John Martyn: Solid Air,
Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
JOHN MARTYN: gallows humour
For those who remember John Martyn in his acoustic troubadour days -and there were plenty of them here- listening to him eulogising the best jelly-roll in town to an urgent clawhammer guitar was a sobering experience.
Here was the once tousle-haired youth who used to joke about his bluesy muse being a peg-legged ancient Mississippian guitar demon playing the role himself. Pushed on, playing aeroplanes in his wheelchair, Martyn kept up a steady flow of gallows humour. He is, he reminds us with mock indignation, a living leg end who's putting his best foot forward. As for the reason a sell-out audience is in attendance, his classic album Solid Air, he's going to perform this "nonsense" in its entirety -but not in the right order- and as he hears it now.
No change there, then. Martyn's output has long been a work in progress, as the opening Cooltide, a later piece spruced up, proved. The words and music laid down on disc have become guidelines that he can approach spontaneously. With his band offering sometimes the most delicate of support, he could explore different nuances or stay reasonably faithful.
Go Down Easy was Martyn at his most affecting; gruff but tender, and Solid Air itself was the best kind of mood music. Thirty-three-and-a-third years on, the songs still have their persuasive power and their creator his place at the top of the troubadour pile.