John Martyn 1948-2009

John Martyn

John Martyn 11th September 1948 – 29th January 2009

“With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning.” John Martyn website today.

I don’t want to know about evil, I only want to know about love…

And may you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold
May you never make your bed out in the cold.

I’m going away to leave you
Going to leave you in disgrace
Nothing in my favour
Got the wind in my face
I’m going home
Hey, hey, hey, over the hill

John’s album Solid Air was a 1970s landmark for me – and still sounds incredible today.  This is producer John Wood recalling the sessions that produced the album:

As with Bless the Weather tracks were recorded live with few overdubs, in around eight days. Many artists I have worked with since find it difficult to believe that an album of this musical stature and integration could have been made so quickly. Fortunately John was working with musicians who quickly understood the shape and form of his songs, not easy when you realise that John’s guitar would be in his own tunings which Rabbit and Danny then would have to transpose for their normal concert tunings.

It would be hard to overestimate the contribution of Danny Thompson to Solid Air, and his performance on the title track (‘Sausages’ as he and John used to refer to it) is some of the greatest bass playing I ever recorded. The rapport between John and Danny on this album precipitated their legendary live concert appearances.

The often undervalued keyboard work of John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick set up much of the mood and texture on the album. Rabbit, a Texan who arrived in Britain by way of being a sideman for Johnny Nash, along with Bob Marley was the perfect foil for the more traditional acoustic background of the other players.

No song took more than three or four takes, and John always insecure about his vocal performances, seemed to be much happier with these than on previous records… Throughout the sessions one title had eluded us. John had never been happy with the version of May You Never he had already recorded, finally with the album mixed John was still swithering about this previous version. At around 2.00 a.m. as a last resort, I suggested he go down into the studio with a guitar and just do it. He sat down at the back of the studio, recording it in one take, just a few hours before I was due to leave for New York.

For most people Solid Air is the benchmark John Martyn album, but I think John has always been ambivalent about it, and over the last twenty five years he has re-recorded most of the songs. So far he has never topped this, the 24 carat original.

Martyn received an Order of the British Empire in this month’s New Year’s Honours and the Lifetime Achievement Award in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards last February. Island Records celebrated his 60th birthday last September with the release of the box set, Ain’t No Saint.

May You Never OGWT [1973]

Solid Air with Danny Thompson Transatlantic Sessions [1998]

Hurt In Your Heart BBC Scotland with Phil Cunningham [2007]


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