Martyn & Garfunkel: eyeballs and a cocoon

Angus MacKinnon
Street Life #1

AT THE moment my profile's so low I could crawl under a sink with a top hat on," suggests John Martyn, singer, guitarist and catholic stylist, in a bid for quotability. Although at present there's a crownful of thorns hanging above Martyn threatening to prevent the achievement of what he cherishes: a devolved, unproblematic independence.

His decision to distribute his new album [Live at Leeds] himself has not been as smooth a passage as he'd hoped. And through no fault of his own. EMI, responsible for its limited (10,000) edition pressing, have produced rather unsatisfactory (jumping) master cuts, way behind schedule. Martyn wanted the cover and centre label to be just plain, unsullied white, with no info. This demand -a reaction on Martyn's part to having recently lost control of his albums' cover design- has not met with widespread approval.

The set itself, a live recording of golden oldies with Danny Thompson and John Stevens in support, represents something of a watershed for Martyn. Understandably, he's more than disillusioned after three years of incessant touring.
"I missed most of my girl's childhood because of my commitments, and don't intend to do the same with my boy."

However, he's contracted "up to the eyeballs" and will record a set of new material in America, with drummer Herb Lovell -first encountered during the Stormbringer sessions- and others, depending on availability. 1)

He will also produce and play guitar on his wife Beverley's planned album, soon to be recorded: "she intends to remain an enigma" and has no wish to tour.

The home distribution idea has at least brought Martyn substantial encouragement in the form of letters accompanying their orders, many profusely adoring. Incidentally, Martyn wasn't responsible for the advert slang and was outraged to see that a coupon application had been added. He has since requested further space explaining the delays.

Devolution plans extend to Martyn's wish to play in a small band somewhere, maybe local around Hastings and preferably electric. He also wants time off in Morocco this winter. Altogether, a need for closer control over his activities; "managers are a pain in the arse, but indispensable. They know more about you than you do yourself." An attitude no doubt coloured by Martyn's reliance on an ingenuous "it felt natural" philosophy (cf voice over intro to 'Fine Lines').
"I've always been very lucky, never done anything consciously, I didn't even look for a recording contract to come my way. Similarly with going over to the States to do Stormbringer - I was young and didn't think about it all too much."

But whilst such attitudes guarantee a certain immunisation, here are accompanying difficulties. Both Inside Out and Sunday's Child were marathon sessions: lock the doors and come out three or four days later with a finished album. No cutting, editing or splicing - just as it happens (with fade outs).

Martyn produced these albums himself and is now well aware of the need for musical discipline in the studio. It's hard to make demands on fellow musicians if you're playing with them one moment and appraising their contribution from behind a control panel the next.

Nonetheless Martyn's all-possibilities-open overview has resulted in an expansive mix; either lengthy free-form excursions like 'Outside In' or songs. Lyrics are a catalyst in the mesh, kept "nice and simple: They used to be a lot more involved. I went through this thing of not really trusting words too much. The emotional value of a note is just as important and valuable, probably more so."

Unsurprisingly, Martyn enthuses over American electronic jazz outfit Weather Report: DNA textures and twine, tight and loose. Other interests include fishing. Like he says, "there's a time and a place for everything, isn't there?"

Angus MacKinnon


1) muffnote:
This album was going to be One World but it was not recorded in the States neither did Herb Lovell feature on it.

Street Life was a British biweekly newspaper magazine and this piece featured in a section called '14 days in the life'. The Garfunkel part (Art's dark nights) is a short account of a press conference.