John Martyn, Bournemouth Pavilion
WHEN Solid Air came out, to huge critical acclaim and the delight of fans, John Martyn was a slim, softly-spoken man in his mid-20s, with a halo of curls and bumfluffy beard. He was a folky-hippie with a jazzy-reggae bent and ardent fan base.
Most of the fans, including yours truly, are still there, and not all of us have aged gracefully - but Martyn, on tour to reprise his 1973 classic, has been more affected than most by the ravages of time.
He's wheeled on stage, squeezed into his chair, even bigger than on his last visit to the Pavilion, not long after having part of a leg removed.1 He wheezes, mumbles and curses between songs - he'd be a natural for Grumpy Old Men, if only anyone had the faintest idea what he's on about.
And although he's back to play what many consider to be his magnum opus, he doesn't seem entirely happy about it, fidgeting and faffing with his ever-changing guitars. Some of the audience seem to catch this restless mood, and it's as if there's a game of musical chairs going on.
The show is sometimes shambolic, and some of the songs are a mess. But every now and then, it comes together and the evening takes off. One of the best numbers, Couldn't Love You More, (actually from One World), is played slow and soulful, perfectly suited to Martyn's slurring growl.
I'd Rather Be The Devil rocks with lots of trademark Echoplex, Solid Air itself is beautiful, as always, while the stand-out is Don't Want To Know. But May You Never is overwrought, Go Down Easy a dirge and Over The Hill a little too close to prophetic.
I think the man's a national treasure, even a genius, but this hit-and-miss performance suggests he's too much the tortured type.
1 This concert took place 30 April 2004.
Review published in the Bournemouth Echo of 26 May 2007.