Sapphire - Island ILPS 9779

17 Nov 1984
Chris Roberts

(Island ILPS 9779)

* * * *

THIS IS the blues and the breaks. John Martyn cannot be a hippy. Hippies don't mould elements of folk, jazz, reggae, funk and rock into something of depth and subtly pulsating beauty. Yet sometimes he sings like a dying man.

Comparable in texture to much of 1980's Grace & Danger, this record burns slowly. Its evocative achievement is that of a marathon runner rather than the flash of a sprinter. Feel hangs like warm icicles, poised. But listening to it is a simple pleasure, a long bath in a mirage.

Sapphire is, yes, blue, but only intermittently melancholy. An acknowledgement of the motivating force of romance seeps through the lush, layered title track and the exquisite rumbling version of Liza Minelli's mum's Over The Rainbow, which in a more poetic world than that of pop music would be a justifiable Christmas number one.

Fisherman's Dream is a slurring, stirring, whirring ballad, Alan Thomson's bass brooding and Martyn's grizzly soulful voice proferring undercurrents of compassion, Hemingway-like.

The second side doesn't crystallise as blissfully as the first, as the rhythms get restless and the moods more localised, although Mad Dog Days has a heartbreaking coda. However, the finest sections of Sapphire transcend bleak Clapton territory and earn it its title, one of the most onomatopoeic words in our language.

John Martyn's Englishness is not to his detriment.


The original copy of Sounds had Bronski Beat on the cover and cost 45p. They also ran two adverts for the Camden Palace concert of Friday 23rd November (when Live From London was recorded).

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