1986 saw John Martyn celebrating twenty years as a performer, an occasion marked by the release of the worlds first commercially available compact disc single Angeline, a song taken from John's album Piece By Piece which was released the same year on the Island Records label. John Martyn is renowned as a live performer with a stage presence second to none, blisteringly powerful and seductively melodic live renditions of his songs have earned him respect and a place in the hearts of many fans.
We join John Martyn and band on 13th November 1986 at London's Town and Country Club. Never one to shy away from political comment, John dedicates his first song of the evening Mad Dog Days, a song about a domestic war zone, to Margaret Thatcher the then Prime Minister.
John performs five new songs Angeline and John Wayne from Piece By Piece and three unreleased songs The Apprentice, Deny This Love and Send Me One Line, which later appeared on his album The Apprentice in 1990. The Apprentice and Send Me One Line are at opposite ends of the emotional scale and showcase John's voice from a raw-edged and aggressive bear-like growl to a voice saturated with tenderness, aching and longing.
The Apprentice is performed with such rage and disbelief that the atmosphere becomes charged with frustration and bitterness.
Argh what's wrong with this world I'm in,
Tell me what's wrong what's wrong,
What's wrong with this world I'm in.
My eyes are so heavy,
They follow the water,
Down through the stream.
My children are sickly,
My heart feels so weary,
It must be some kind of dream.
I asked John what had inspired the song and he told me that during a visit to Cumbria he had met a guy in a pub who was in his late twenties. He was gaunt and his body was pained and withered. He told John that he was dying of cancer. John said, " He had been to all the Doctors but they couldn't find out what had caused the cancer, but he knew, he was convinced...." The man worked at the Sellafield nuclear plant and was convinced that his work was taking his life away from him. John has always been concerned with environmental issues and wrote the theme tune to a major series on the environment called Turning The Tide. The series was shown on Tyne Tees Television in the Autumn of 1986 and featured the environmentalist David Bellamy. The theme tune was loosely based on Don't Want To Know with a new musical arrangement and adapted lyrics.
Send Me One Line is a beautiful love song, which was inspired by the book 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. The book is the record of a love affair between a lady and a shop[keeper]. They never met but the affair lasted for twenty years and brought great happiness until one day the correspondence stopped when the bookseller unexpectedly died.
I feel that I have known you for a lifetime now,
Though these eyes of mine have never touched your face.
The distance between us seems so great sometimes.
How I need your love to fill that empty space..
John told me, "Jo Lustig rang me and asked me to write a song for the film. So I read the book and wrote the song, I think it's a nice little tune. I wrote the song and then forgot about it so it was too late to be used in the film!" The film was released in 1986 and starred Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft and Judi Dench. Send Me One Line and Angeline, a song John wrote for his wife, are sung with such affection and sensitivity that you almost feel as though you are intruding by listening.
The apocalyptic John Wayne literally exploded on to the scene and stunned audiences in John's live performances in 1986. This live version is as fierce and fiery as they come! Guitar riffs, power chords and crashing synthesisers whip this song into a frenzy with John ranting and raving. The magnificent Arran Ahmun on drums and Foster Paterson on keyboards bring the song to its climax. John wrote John Wayne about an ex-manager with whom he was far from happy, "I was sitting down, writing this song, thrashing away with a fuzz box, making these dreadful angry noises. Chickety ching, chickety wang! Whizzle. Halfway through all these sort of dreadful threatening lyrics, like: I am coming to get you, I'm breathing down your neck, I'll get you, you swine, the Spaniard who blighted my life and all that sort of stuff. And I suddenly saw the funny side of it and thought, wait a second, you sound like Rooster Cockburn being John Wayne. And once that idea got through to me, it was like... No, it's a kind of a satire of John Wayne....... It's a bit schizoid and strange but I've grown to love it."
In Deny This Love John's lyrics paint a desperate lonely portrait of a refugee from domestic violence walking the streets and battling with her emotions.
Her heart telling her...
Deny this love if you can,
Deny this love if you can.
The evening draws to a close with a heart on sleeve rendition of Arlen and Harburg's Over The Rainbow, ever the incurable romantic John introduces the song by saying "They're playing my tune" and proceeds to make the song his own as only he can...
Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me.
Away, across the chimney tops,
Where troubles melt like lemon drops:
That's where you'll find me.
John Martyn's music carries you away on an enchanted seductive wave of sentimentality into the star filled heavens and the next minute grabs you by the scruff of the neck and wrenches you back to earth to the harsh reality of everyday life.
Love and passion, pain and anger... John Martyn sings from his heart.