The interview was shot at The Jerpoint Inn (Thomastown), conducted by Bryan Kolupski and edited to a 7 minute film with musical intermezzos. The subtitles come in pretty handy in spite of the occasional mistake.
John's early inspiration
I listened to a guy called Davey Graham, he still remains one of my heroes. He was a real mover when it came to guitar playing. I think bohemians have a strange way of playing, they really do... Listen to a guy called George Spence; very very erratic and strange but very organized which is great. It has to do with the vocal phrasing and the guitar phrasing, being right behind each other. Anyway, that's no more than you need to know, I suppose, really...
What influences John's music
State of mind I suppose would be the major one, wouldn't it? One's state of mind always influences one's music. If you're happy or sad, if things are going cool or not... – I have the odd dig at politicians. People from your native land [USA] don't exactly turn me on. Maybe if it weren't for the authorities and policemen, you know... [smiles silently]
Artwork behind 'Solid Air'
I met a guy who was doing that thing called heat sensitive photography. And what we did was, we blew a hair dryer against my hand and photographed it, so it gave some semblance of imagined 'solid air'. And that was it really, and Defra1 got the prints... Which was sad but otherwise quite natural, really. Shit happens!
John on performing live
It varies from night to night, from day to day... It's addictive, you get used to it, but you're always scared of it. Irony... It's a very pleasing experience, it's a great thing, especially when people like you. I mean, the idea of a couple of thousand people getting on their feet, and going: 'Yeah, you're wonderful..." That does feel very good at the end of the night, if you know what I mean. It's certainly a reward in itself. It's a bit of an ego stroke: "Oh, you're wonderful... Oh, you're so beautiful John... Of Johnny you're so beautiful..." Obviously it's comforting, you know. But it's kind of dangerous at the same time, I get very nervous... Nerve wrecking shit...
Why tour 'Solid Air'
They just asked me to do it, and I said "OK, fine, sounds like a good idea to me." And that was it. It's the album that probably did best for me and opened a few doors for me, and got me recognized by other musicians and stuff; and I suppose it was a major step from the acoustic jobs, you know. It was a step from the answers of the pop jazz world thing.
Finding the backing band
Alan [Thomson] was local to me. He was in a band called, he was leader of 'The Arthur Trout Band.' It was kind of a jazz/ fusion band and my cousin played bass for him, and sax. And when I met him he actually didn't play bass at all. I searched high and low in Britain to find a fretless player. Couldn't find a fretless player, not one fretless bass player. So I bumped into Alan and he seemed to be something of a whizz-kid and a genius. And I thought, well maybe I'll teach him, or maybe he'll teach himself how to play fretless bass, which of course, he did – in a period of like three weeks... He just took to it, like a duck to water. 'Cause he has played viola and violin, so fretless wasn't that much of a difficulty for him. But he was wonderful, very very good, within three days he was on the stage and playing. Something of a genius boy... Not to be underestimated.
Now Arran, I just can't tell you how I met Arran, and that's the truth. I don't know! Let me think... No. I really don't know how I met him. He's one of my all time favourite people. He's the only man I have ever known to actually give me the shirt off his own back. He genuinely did give me the shirt off his own back. I've never forgotten that, it blew me away. I was all covered in sweat and it was freezing cold, and he took his shirt off and gave it to me. I was amazed... Blown away I was, delicious.
Spencer Cozens has now departed off to green fields and pastures new. He is lovely as well, lovely player. Various other players have come and gone, really. But 'Bubbles', Martin [Winning, sax], you know, I love Bubbles. He got a slagging in London the other day2 and he wasn't pleased with that, but... I've had reviews of varying descriptions – from genius to idiot, and I... – If you start to listen to what people say about you all the time, you'll be suicidal within a week.
Any new material to look forward to
Oh lots, yeah, there's fifteen songs we have already in the can. I have to finish all the vocals on them. Apart from that and maybe some percussion I thought I'd put on it. I'd like some percussion, there's no percussion on the album so far. Danny Cummings, I would like to do some stuff with him, he's a really brilliant player. He's out belting away with Sting or someone like that... Somebody incredibly famous and wonderful. I'll get him to play on it.
Improving on existing material
It's a natural thing, it evolves really. We will play and then the lines will change. Someone will come up with a better line than there was in the first place, and dadada dadada etcetera. I couldn't bear to play the same thing every night. That would be very bad for you. So it's quite easy really... and it does save you writing new stuff... [starts laughing]
1 The DVD says Dethra but obviously John is talking about waste disposal. 'Defra' stands for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
2 It was in fact in a review of this very Roundhouse gig, written by Alasdair Lees of The Independent.
Interview and editing by Bryan Kolupski
Produced by Damian Darlington
Executive producer Chas Cole
Thank you to John Martyn, Alan Thomson, Arran Ahmun, Spencer Cozens, Martin Winning, Teresa Walsh, George Fullafel and the staff at The Jerpoint Inn.
A CMP Entertainment Production
Transcription: Hans van den Berk