Inside Out (remastered & expanded)

7 Nov 2005
Written by: 
John Hillarby

"It felt natural", says John at the beginning of Fine Lines. John described Inside Out, released in October 1973, as "everything I ever wanted to do in music... it's my inside coming out." The free-form jazz orientated experimental album features sublime guitar work by John and superbly varied bass playing from Danny Thompson. Traffic's Steve Winwood (keyboards) and Chris Wood (sax) also contribute, as do Remi Kabaka (percussion) and others. The intensive recording sessions took place over a few days and were largely late at night with no cutting, editing or splicing. It was "live" and tracks were faded out where necessary. The album won John a Golden Disc from Montreux and received glowing reviews from the music press who described it as 'music from inner space' and a 'cosmic foray.'

Music is a constantly evolving language, a shifting landscape of creativity where artists emerge, gain recognition and often subside into obscurity. Few artists successfully transverse this creative landscape and receive the recognition for innovation that they deserve. Remarkably talented, compassionate and often forthright, John Martyn is one such artist who has influenced and inspired whole generations of new musicians. Just when you feel that you’ve heard all he has to offer, when you’ve finally pinned down and categorised his music, he undergoes yet another metamorphosis. Folk? Blues? Reggae? Jazz? Rock? Trip Hop? Funk? John refuses to conform to any particular music genre whilst simultaneously embracing them all. His guitar playing has evolved over the years -acoustic guitar in the 60s, to electro-acoustic in the 70s with a wah wah pedal, fuzz box and echoplex, to the 80s which saw him playing electric guitar almost exclusively in a full band setting and the 90s which saw trip hop and funk enter his music.

There was no Hogwarts for John his guitar wizardry is self-taught; a truly progressive artist who has never been one to stay with a tried and trusted sound, preferring to explore, experiment and break new ground bringing new ideas, colours and textures to his music. His live performances are legendary and many of the songs on John's studio albums have evolved from exploring and pushing back accepted musical boundaries during these free and less structured live performances.

John is an incurable romantic who sings from his heart; no other artist sings with such commitment and emotion. People fall in and out of love listening to his magical songs of deep sensitivity. John’s music is a barometer of our emotional state, our well being can be measured by the songs we listen to; passion and spirituality are at the heart of them all and in the heart of the man himself.

John Martyn was born Ian David McGeachy on 11th September 1948 in Beechcroft Avenue, New Malden, Surrey, the only son of two light opera singers Thomas Paterson McGeachy and Beatrice Jewitt. John's parents separated when he was very young and his early childhood was spent being brought up by his father and grandmother in Glasgow. His grandmother instilled traditional Scottish values, "I was brought up with my grandmother and my father, I thought it was wonderful, I had a great time. The school was in walking distance and my grandmother being the old school kind of Victorian, she just treated me wonderfully." His father taught him "how to fish and fuck and ride a bike!"

Glasgow was renowned for its shipbuilding and engineering industries but by the 1950s the demand for merchant and navy ships had dwindled. The declining city was a far from attractive place, and on many winter nights a thick smog enveloped the city so tightly that you could often see little more than a few yards in front of you. The old stone tenements of the Gorbals that Oscar Marzaroli had captured in his evocative photographs were being demolished and replaced with high rise blocks. John recalls it was a tough environment where "you went out and kicked a few heads or you were looked on as a pansy."

John walked to school at the Shawlands Academy in Moss Side Road and later attended the Glasgow School of Art but was asked to leave after a couple of months! "I was thinking it was all going to be bohemian, listening to Rolling Stones records all day and smoke dope and drink coffee. That was going to be my life style and it didn't work out that way." His interest in music came from his parents but not just as a result of their profession, "my father was a bit of a raver... he had a Davey Graham record!" Davey Graham was to become one of the major influences on John’s music. I asked John about his childhood, "I was a cub scout!" He enthused. During the school holidays John stayed with his mother, "we had a houseboat on The Thames at Thames Ditton and then later opposite the Ship Hotel at Shepperton. The pub would be full of actors from the nearby film studios... a very strange bunch," he added chuckling to himself. John saved up money from a paper round to buy his first guitar and learnt to play at fifteen years old. Aged seventeen, he left school and started to play in some of the local folk clubs under the wing of Hamish Imlach, who encouraged him to play and introduced him to many different music genres. Imlach, who could see the ability and promise in John, was born in Calcutta. He was a warm, generous man and a singer and blues guitarist with a considerable reputation.

