Rampaging electronics took the sheen off a fine performance by John Martyn and his band at Le Club Montreal on Sunday night.
Martyn's strongest talent lies in allying the potentially uneasy bedfellows of folk and electric music. But with a maze of amplifiers that refused to co-operate through much of his set, and a muddy p.a. mix, Martyn's music found itself swamped by circumstances that were, quite literally, beyond his control.
This unfortunate situation was doubly aggravated by the periods of truly excellent music that resulted when Martyn, his band and his equipment worked together in harmony.
He can be a stunning musician. With a quirky electric guitar style that is not unlike a more eclectic, disciplined Neil Young, Martyn rips through more moods in one song than many guitarists find in an evening.
When matched with a honey-smooth voice that seems to be calling from a dream, and songs with haunting melodies and melancholy lyrics, the total effect is irresistible. Those ardent, underground Martyn fans who filled Le Club understand the hypnotic nature of his appeal, and they would seem to have taken his recent electric music to heart.
The slow, swirling rhythms of Hurt In Your Heart and more up-tempo Jamaican material like Johnny Too Bad were greeted with polite, if not ecstatic, approval. But the highlight of the evening came as he abandoned his Gibson for acoustic guitar and a classic song from his earlier career as a folk artist. The lines 'May you never lay your head down' met with rapturous response, and relayed all the Martyn magic.
In fairness to both Martyn and his three-piece group, their concert represented the first leg of a tour that will cross Canada.1 Both Martyn and keyboardist Max Middleton use complex instrumentation that will be worked out with time, and a mix that tended to swamp bassist Alan Thomson beneath Jeff Allen's muscular drumming is easily corrected with experience.
Certainly, Martyn deserves the benefit of the doubt. His talent is simply too large to be defeated by the electronic perils of the modern age.
— John Griffin
1 After Montreal also Ottawa and Toronto were visited.
This Canadian review was published in The Gazette (Montreal) of Tuesday 7 April 1981.