I once worked with two Glasgow tilers who in between laying the tiles that were their livelihood, would lay a joke or two on me. In the first week I found the jokes clever but never funny and would return to mixing the cement with water and hate. One day I dropped a bag of cement down a ladder breaking the bag, the ladder, two hoses, and the foreman's heart. In the midst of this disaster Alex joked: "How come they never taught me to mix cement like that Jimmy!" There's always a piece of humorous Glaswegian sanity for any kind of hell and it's this humorous sanity which two fellow Glaswegians, Bert Jansch and John Martyn, possess.
Drinking and feasting at the gents' table is less like an interview and more like a celebration of the good times to be had whilst we're around. Telling jokes and swopping stories is more relevant there than getting useless fanzine information - irrelevant to the artist or his work.
Both men show a workman-enjoying-what-I-do attitude to their music, and it's because of this level-headedness that I didn't mind Bert Jansch humorously cutting me down to proper size.
John Martyn began playing guitar at the age of 181 and was the first white man signed to Island Records.2 Ten albums later, and a wife and three children older, he has developed a unique style which covers the peculiar blues tunings of Skip James, the jazz chording of Jelly Roll Morton, and the sensual work of Nick Drake and Robin Williamson and transcends the simple definition of the term: acoustic guitar.
He is the first guitarist to effectively use the echoplex unit: a machine which enables him to repeat phrases over what he's playing and adding hypnotic percussive rhythm in between the beats, which can make him sound acoustic or electric and like five guitarists at once. He changes tunings for each song to suit the key so that he can accompany his two fingered rhythm simultaneously with leadwork by the other three fingers. It's as brilliant as it's difficult to describe. When I asked him how he did it he quite honestly replied: "I know but I can't tell you. I don't know a hatchet from a crochet."
The Wellington Students' Union Hall wasn't the greatest place to hold the concert, but any appearance by Jansch and Martyn on the same stage had to border on the historic. The cold Wellington evening began warmly with Chris Thompson whose arrogant self-effacing songs went down well with an expectant audience.
Then Jansch took the stage, a little drunk, but I could forgive him anything - this man's broken voice has saved me many times from the 1 am alone-n-lonely morning blues. I find his voice sings through a hole in the wall of the deception we too easily call human - but he'd probably thump me for saying that if he ever heard.
He sang two squatting songs with a commitment his fingers couldn't match and Daybreak about leaving [Les] Cousins folk club after an all night gig and opening up to the buzz of a quiet Sunday morning London. All were from his excellent new album A Rare Conundrum. He finished with a joke and an old one, Come Back Baby and though he may have played better gigs, he still showed that he was musically moving on.
And then the effervescent John Martyn. His music is songs of love made, lost, gained or developing and his sensual melodies coupled with hypnotic lyrics create an aural whoosh that conquers by seduction.
He began with the intense instrumental Inside Out [sic] and proceeded to enrapture the audience with his deep shady slur of a voice, lascivious melodies and earthy Glasgow humour. To get a feeling of what the man's music's about let me quote him: "If you thought Solid Air was great to make love to, try the live album." Live I found him incredible.
He was obviously enjoying the gig by the way he swigged his rum and then his coke and mixed it on the way down. (He passed it to the audience too - nice guy hugh!?) Someone passed him a joint of our legendary Coromandel Green and he smoked it more like a Jamaican spiff than an Enzed joint - you could see his eyes redden as the toke went down.
This couldn't help but warm the audience to him and he replied with exemplary workings of such songs as Bless The Weather, Spencer The Rover, One Day Without You and a brilliantly funky version of Sugar Lump [sic]. Encoring with the beautiful Solid Air took the gig for me from the very good to the great.
Solid Air is a definitive evocation of the love vibe and if you haven't heard the Solid Air album or the compilation So Far So Good then you have something to look forward to. This man's unique talent should not be passed over.
Jansch joined Martyn to finish with a religious blues that was an amazing end to a fine evening of music. I'm sure the smoke had worn off yet I still felt incredible.
In the midst of the post-gig jubilation John Martyn still remained sane, modest and funny and went on to dance away the night before leaving for his lady and children in England the next day. The effervescent sanity of these Glaswegians I'll always admire.
1 Nope. More like age 15.
2 Record Collector: "Strictly speaking, the first white British artist to appear on the label, and the man who can claim, however modestly, to have started the entire prog rock ball rolling at Island, was one Wynder K. Frogg, whose Sunshine Superfrog album (ILP 944) emerged in mid-1967." But general consensus (and Chris Blackwell's confirmed this) is that John was the first white person who got signed.
The concert took place at the Union Hall and it was their only show in New Zealand during this tour. The review was sent to me by the author and published in Craccum of 12 September 1977, on page 15. Craccum is the weekly student newspaper of the University of Auckland, produced by the Auckland University Students' Association. It was founded in 1927. The name originated from the scrambled acronym of 'Auckland University College Men's Common Room Committee'. It is the largest student magazine in New Zealand, with a weekly distribution of 10.000–12.000 copies. This issue is archived at the Auckland Library as Volume 51 1977.