Davey Graham, a groundbreaking musician credited with blurring the boundaries of folk, blues and jazz, was one of John's first heroes, "he was the man who impressed me so much with his playing that I decided to go out and play myself. I had in fact heard him by 1965, and I was so impressed that I wanted to be Davey Graham or if I couldn't be Davey Graham, I wasn't going to be too far away from him. So I went out and bought a guitar."

John’s first gig was somewhat unexpected; "Josh McCrae got drunk in the pub and could not appear. So I was given the gig, because I was the only one in the audience who could play the guitar and sing. And about four months after that I played in a place called The Black Bull in Dollar, which is outside Stirling. I got eleven quid for it, that was wonderful." Clive Palmer, who owned Clive’s Incredible Folk Club in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, founded the Incredible String Band with Robin Williamson in the mid 1960s and became a good friend of John’s, "the best banjo player I ever heard and a lovely man." John and Clive shared a flat and frequented the music pubs and clubs, "Those were wild times, and Clive was a remarkable man, a great musician and down to earth, absolutely no bullshit, taught me lots of things to play." They subsequently lived in a dilapidated cottage in Cumbria, John recalls, "there was no electricity, no running water, but we played all day. You walked out the front and there was nothing. Just the moor. And a spring for your water. Fine days."

With a growing reputation on the club circuit in the North John decided it was time to move on and travelled to London. There was a booming and vibrant music scene with new clubs opening all the time, "I was dossing in London, sleeping in Trafalgar Square and getting moved on by the fuzz." He took the name John Martyn at the suggestion of his first agent Sandy Glennon. His new surname came from the makers of his favourite acoustic guitars; substituting the letter "i" for a "y" and the first name John for no other reason than it seemed plain and simple. John started playing in the clubs around London such as Les Cousins in Greek Street, Bunjie's and the Kingston Folk Barge. "I was playing a club called Folk Barge in Kingston, and a fat man called Theo Johnson came up to me and said, 'I will make you a star.' Literally, quite literally! Verbatim! And I said, 'Go ahead then,' and he took the record to Chris Blackwell, he made a demo disc of two songs, and introduced me, and there you are!" Les Cousins, John recalls, was "a real buzz, a wonderful place." Chris Blackwell, the son of a plantation owner, founded Island Records in Jamaica in 1959. The label took its name from the Alec Waugh novel Island In The Sun and early releases were by West Indian musicians, John reputably being the first white artist to sign to the label. Blackwell recalls, "I liked him and loved his voice so I signed him."

London Conversation (IMCD319) was released when John was just nineteen years old and a little over a year later his second album The Tumbler (IMCD320) followed. John and Beverley’s Stormbringer (IMCD317) and in particular the songs Would You Believe Me and The Ocean featured the introduction of John’s echoplex guitar technique which was to play a key role in his studio albums and concert performances in the 1970s. The Road to Ruin (IMCD318) released in November 1970 was to be John and Beverley’s last album together. John had disagreements with producer Joe Boyd of Witchseason Productions over the album and, because of the numerous overdubs, felt that the recording lacked spontaneity. Bless The Weather (IMCD321) followed in November 1971 after Island decided that John should revert to recording solo, "they didn't want to hear Beverley sing, which is a terrible thing, I still think they're extremely wrong." With a young family to look after this was a forced career break for Beverley. Bless The Weather was "very innocent, very beautiful and a pleasure to make." John's popularity and reputation was growing fast and he toured America supporting Free and Traffic.

