Battersea, Town Hall, 30 Jul 1977

13 Aug 1977
New Musical Express
Malcolm Heyhoe
John Martyn
BATTERSEA

One World is a John Martyn song. New, profound, powerful, impassioned, intense.
"Some of us live like Princes / And some of us live like Queens / But most of us live just like me / We don't know what it means / To have our way in one world / To have peace in one world."
A great song, like Layla of Astral Weeks.

One World is part of a group of songs hatched from Martyn's home experiments with Gibson electric guitar. Others are Dead On Arrival (for Kossoff) and Black Man At Your Shoulder (a companion to Kevin Coyne's Coconut Island). All three express a new direction through the imaginative introduction of electric guitar.

The 'Gibson' songs are perhaps Martyn's best. They should be on record, but they aren't. Three years have expired since Martyn entered a studio intending to record new album material. Island, his record company, are squatting on a goldmine: blissfully unaware?

Those three years have seen disillusion and damage through incessant touring; an alternative attempt, with self-distribution of a live album; one unrepresentative, shoddy Island sampler, So Far, So Good; and lately, a rare single release, Over The Hill. Only it's old ('73) and the lyrics are censored – 'dry champagne' substituted for 'sweet cocaine'.

In such a context, John Martyn finally returned to the studio, then interrupted recording for tonight's benefit concert1 for bassist Danny Thompson, currently recovering from a heart attack.

John Martyn is four performers in one: acoustic or electric guitarist; or either, combined with inventive application of echo, wah-wah, or foot pedals. His fundamental technique is full, instinctive, and effortlessly expressive.

He opens with six acoustic songs. One Day Without You is fragile, vocals stretching the words like elastic. The sound quality is rough'n'ragged, robbing the vocals of clarity, the nimble guitar work of volume. An unfound hum gnaws the air. Martyn remains unperturbed, genial, loose. He forgets his capo, and improvises with pencil and rubber band.

May You Never works instantly, uproariously, then slides smoothly into a frenetic, imploring Easy Blues.

Big Muff, the highlight, is a long, naturalistic sound sail with a sombre and mournful melody.

John Stevens resurfaces to mellow out behind his drum kit, supplying sensitive sensual brushwork to an ascending trio of old masters – Make No Mistake, Bless The Weather, and Solid Air. Martyn's smokey, subtle vocals shifting and songs' lyrical emphases in a manner reminiscent of that other natural mystic, Van Morrison.

In a grim world John Martyn's music comes easy from the heart, affirmative, optimistic, ebullient, emotional. Along with Kevin Coyne, he's this country's most original artist.

Malcolm Heyhoe

muffnotes:
1 The concert Fond Memories Of Battersea took place in the Battersea Town Hall, 30 July 1977.
A picture of this review was kindly provided by John Neil Munro.