John Martyn/ Shaw Theatre
IT'S AN ENCOURAGING sign of recognition that a John Martyn concert can be advertised as sold-out a week before it takes place.
Not so long ago, at the time when Solid Air appeared, he was still getting the 'interesting newcomer' treatment - misleading, to say the least, because to understand what Martyn's doing and where he's got to really necessitates going back over his long album history.
Martyn's worked hard, graduated from the folk-clubs of his past, and the Shaw Theatre seems like an ideal venue for him - a hall now renowned for its performer/ audience rapport.
First on, to provide some contrast, was Bridget St. John, barefoot, minstrelette of the withered flower-pot era, picking on (strumming actually) 'Back To Stay' an early Martyn composition1, and singing 'All that matters is that love be nice'.2
Her heart's in the right place, but John Martyn put it less graciously, hurtling onstage and announcing his presence with an enormous belch: "Right, you all know I'm a very spiritual person, got it?"
The only trouble about playing a gig under the influence of alcoholic or chemical aids is that it tends to hinder the tuning-up process, but as Martyn rather uncharacteristically went straight into 'Outside In', having graphically described that 'inside out', [this] was simply a technicolour yawn. He had plenty of time adjusting his strings during an elongated version of the number that always dominates his live sets; and as the rippling echoplex reached its climax, he got the message over his way: "S'love! S'love!" He's in earnest too; he's sticking his neck out and getting away with it convincingly.
Danny Thompson stood up against Martyn's manic abuse and leering with great courage, remaining as humble as ever. It's a credit to the close working relationship between the two that numbers from the new album like 'Fine Lines' and 'Make No Mistake' retained their relaxed intensity without the support they received on record.
'Bless The Weather' and 'Head And Heart' featured Thompson at his note-bending best, while Martyn's previous heavy vocal slur was transformed into an almost unrecognisable buzzing sound; more so on the lackadaisical 'Singing In The Rain'.
Odd man out was the Celtic instrumental 'Eibhli Ghail ni Chearhail', a simple but stormy unison with fuzzed guitar and sawing string bass.
Catch John Martyn live before he burns himself out, and breathe some zzzolid air. He's at his peak.
Charles le Vay
1 muffnote: Back To Stay was a track from Bridget's second album Songs For The Gentle Man (1971). Bridget also covered The River.
2 muffnote: Lyric quote from the song 'Nice' that opens Bridget's third album Thank You For (1972).