London, Shaw Theatre, 3 Jun 1973

4 Jun 1973
The Guardian
Robin Denselow
JOHN MARTYN at the Shaw Theatre
by Robin Denselow

WITH THE exception of Ralph McTell and Roy Harper, British singer-songwriter solo guitarists have had a lean time since the Folk Club scene became unfashionable. Some, like Bert Jansch, stopped playing solo and made money in the new electric folk bands. Others, like John James, stuck to the clubs and produced excellent albums, but were ridiculously ignored. John Martyn is in a half-way position. He is hardly well-known, but has built up a cult following large enough to let him keep playing and recording.

Last night the Shaw theatre was packed to capacity for his solo concert, and be demonstrated both the reasons why he is so admired, and the reasons why he has not done any better. His guitar work was varied and consistently excellent. He began on electric guitar playing a long sub-John McLaughlin passage that drifted into an uncanny one-man imitation of Pink Floyd, with his thumb thumping out the rhythm, and first two fingers managing the ethereal, wailing melody line. Moving on to acoustic guitar for a series of his songs, the finger-work was equally faultless.

All that was fine - and so too were many of his songs, particularly The Man In The Station and Solid Air. But his singing did them no justice: on record he has a dark, bluesy voice; yet last night it sounded strangled. His throw-away approach was also unfortunate. With guitar work that good there was nothing to be ashamed of.

This review was published in The Guardian of Monday 4 June 1973.

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