Music Rob Adams
Danny Thompson cut a bereft yet somehow still jovial figure. Dressed in a kilt, the bassist who partnered John Martyn for years resembled a best man who knows that the groom is not going to appear but has prepared a speech and is going to make it anyway. Ten years after Martyn's death at the age of 60, Thompson —not a man given to romanticising or over embellishment— could clearly still feel his loss. He told stories that revealed the different sides to Martyn's complex personality. He remembered gigs and scrapes. Mostly, though, he wanted to celebrate Martyn the musician and poet.
Over two sets, which like the man himself had their imperfections, Thompson guided us through Martyn's musical development. With young singer-songwriters who have come under Martyn's influence, include Lucy Rose and Katie Spencer, taking their place alongside the seasoned performers Eddi Reader and Paul Weller, this was a parade of classics for the Martyn devotees who filled the hall to capacity and occupied the upstairs standing areas.
It was great to hear Martyn's long-time band members, including Foster Paterson on keyboards and the superb bass guitarist Alan Thomson, lending atmospheric colour to Hurt In Your Heart and an appropriate shuffling groove to Dancing, while a string section shimmered and murmured beautifully through Sweet Little Mystery.
Best of all, though, were the contributions of those who captured Martyn's acoustic troubadour days: Rory Butler's virtuosic and energised finger-picking on A Day At The Sea, and John Smith, with his vocal resemblance to Martyn, duetting with Thompson's bass on Walk On The Water. These gems were matched by Eric Bibb, in a diversion from Martyn originals, delivering the blues standard Going Down Slow in a way that harked back to Martyn wowing folk club audiences with his free-flowing, expert swagger.
In a lovely touch, the last word went to Martyn, with a video of him singing Over The Rainbow as the encore, as he did so many times.
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Eric Bibb belts out the standard Going Down Slow in trademark Martyn style
This review was printed in The Times of Tuesday 29 January 2019, on pace 14 in the News section.