John’s most well known album Solid Air (IMCD274) was released in February 1973. The title track was written for Nick Drake, a gentle introverted character who was struggling with depression. The song documents Nick’s mental turmoil and John’s empathy for his close friend. Sadly, Nick was to be found dead in his bedroom in his parents' house after apparently taking an overdose of antidepressant medication on 25th November 1974.

You've been painting it blue
You've been looking through solid air
You've been seeing it through
And you've been looking through solid air
Don't know what's going wrong in your mind
And I can tell you didn’t like what you find
When you’re moving through
Solid air solid air.

"We lived very close to each other. He lived in one part of Hampstead, and I lived just up the road. Erm, very quiet lad, extremely personal and charming when necessary, handsome to a devastating effe... Delicately witty, but he just became more and more withdrawn as time went by. He went to Paris and spent a lot of time there, he went to the country, he came and lived with me in various locations, and was just distinctly unhappy in al of them. I think he distrusted the world. He thought it didn’t quite live up to his expectations."

John’s voice was now integrated with his music more than ever, his slurred delivery being used as another instrument on the emotionally deep and powerful album. Solid Air has proved to be a timeless album and in 1998 five of the songs were used for the soundtrack to the BBC film Titanic Town. Set in Belfast in 1972 starring Julie Walters, as the politically naive Bernie, who is trying to bring up her family against a background of IRA shootings and homes, which are constantly raided by the army. John's emotive voice and lyrics make a telling contribution to a very disturbing and moving film. In 1999 readers of Q Magazine voted Solid Air as one of the best chill-out albums of all time. Despite the success of the album John was driven from within to move on musically. Consequently, Inside Out is a very different offering and a conscious effort by John to break free of and push back, yet further, the accepted musical boundaries of the time.

This new, rougher, tougher and vibrant experimental sound saw John steamrollering his way from folk to progressive rock and his live performances were the same, with a sound that was more akin to that of an orchestra than to one man with an acoustic guitar. "I don't think I would have done some of the stuff on Inside Out if I hadn't heard Karma [by Pharoah Sanders released in 1969]. The only reason I bought the Echoplex was to try and imitate Sanders' sustain on my guitar... I pursued the fuzz box and its various accompanying things just to try and get the sustain that you can get from a sax. I just really wanted infinite sustain at the press of a button. And I almost achieved it. And it sounded so sweet to me. And I knew that people would like to hear it because nothing like it was around. If it makes me feel good, I kind of have this touching faith that it's going to stay with somebody else." The Echoplex, invented by Les Paul, uses an infinite tape loop with a fixed record head and a movable playback head that allows John to achieve the desired delay and echo at a particular moment on the tape. By moving the playback head further away from the record head you can produce a longer delay. Nothing is erased from the loop of tape and John can then build up layer upon layer of sounds by playing between the delays.

By now John and Danny Thompson were inseparable both in the studio and on the stage, with inspired and legendary performances punctuated by their own brand of humour. John was producing the most extraordinary sounds from his acoustic guitar with the echoplex and the pair had an almost telepathic understanding. John said, "I'm trying to get freer and less structured and Danny's the only cat I've found so far who can follow. I tend to play lead and rhythm and bass all together because of my background of solo experience in folk clubs, and musicians seem to find that hard to get into. Danny does it like second nature and it's been a gas to work with him." He continued, "I think I'll always use Danny Thompson because he's got real feel for my music and I've got real feel for his." They were wild times, Danny recalls, "we had a fight in Hull, a real fight in a hotel and he had two black eyes and his thumb was in a bandage because I got hold of his thumb to get him because he does all these dirty tricks. He was shouting and screaming about doing the gig and so on. I had some superficial damage. So we came out on to the stage and he sat down with his Martin [guitar] and we hadn't said a word because we really had the needle with each other. I went up to the mic and said, 'Old Black Eyes is back!' And he just cracked up!"

