The Man Upstairs

11 Sep 2007
Written by: 
John Hillarby

Melody, harmony, and rhythm; music is a deeply mysterious phenomena. Something to cherish, to be enjoyed from the inside out, to be looked after, absorbed and listened to over and over again. It makes us who we are. Music is part of our heritage like literature, art, architecture and our environment; it moulds us and forms us as human beings; our spirit and our soul. Or is it? At the risk of appearing far older than my 41 years young, modern trends in computer generated music make it a throw away item - a disposable commodity staggeringly inferior to traditionally crafted offerings.

Couldn't Love You More

If you kissed the sun right out of the sky for me
If you told me all the lies I might deserve
If you lay all night in the rain for me
Well, I couldn't love you more
Just couldn't love you more
I couldn't love you more.

If you loved me 'til my eyes got no more shine for you
If you walked beside me all the long way home
If you wasted all of your time on me
Well, I couldn't love you more
Just couldn't love you more
I couldn't love you more
Just couldn't love you more.

If you gave me all the things I'd never ask of you
If you showed me all the ways you have to cry
If you lay all night in the rain for me
I couldn't love you more
Just couldn't love you more
Just couldn't love you more.

Popularity is often manufactured and superficial, rarely original, innovative and long lasting. Will we still be listening after five years with the same fascination as before? Will we listen at all after ten, twenty or even thirty years? Has the artist left a totally unique footprint, like Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, George Gershwin and Charlie Parker? We will only see a few of these artists in our lifetimes. Their music is a reward to those who have bothered to awaken from the stupor of conventional 'wisdom' and taste. Although they rarely penetrate the filter of mass acceptance, their timeless music survives and will continue to survive long after they have gone.

John Martyn released his first album in 1967 and 40 years later is currently working on a new album provisionally entitled Willing To Work. Unlike many artists who choose to stay with a tried and trusted genre, John's music and guitar playing has constantly evolved from its folk roots in the late 60s to the present day, absorbing a multitude of music genres along the way. A truly progressive artist, who explores, experiments and embraces new ideas and yet retains his own unique style and identity.

As if to demonstrate the time defying quality of John's music, nearly 30 years after it was recorded his stunning performance on 17th March 1978 in the Audimax in Hamburg is available on DVD for the first time. The Audimax was designed by German Architect Bernhard Hermkes and built in 1958. John's performance was filmed for the world renowned German rock music TV show Rockpalast as was the influential American guitarist John Fahey who appeared on the same evening. Such was the demand to hear John play that two days before this performance he was in Paris to play at the Bus Palladium and two days later he played in Miami, USA supporting Eric Clapton on his Slowhand Tour.

"Welcome to the furniture auction, good evening tables and chairs." Quips John as he opens with One Day Without You, a mellow and almost languorous song with a gripping guitar riff adding weight and purpose and he then follows with the awe-inspiring echoplex extravaganza Outside In. John wrote Bless The Weather for his 1971 album of the same name after moving home from London to Old Town in Hastings, a sea side town on the South coast of England "where you just can't get away from the weather." The next four songs Certain Surprise, Big Muff, Couldn't Love You More and Small Hours are all taken from John's album One World, released 4 months before this recording. John took a sabbatical in 1976 and using all his savings he visited Jamaica. John formed what was to become a long friendship with Lee 'Scratch' Perry whose influence is there for all to hear on One World.

Small Hours

Going to get on up and fly away
Go on out for another way
And a new day's dawn
Going to carry on.

Keep on loving while your love is strong
Keep on loving 'til your love is gone away.

Well you're very lovely, going to take you home
They say you'll be my ruin
Cos I love you so
I just love you so.

Keep on loving 'til your love is gone
Keep on loving while your love is strong
All the way.

