On Air

8 May 2006
Written by: 
Harald Moenkedieck


John Martyn loves seaports and he's always lived close to the seaside. Back in 1975 the singer and family lived by the sea as well -in Hastings, East Sussex. When the 27-year-old Martyn came to Bremen/ Germany on September 17th, 1975, to play his second-ever concert in Germany, he also came to one of Germany's biggest harbours. And he performed for an audience that was open to listen. Open like the sea, in fact, not caring one iota about pigeon-holing his music. People simply wanted to hear one of the UK's most notorious musical talents.

It had been different for John in June that same year at his very first German concert in Freiburg. There he had been billed as 'England's folk guitarist no. 1' which made for a rather disconcerting show, as German folk purists did not know what to make of Martyn's new direction. The music no longer fitted any folk bag. In Northern Germany it was different. People were blown away by the one-of-a-kind sounds coming their way from just voice and guitar.

John Martyn's music was in transition at that point. He had been a teenage sensation on the London scene in the Sixties and still was a part of Island Record's prestigious artist roster, with a track record of brilliant albums for the label. His latest LP Sunday's Child had come out earlier that year and he had been touring it with a legendary hell-raising trio that featured Danny Thompson on bass and jazz drummer John Stevens. But viewed in retrospect, Sunday's Child was just as transitory as Martyn's live shows from that year. He still enjoyed playing solo but at the same time was pushing his music into new areas constantly, vigorously shaking off the folk tag. The hippy-dippy days of yore were gone for good. Martyn's new music was all about intensity and exploration and a darker side had come into the picture as well. There was a new kind of intensity to be felt; John Martyn may still have been a mainly acoustic player at the time -but his music was electrifying.

The songs to be heard on "Live in Bremen 1975" are classic mid-period John Martyn. Recorded at the historical Bremen Town Hall, the album features the man in his prime. Going back to this era may be akin to a trip in a time machine, but it's startling how this music has lost none of its originality, power and passion. It still communicates. Radio Bremen captured Martyn's performance in immaculate quality and the tapes were stored away carefully. Now T & M is putting them out for the first time ever and what you're listening to is exactly what the Bremen audience heard on that night. No frills. Including JM classics like Jelly Roll Baker, Bless The Weather, Solid Air and a spellbinding rendition of Skip James' I'd Rather Be The Devil closing the show. This is John Martyn in an exceptional solo performance -breaking new ground. So here's to an artist who has always stayed true to his emotional impulses, however complex and challenging they may have been at the time.

Harald Moenkedieck

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