This wild and free approach to life filters through all the songs resulting in a very personal, intense and deeply insightful album. Songs cover the whole spectrum of emotion, love, anger and pain. "With Inside Out I dived in completely and created with very intense surroundings. There was no distance, no self-consciousness. It’s probably the purest album I’ve made musically." Love was the underpinning theme illustrated perfectly by the exhilarating echoplex extravaganza Outside In, with soaring guitar and outstanding percussion from Remi Kabaka (who also played with Jim Capaldi and Ginger Baker’s Air Force).

Love... love... love... it's love...
Love... it is love...

Love... love...
It can't be no...
There can't be no mistake
It must, it must be love...

Is it love, is this love, love...
Is that love, that's love, love, love...
It must be, it has got to be

Kabaka’s African drums add a different dimension to Aint No Saint and Danny’s musicianship is outstanding throughout. John’s treatment of The Glory Of Love, originally released by Rudy Vallee in 1936 having been written by William J. "Billy" Hill and subsequently recorded by Dean Martin and Otis Redding is lighthearted, unlike the bleak imagery his whispering melancholic voice conjures on Ways To Cry.
John's stunning vocal outpouring of emotion on Make No Mistake is haunting and sung with such feeling that you can’t help but think he is singing of his personal failings. The same intensely personal writing is evident in Look In, "Look up! Look out! Look in! Look all about! Look everywhere but look at yourself."

If I can't be a happy man, I won't be no one at all
If I can't be just who I am, I won't let you come to call
I was all right before I walked through the door
I was all right outside, but inside I had to cry.

Low today and high tomorrow, I see that it's real
One man's meat's another man's sorrow, do you know how it feels
To be dead drunk on the floor
To get up and ask for more?
To be lying in the dark crying.

If I can't be a peaceful man, I will be who I can
If I can't get everything I want, I'll just get what I can
I was alright before I walked out the door
I was alright inside
But outside I had to look again, again, again...

A love
Love again
A love supreme, divine
Anyway that you want it to be
Love - Its love, its love
Love! Love! Love!
A love supreme, a love supreme
A love supreme, a love supreme

Make no mistake,
Make no mistake, its love
Make no mistake, its love
Make no mistake, its love…

Divine it's love, it's fine, its wine, its time, its love
Love! Love! Love...
Make no mistake, its love
Make no mistake, its love
Make no mistake, its love
It's love... It’s love... love...

John is accompanied by the irrepressible “Wing Commander” Danny Thompson on double bass (Victoria as he affectionately calls her) exploring the full acoustic range, from deep earthy to springy light notes with some tremendous bowing on Beverley. Live performances of both songs, along with Fine Lines and the traditional Eibhli Ghail Chiun Chearbhail (The Fair And Charming Eileen O'Carroll), are included on this release courtesy of the BBC from their Sounds Of The Seventies radio show presented by Bob Harris and first broadcast on 15th October 1973.

"The concept of love, which is what Inside Out is basically all about" closes with the jazz and blues infused So Much In Love With You, a particular favourite of mine, although I have many, John’s romancing guitar is filled out with Steve Winwood on keyboards, a breathtaking song that reaches deep inside the listener.

The second time I saw you
I knew you had to be the one for me
Now that you have got so deep inside me
That even a fool like me can see
That I'm so much in love with you baby
I just can't sleep without you near
I'm so much in love with you baby
I just can't seem to see it clear without you.

Well you move like I always knew you
When we let our bodies groove
When I hold you down gently baby
I've got nothing in the world to prove
'Cause I'm so much in love with you baby
I just can't seem to get it clear
I'm just so much in love with you baby
I can't seem to see it clear without you.

Getting very tired of crying
Though I'm laughing from the inside out
Need your easiness around me
Need you to tell me what it's all about
'Cause I'm so much in love with you baby
I just can't seem to see it clear
I'm just so much in love with you baby
I can't seem to make it here without you.

Inside Out is an intensely personal and expressively invigorating album, an exquisite flowing blend of vocals, guitar, keyboards, sax and drums. The provocative experimentation with echoplex and distortion effects contrasts greatly with his playing on Solid Air. As John said "It felt natural."

Love... love... love... love... tra la la... triddly dee dee

John Hillarby, September 2005