Elliott Smith and John Martyn

I didn’t take to Elliott Smith’s music at first. I checked him out because reviews described the sort of act I normally like. I found the singles I bought a bit wimpy, lacking in substance. Then I saw him on the first night of Glastonbury 2000. He was following the highly touted (and hugely overrated) Badly Drawn Boy in the New Bands Tent. I was knocked out. He had a full band and a sound reminiscent of late period McCartney Beatles. A lot of the songs were about heartache and the meaninglessness of life. They were beautiful pop constructions whose beauty and zest offset the mournfulness of the lyrics. I bought his latest (and, as I’ve since discovered, best) album Figure Eight from a festival stall the next day.

Elliot Smith killed himself yesterday. He was 34, ten years older than Matthew Jay, who I also saw play that day, and who also took his own life earlier this month. I haven’t got anything to say about Smith’s death that I haven’t already said about Jay, below. Both of them appear in my novel about that year’s Glasto, ‘Festival’. After reading about Smith’s suicide, I superstitiously went to the John Martyn website to check on John’s health. He’s one of my favourite singer-songwriters. I’ve seen him many times since 1976 and did a long interview with him in ’78. I had to push to get him included in ‘Festival’, as he wasn’t terribly hip, but was able to convince my editor on the grounds that he’d appeared on a recent dance hit.

John’s had plenty of ups and downs, many of them chronicled in his songs. He had a car crash last year. In April this year, he had a leg amputated below the knee. He’s lost a lot of weight since then and, from a brief video clip I saw, seems to be in good spirits. He plays his first gigs since the operation on November the 7th and 8th, in Ireland.

Welcome back, John.

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