30 Jan 2009
The wild man of folk dies aged 60
Tributes paid to John Martyn, hellraiser whose haunting music was loved by millions
John Martyn, the folk-blues singer whose extraordinary voice and virtuoso musicianship beguiled a generation by speaking directly from the dark pit of his soul, has died at the age of 60. Best known for his 1973 masterpiece Solid Air, the title track of which was written for his friend and fellow tortured genius the late Nick Drake, Martyn's songs spoke of loneliness and love always wrapped up in the most beautiful of musical accompaniments.
Alongside his remarkable guitar-playing, Martyn's voice oozed naked emotion and his work was always highly autobiographical. Able to command the services of the world's top musicians, he played alongside Richard Thompson, Dave Gilmour and Eric Clapton. He counted Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix as friends.
His death was announced on the singer's website yesterday. A statement said: "With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning." The cause of death is not known.
Among those to pay tribute were former Genesis drummer Phil Collins, who said that despite his personal problems, Martyn was a truly original songwriter and performer. "He was uncompromising, which made him infuriating to some people, but he was unique and we'll never see the likes of him again. I loved him dearly and will miss him very much," Collins added.
Martyn was plagued with alcoholism, hitting the self-destruct button after the break-up of his marriage to his wife Beverley. However, he only drank moderately in later life, he insisted. He suffered from diabetes and, in 2003, had a leg amputated below the knee as the result of a burst cyst though he once claimed it was due to crashing his car into a cow. [sic] He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Returning to the stage after the operation he said: "I promised them I wouldn't get legless before the gig."
Despite the sensitivity of his songs, he was regarded as difficult and prickly, often slurring through performances much the worse for drink. In a recent interview he said: "If I could control myself more, I think the music would be much less interesting. I'd probably be a great deal richer but I'd have had far less fun and I'd be making really dull music."
He was awarded an OBE in this the recent New Year Honours.
He was born Iain David McGeachy in New Malden, Surrey, but grew up in Glasgow where he was raised by his grandmother and was proud of his Scottish roots. Music was in the blood. His parents were opera singers but divorced when he was five.
Martyn's life was textbook rock star, having come of age in the acid-soaked 1960s and finding himself in a series of improbable scrapes largely as a result of his lifestyle. He once said: "I've been mugged in New York and luckily I fought my way out of it. I've been shot a couple of times as well but I just lay down and pretended to be dead."
Apart from this news story The Independent also ran a personal obituary by James McNair