Rainford Hugh Perry aka 'Lee Scratch' was born on 20th March 1936 in Kendal, Jamaica. His inventive style and mixing board experimentation allowed him to overdub layers of sound effects and instrumentation on each recording track of a basic 4-track tape machine. With incredibly precise timing he made them sound like eight or more by mixing down several tracks onto one and then repeating the process, a similar principle to the echoplex already in use and well and truly mastered by John. It was Perry's successful and innovative experimentation that resulted in the creation of dub.

Perry had built a studio in his back yard, The Black Ark and worked with notable musicians including Bob Marley & the Wailers producing classic songs like Small Axe, Duppy Conqueror, 400 Years, and many others that changed the course of reggae as well as Max Romeo producing the hits I Chase The Devil and Three Blind Mice amongst others. Perry was able to spend as much time as he wanted on the music he produced resulting in his own unique sound using the most basic of equipment. Recording sessions at The Black Ark had a party atmosphere.

I asked John how he came to meet Perry: "Chris Blackwell took me to Scratch's house, he thought we should meet as we were using the same recording techniques, I was using echoplex and rhythm boxes and Scratch was into his dub thing. I loved working with Scratch, we recorded in his studio in the back yard, smoked and drank it was a great vibe and a cool place to hang out. I did sessions with every motherfucker and nobody told me that I'd done them! For years I heard records with a fuzz solo and a touch of phased echo and I would think, fuck me, that's me! It was very cool. The air was thick with ganja man," says John his voice shifting into Jamaican Patois, "Scratch would blow ganja onto the tapes as they rolled..."

Solid Air

You've been painting it blue,
You've been looking through solid air.
You've been seeing it through
And you've been living on solid air.
I don't know what's going on in your mind,
And I can tell you don't like what you find,
When you're living on
Solid air – solid air

I know you, I love you;
And I'll be your friend,
I could follow you - anywhere.
Even through solid air.

The opulent rolling love song Certain Surprise is followed by the Scratch inspired powerfully fierce Big Muff. Couldn't Love You More is a compelling ballad of unrequited love and is John at his most tender and intimate with the most precise and beautiful lyrics.

The stormy late night Small Hours is a blissful hypnotic fusion of John's hushed heartfelt vocals and waves of mesmerising rapturous echoplex guitar, a moment to cherish with brief but all meaning lyrics.

ZZZolid Air or 'Sausages' as Danny Thompson likes to call it, documents John's love and concern for his friend Nick Drake. Drake's gentle introverted character and struggle with depression was the inspiration for the title track to John's album Solid Air released in 1973. Despite all the love, friendship and continued efforts by John and wife Beverley, Drake became increasingly introverted and distant from those close to him. One of his most popular songs Northern Sky was inspired by the seaview from his bedroom at John's home in Cobourg Place, Hastings. Drake apparently took an overdose of antidepressant medication and was found dead in his bedroom at his parents' house on 25th November 1974, aged just 26.

"A very quiet lad, extremely personal and charming when necessary, handsome to a devastating effect... 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 all of them. I think he distrusted the world. He thought it didn't quite live up to his expectations."

The effervescent and refreshing May You Never is a happy and hopeful love song far from the despair and frustration in Solid Air. In just two songs John has vocalised the human emotional kaleidoscope.

May You Never

Oh please won't you, please won't you
Bear it in mind
Love is a lesson to learn in our time
And please won't you, please won't you
Bear it in mind for me.

The incredible instrumental of Seven Black Roses demonstrates John's deftness as a guitar virtuoso and with the sun in our hearts and smiles on our faces, John's rendition of Singin' In The Rain by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed brings the concert to a close. Unfortunately the original studio master tape of Singin' In The Rain is missing so a previously broadcast version has been used to bring you the concert in its entirety. The good news is that whilst going through the master tapes we unexpectedly stumbled across John performing I'd Rather Be The Devil.

Never superficial, always original and innovative John has an unrivalled ability to connect with an audience. Leaning back on his thrown, his face etched with emotion, his body swaying, rocking, wriggling and curling, the revered prince of folk-rock delivers a humble and uninhibited passion filled performance to his subjects...

John Hillarby

Related to: