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Thursday, 29 January 2009

John Martyn OBE dies aged 60

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. "

One of the pioneering figures of the British singer / songwriter movement, the acclaimed singer, songwriter and guitar player was 60 years of age.

Born Ian David McGeachy in Surrey but spent many of his formative years in Scotland and spoke with a refined Scottish burr. He had very strong Irish connections, having married the late Annie Furlong (who had managed Windmill Lane Studios) in 1983. He spent much of his time over recent years in Ireland.

"While John isn't working, he enjoys the simple things of life," his website reveals, "like fishing, swimming and cooking. With his partner Theresa, John spent his time in Scotland and Kilkenny in Ireland. John and Theresa met in Dublin in 1998 and were inseparable ever since, with Theresa accompanying John on his recent tours."

To mark his 60th birthday, Island Records, which had been his artistic home for many years, released a 4 CD boxed set, entitled Ain't No Saint.

Also, in a move that would have caused a younger John Martyn no end of amusement, he was awarded an OBE in the 2009 Honours Lit. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC RAdio 2 Folk Awards.

"I really don't like being referred to as a folk artist." - John Martyn -Magnet

A statement on his website on Thursday said: "With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning."

With a recording history that stretches back to the late '60s, Martyn was prolific early in his career. Hesigned to Island Records, who released his debut album London Conversation in 1967. He went on to become a pioneer of the use of repeat echo and other effects on guitar, playing acoustic, often set to open tunings, and fed through a fuzzbox, an Echoplex and a phase shifter.

He met and fell in love with Beverly Kutner, and they married, collaborating on his albums Stormbringer! and Road To Ruin. The titles proved unintentionally prophetic. Martyn's personal life was hugely turbulent, with his relationship with Beverly finally coming apart towards the end of the 1970s.

In the meantime, he had made a breakthrough with the Solid Air album, the title track of which was a tribute to label mate and friend Nick Drake, who died suddenly in 1974 as as result of an overdose of anti-depressants.

on Nick Drake...

"I don't want to talk about Nick. It's creepy, ghoulish and strange; this lionisation is too late when you're dead. If they'd dug him enough then, he'd still be here now." - Classic Rock 6/00

A hugely accomplished musician, he introduced jazz stylings to his music and with One World, released in 1977, he embraced reggae, working with Lee "Scratch" Perry. The album was recorded outdoors and featured the inclusion of ambient sounds.

His own website recounts that when he finally split with Beverly, he "hit the self-destruct button". The album Grace and Danger documented his feelings of devastation and, difficult as it may be to listen to at times, it remains one of the great autobiographical statements about the sundering of a marriage and a relationship.

His website addresses the issue in very direct terms, quoting John: "I was in a dreadful emotional state over that record. I was hardly in control of my own actions. The reason they finally released it was because I freaked: 'Please get it out! I don't give a damn about how sad it makes you feel – it's what I'm about: the direct communication of emotion'. Grace and Danger was very cathartic, and it really hurt."

While he was out of the limelight in latter years, he continued to write and record, delivering songs of depth and substance in that unique John Martyn style.

"John was an extraordinary performer," Niall Stokes editor of Hot Press comments. "He was a soul singer, with a wonderful distinctive voice. He wrote great songs and in guitar terms he was an innovator. He was also a marvellous live performer, who achieved a kind of rapture when he was onstage. He had a turbulent and often difficult life, but as an artist he was the real deal. His contribution to contemporary music was immense. He will be greatly missed."




" BIG MUFF " - Homepage of the John Martyn Appreciation Society - complete discography and much more


John Martyn's nine lives - interview '08

* More articles HERE

John Martyn speaks about his Folk Award win, how he felt about the reception he got at the event, and the influences that have led to his enduring popularity.

BBC page about the documentary "ORIGINALS: JOHN MARTYN - JOHNNY TOO BAD"

John Martyn is one of Britain's originals; a musician whose distinctive, drawling vocals and virtuoso guitar playing have been an inspiration to household-name musicians for decades.

This intimate documentary follows John Martyn as he emerges from a near-fatal encounter with "a dark cow on a dark night", a "hangman's fracture", infected cysts... At the beginning of filming, he's recording a new album in his front room and facing an operation to have his right leg amputated below the knee. With extraordinary behind-the-scenes access, we spend time with him cooking, drinking, recording, trying on silly hats (and latterly his new prosthetic leg) as he makes the painful progress towards getting back on the road.

Along the way, we dip into the past to learn more about his career - from London's folk clubs in the 1960s, to his best-loved album Solid Air, to his continuing musical experimentation.

The programme includes extracts from the following performance archive:

  • May You Never (1973)
  • Couldn't Love You More with Danny Thompson (1977)
  • Outside In (1973) with Danny Thompson
  • Make No Mistake with Danny Thompson (1973)
  • Small Hours (1978)
  • Sweet Little Mystery with band (Alan Thomson, Danny Cummings & Max Middleton) & Phil Collins on drums (1981)
  • Hurt In Your Heart with band (Foster Patterson, Alan Thomson, Jeff Allen, Danny Cummings) from A Little Night Music (1981)
  • Johnny Too Bad with band (Foster Patterson, Alan Thomson, Jeff Allen & Danny Cummings) on A Little Night Music in 1981
  • Couldn't Love You More on Jock and Roll (1982)
  • Gun Money with band (Ronnie Leahy, Alan Thomson, Jeff Allen and Danny Cummings (1982)
  • Step it Up with band and backing singers (Emma Heywood, Ernestine Pearce, Jerry Underwood, Alan Thomson, Miles Bould, Spencer Cozens) on Later With Jools (1996)

Unless otherwise indicated the performances are taken from The Old Grey Whistle Test.

YOUTUBE " solid air " 1987