John Martyn dead at sixty

A short while ago I heard that John Martyn had died, first via Twitter, which must be a sign of the times, then in mobile call from my brother, Paul. I doubt John knew what Twitter was, or had much time for the web. My first thought was, ‘how sad’, the second: I’m amazed he lasted so long, given his ill health and the vast quantities of drugs and booze he consumed. The first time I met him, in 1976, he blasely snorted a line of smack in front of me and the other people in the dressing room. The last time, just before he started doing those ‘heritage album’ tours, he was in a bad way and a lot of the fire seemed to have gone. I listened to a couple of the Grace and Danger tour shows from last autumn and I’m sorry I didn’t go to one. I did see the official Grace and Danger tour, or, at least the tour he did not long after the album came out. He played Sheffield Lyceum, a lovely theatre that was then a complete wreck. It was unheated and the show only featured one song from the new album. Not one of his best gigs by any means, though I suppose that my enjoyment wasn’t helped by it coming at the end of a Peak District make or break holiday with my about-to-be-ex girlfriend (G and D is a devastating account of a break up, and the album had been delayed for years because the label manager – a friend of John and his wife Beverley – found it too upsetting). The Sheffield mayor was in the audience, assessing the venue rather than John, but this didn’t prevent John from lighting a large, pungent spliff in the middle of the set. Ah, the days when you were allowed to smoke at gigs…

I saw John umpteen times and met him twice. There are three things I wrote about John, including a 1978 interview, linked elsewhere on this site (the interview link is broken at the moment, so if you want to read about how he exploded when I told him about an article in the London Magazine analysing the lyrics of Nick Drake, whose death was then a recent memory, try here). He also makes a cameo appearance in my Glastonbury novel, ‘Festival.’ His music meant an awful lot to me in the mid to late 70’s and, unlike many of the people I listened to then and now respect but rarely listen to, I still play John’s music all the time. Not just ‘Solid Air’ and ‘Grace and Danger’, but ‘Stormbringer,’ ‘Bless the Weather’, ‘Sunday’s Child’, ‘One World’ and ‘Inside Out’ are masterpieces, I think. I’ve put together a playlist on Spotify featuring some of my favourites. (If you’re not on Spotify, a great free streaming service, have a free invite here). He was a difficult guy, but an authentic one, with a huge musical talent and appetites to match. ‘Rest in peace’ hardly seems the appropriate thing to say where he’s concerned. I can hear him shouting back: ‘no rest for the wicked’ and giving that loud, maniacal chortle… Goodbye, John.

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