WE MIGHT have been warned of some of the problems the evening had in store when John Martyn's long-serving accompanist, the double bass player Danny Thompson, stepped on stage for a brief solo spot. When a few stabs at the instrument produced only silence Thompson searched despairingly for some moments before realising he had forgotten to turn on the amplifier. "Eight bleeding years," he sighed, "and I still can't get it right..."
Much the same could be said of the whole evening. For Martyn's performance was plagued by amplification problems, poor sound quality, and a generally lackadaisical approach which sorely tested the patience of an audience prepared to give the performer the benefit of any doubt, and spoiled what had promised to be an exciting evening of music.
Martyn is one of popular music's true innovators. Originally a folk singer who served his apprenticeship in the clubs of Glasgow and London, he has since developed a singular hybrid of folk, jazz, and blues idioms based around his highly flexible guitar playing and slurred milk-and-honey vocal delivery.
For the second half of the performance he was joined on stage by a drummer, electric bassist,1 and, on keyboards, Steve Winwood - one of the legendary figures of British rock music making a rare public appearance. The additional musicians brought a sharp and cutting edge to Martyn's songs, but the problems with sound, a curious reluctance by Winwood to involve himself fully in the proceedings, and Martyn's own tendency to pause too long between songs hindered continuity and held the real potential of the group in check.
1 Hansford Rowe (bass) and Pierre Moerlen (drums) of the Gong rhythm section.
This review was published in The Guardian of Thursday 24 November 1977.