM: It's a short run... [laughs]
RE: You don't turn up at the wrong venue at all.
JM: [laughs] I did that... I once did that...
RE: Did you?! You never!
JM: I did.
RE: [laughs] You were meant to be playing at one and you went to the other one?
JM: I was supposed to be at the Town And Country [club], and I ended up at the Mean Fiddler. It was very funny.
RE: [laughs] I have got a feeling that I might have gone to see you that night!
JM: I was there?
RE: No!
JM: OK, I did surprise you, then!...
RE: I remember seeing you at the Palladium, that was a nice...
JM: Ah, that was fine.
RE: We won't go into any of those...
JM: No, no, no, I enjoyed that.
RE: We shall play this one. And it feels so good, John Martyn, thank you.
JM: Thank you all...

*) sitenote: Phil Collins (ed).

Transcription Hans van den Berk