Last of the loony gurus
Offbeat with R.S. Murthi
IT TAKES more than eccentricity and great talent for an artist to become a cult figure in the pop jungle. He needs raw guts, a great deal of staying power and a determination to stick it out through thick and thin. And if he's thinking of turning into a tycoon by offering his egotistical effusions for mass consumption, he had better start digging his own grave...
Not exactly a rosy picture, is it? Willy-nilly, that's what achieving cult status entails. But you have to give credit to the artist who couldn't care what the majority of the goddamn world might think of him for resignedly playing to a dedicated following.
There were quite a few of these loony gurus in the Sixties. Their population was reduced by half by the end of the Seventies, and the present decade is bound to snuff out more of them. But they will always have a special place in the history of popular music, however unpopular they might have been in their lifetime.
Well Kept Secret
(Duke Records 9002-1 Import)
Never mind if the name doesn't ring a bell. All you need to know about this scruffy Scot is that he's got a great alto voice and a graceful guitar style. John Martyn typifies his lot. He's been at it for 15 years or so, and has over those years gathered a fairly large following. He started out as a straight folk singer and evolved an elliptical style, enhanced by the use of an Echoplex in the early Seventies.
Well Kept Secret, Martyn's umpteenth album, presents him at his most adventurous. There was a time when you could safely guess what to expect from every new album by Martyn: lazy, mellow singing, pithy lyrics and sparse instrumentation. But these days, the man has become unpredictable. His last album, Glorious Fool, gave some indication as to the direction he was taking. It was highly charged with energy and emotion, and brought out Martyn's heavier side.
That heavy metal leaning is more deeply developed on six of the 10 tracks on this set. There are moments on Gun Money, Love Up, Hiss On The Tape and Back With A Vengeance which remind one of the best of heavy metal.
Martyn's voice reaches incredible heights of frenzy, yet it's on three evocative ballads –Could've Been Me, Hung Up and Never Let Me Go- that he truly touches the heart.
Need I say more?
This story was published on Friday 25 February 1983 in the Leisure Times section, page 13. It continues with short reviews of Men at Work (Business As Usual), Lionel Richie (Lionel Richie), Earth Wind & Fire (Powerlight) and a local album called Penghormatan Pada P. Ramlee.
Established in 1845, The New Straits Times Press is Malaysia's oldest and largest newspaper publisher.