OF all the sacrifices an 'artist' must make to become and remain a successful 'performer', John Martyn has always found compromise the hardest. Last year's tour promoting the largely electric Glorious Fool1 was as cowardly in its refusal to retire old standards as it was brave in breaking new ground.
Nineteen eighty-two, however, finds Martyn working with the full courage of his convictions. The acoustic balladeer has been consigned to memory and after 14 years as everybody's favourite folkie he's finally discovered the power chord.
Sensibly split between numbers from the aggressively soulful new Well Kept Secret album and oldies given a brutal seeing to, Martyn's set illustrates his ability to chronicle personal politics honestly irrespective of the era.
To use a crudely convenient comparison, Martyn does to Bless The Weather, Over The Hill and Inside Out what Dylan did to his burdensome backlog at the Albert Hall in the Sixties. He debunks the pseudo-reverence which wraps vital songs like Solid Air in mothballs, gratuitously dusts them down with a four-piece band in the giddy throes of a second musical childhood, and proves with a vengeance that the faddists have got it all wrong.
Solid Air has never sounded better, Alan Thomson scurrying over the fretless bass with sympathetic dexterity; Don't Want To Know About Evil is hammered flat and hard like a samba fashioned on an anvil; Hung Up relaxes the muscles while Martyn's black velvet voice slowly breaks your heart; and the anguished Johnny Too Bad sounds uncannily close to the best Simple Minds.
This year's John Martyn is still wholly John Martyn, different from last year, different to next. Those who claim to admire the man and yet bandy round words like betrayal had better break off the relationship now. - STEVE SUTHERLAND
1 Actually they wrote 'Glorious Fall'.
This review was printed in Melody Maker of 16 October 1982. This puts the show on Saturday 9th October.
Photo provided by John Neil Munro.