Over the hill
"WHAT TIME is it now?"
"Ten past nine.
"IS THAT ALL!"
And so on and so on all night. John Martyn only played for two hours but, well, it did seem like an eternity.
Ten years ago the music papers were writing long features called things like 'Ten Years After' - there was even a band called that. It was ten years after hippies, flower power, druggies etc etc and that was about the time that, wraith-like, John Martyn, a Glaswegian blues guitarist [sic], first rose to cult status.
"Um," says the clock watcher, "l don't know how to tell you this, but I think he might be a hippy." And so he might. And at times, the John Martyn concert was one of the most tedious that I have attended. Working on a bass, guitar, sax, keyboards and drums set-up he can be incredibly self-indulgent. Numbers like Big Muff, and One World flew off on a seemingly never-ending tangent of fantasy — 'head music' I think they called it in the early '70s. 'Plan boring' is what it's called these days.
For the first hour the only light relief was Martyn's patter between numbers. Telling rude anecdotes about Dorothy Squires and bantering with the audience ("Aw naw, not another one of Johnny's pure miserable songs!"), confirmed that he sounds exactly like Billy Connolly and I was wondering why he hadn't become a stand-up comic. Then he dismissed the band (pedestrian at best, mediocre at worst) and did two songs in his old style. Jellyroll,1 a 12 bar blues number, and May You Never were worth suffering the whole two hours for — Martyn showing off his underestimated guitar talents and syrupy blues voice to perfection.
Two hours on I could have wept if I'd heard another contrived synth-string part, but it wasn't all in the morass — Big John2 sounded middle-aged (ie '88 style) Tears For Fears, which at least shut up the clock watcher for a minute, and Watch Out3 finished the set with some welcome social comment rather than continued hedonism.
"I hope you're taking me for a drink now?"
"Aye, OK. You look as though you need it."
1 The Easy Blues, 'Jelly Roll baker'.
2 Possibly meant John Wayne.
3 Probably Nightline.
This review was published in the New Musical Express of 1 March 1986.
Material provided by John Neil Munro.