"THE FIRST one's for you," John Martyn told the capacity audience at Her Majesty's Theatre on Tuesday as he ripped into a song which has become almost his signature tune, May You Never. But it was also a hint of intent, perhaps a threat, to his cult following... may you never tell me what to do, never what to say, never how to act, and in no uncertain terms. never what to sing or play.
walking on some thin ice
Following a 45-minute bracket by the Adelaide group Redgum, John Martyn and his two-piece band, Jeff Allen on drums and Alan Thomson on bass, look the stage for more than 90 minutes.
A wise man, John fully realised that most of his 1.450-strong audience would be more familiar with material from his solo acoustic guitarist era than from his electric guitar and band days since he toured here in 1977.
During the evening John gave the audience a peck of the past with such numbers as One World, Solid Air, Johnny Too Bad, Bless The Weather, Dealer and Sweet Little Mystery.
But while John thought he may be walking on thin ice with his new material, it turned out to be solid ground. Tracks from his two most recent released albums were greeted with equal enthusiasm.
The music of John Martyn, a Scottish singer-songwriter-guitarist, is based on blues, rock and jazz. His guitar style is aggressive as he walks a fine line between lead and rhythm. Vocally, John sounds as if he's singing through a thick layer of cottonwool... never harsh, but quite often very difficult to understand.
Unlike his last tour when he sat in a chair during his performances, John now stands throughout the entire show. Beside being an instrument of music, John treats his guitars like a dance partner as he weaves to and fro... bobbing up and down… always on the beat. And like his acoustic guitars of years gone by, Martyn runs his electric guitars through several electronic echo machines, often making one guitar sound like a band of five.
Within this complex framework, Martyn's rhythm section must find room to move. But as most seasoned musicians will tell you, it's not always what you play that counts, but quite often what you don't play. Jeff Allen and Alan Thomson do and don't with complete precision.
Maybe most of the audience were there to see John Martyn circa 1977. What they got was an all new 1983 version… and loved it. Only a few left and a handful weren't quite sure... But what they had just seen was a truly creative and great artist.
This review was published in The Sydney Morning Herald of Thursday 27 January 1983.