JOHN MARTYN – Remembering John Martyn (Secret SECDDO54)

RememberingJohnMartynIn spite of the title suggesting a tribute by admiring friends, this is a worthy addition to the ever-growing archive releases complementing near two dozen albums solo, with his wife, and famous guests. Usually associated with Island Records, where he was the first white solo artist signed in ’67, he also featured on WEA (for surprisingly his first Top 30 listing), independents for further exploration (even trip-hop textures), and limited editions as one of the first DIYers: Live At Leeds and Philentropy (1983) were sold from his home. With a swathe of BBC releases (several songs were used for their films resulting in a Lifetime Achievement Award), an Island four-CD live/ studio selection in 2008, and even an 18 CD box last year, there are few musical legacies so well served.

Secret Records have added Remembering John Martyn (1948-2009) to their impressive wide catalogue. Two non-chronological CDs from the career-fulcrum Live At Leeds in 1975 to 1993 feature Danny Thompson or full-band alongside Paul Kossoff, Dave Gilmour, Gerry Conway and Phil Collins complementing his raw or plaintive voice, percussive finger-plucking counterpoised by echo drift that transports to a misty isle. Outspoken, uncompromising, unpredictable (mid-career he busked—by choice—in Moscow near Kilmarnock), the troubadour who lived music on a daily basis tells his life across the decades.

Misperceived as Scottish with an accent hard as a Glaswegian rivet, Iain McGeachy was in fact from New Malden, a now rather bleak London suburb split by a fly-over near Hampton Court, just a couple of miles down the road from where Sandy Denny and Mumford were born. After his opera-singer parents split-up he listened to his mother’s Debussy, jazz, and Scottish folk records in Kingston during school holidays from Glasgow, then joined the long line of musicians graduating from art college. Taking up the guitar mid-teens, he was mentored by the protest folk singer Hamish Imlach then influenced by Davey Graham’s east-meets-west style and Clive Palmer of the Incredible String Band who lived nearby in their Scottish retreat (Martyn fondly recalled sharing a shed in Cumbria with Palmer).

Moving south he signed to Island for the mono London Conversations (1967) but soon surprised with the jazz-inflected, Al Stewart-produced The Tumbler (1968), the result of a single afternoon session at 200 quid. By 1970 his acoustic was rigged up to a fuzz-box, phase shifter and echoplex, premiered on Stormbringer! (with The Band’s Levon Helm and Mundi from The Mothers of Invention, written during downtime at Woodstock) and over -produced The Road To Ruin with his then wife Beverley, met when he did a session with the singer. The new sound (“I wanted to imitate Pharoah Sanders’ records”) placed the pioneer in a wider sphere though he retained fondness for traditional folk clubs. A zenith saw 1973’s Solid Air—its title track written for his friend, label-mate and equally haunted Nick Drake who died a year later—recorded with Fairport Convention. In 1999, Q magazine voted it one of the best-ever relaxation (“chill-out”) albums. Martyn’s vocals became an equally distinctive instrument, as electrifying as his wired-up guitar, for folk, blues, jazz, reggae, funk and rock in a unique style.

Hunched as if seeking to defy gravity, the intensity recalls Kevin Coyne, early Medicine Head or even Spacemen Three as well as bluesmen’s tales of woe and fleeting joy. Talk of national treasures, legends and stars is simply lazy misuse of language; reputation and longevity consists of quality writing allied to original delivery, and this one-man band of emotion fits well in that class. His lyrics flow between the sensual and satiric (‘Glorious Fool’ mocked Reagan; ‘John Wayne’ was a dig at an ex-manager) as fluently as from love and joy to pain. An intoxicating transmission of personal demons (drink, drugs, gambling, marital break-up) led to Island blocking Grace And Danger but he won them over because “It’s what I’m about: direct communication of emotion”. Likening his songs to diaries, it was cathartic though whether therapeutic one can only hope.

Disc one kicks off with a jazzy full-band and Gilmour for ‘Big Muff’, ‘Lookin’ On’ (highlighting his vocal range) and ‘Couldn’t Love You More’. An atmospheric ‘Fine Lines’ lilts into a 12-piece band’s ‘Head And Heart’ which would be Cohen if the latter had the range. The classic ‘Johnny Too Bad’ stomps, an echoplex-driven live band version (1986) of the cover he made his own. Soul-drenched ‘The Moment’ is one of two live in his adopted Glasgow, the title-track ‘Bless The Weather’ metaphors hard times reworked with keys in ’93. Live tracks from that decade feature the sole co-write with Pentangle’s Danny Thompson (‘Mad Dog Days’) and the moving ‘Ways To Cry’ during a period revisiting a rich catalogue. What the band format may lose in power compared to the solo trance wig-outs, it adds a varied atmospheric space for vocal and guitar nuance.

Disc two’s dozen are mostly with his brother-like Danny Thompson or as a trio with percussion (and more foot-tap for us) apart from ‘My Baby Girl’, from the Live At Leeds bonus issue featuring Free’s Paul Kossoff, ill-fated to die the next year. A fine cross-section from Kendal’s Brewery Arts Centre via Leeds to Germany: ‘One Day Without You’ and astonishing 18-minute ‘Outside In’ is Martyn at his spaciest, smokiest best. Neat taping spins into Skip James’ ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’; few could stretch this variant to the Solid Air bonus so hypnotically to eight minutes. Absence of solo work is made up for by this storming threesome. Solid Air is revisited (‘Over The Hill’; the jelly-rolling ‘Easy Blues’) while the closing popular traditionals ‘Spencer The Rover’ and ‘Black Man At Your Shoulder’ are a haunting return to his origins. No ‘May You Never’ or appropriately-titled ‘Glistening Glyndebourne’, but they’re often compiled anyway. With detailed track info and timings, this 135 minute visit to the rare and once-lost of one Beth Orton calls the Guv’nor is a must-have for fans as well as an excellent intro for the curious.

Brian R Banks

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John Martyn with Dave Gilmour – ‘One World’:

ROY HARPER – Songs Of Love And Loss – SALVO SALVOCDC222

Roy Harper is seventy and living in semi-retirement as far as making new music is concerned. He has, however, been preparing to make his complete catalogue available as digital downloads for the first time beginning with this double set which is also released on CD.

These are, as the title suggests, love songs so there are none of the long musical excursions that Roy is also noted for. Thinking of a song like ‘I Hate The White Man’ it’s easy to pigeon-hole Roy as a political song-writer but that’s not really the way he is. Certainly he has strong views and principles that have made for edgy relationships with record companies. He is firmly opposed to organised religion of any kind but his thoughts on the existence of a deity are more complicated than the simplistic “God is dead”. Most of his songs are about people, family and lovers, and England in all its beauty and ugliness. Included in this set is ‘South Africa’ which could be an ode to a country imprisoned by apartheid or a metaphor for a woman of whom he says “We have never met each other but it can’t be long”. That’s the beauty of Roy Harper: you can analyse his lyrics fruitlessly for hours.

This album includes some of Roy’s perennial favourites: ‘Francesca’, ‘Commune’, ‘Another Day’ and ‘North Country’ amongst them but there are songs from later, perhaps lesser-known albums: songs like ‘Sleeping At The Wheel’, ‘On Summer Day’ and ‘Waiting For Godot’. The quality of the remixing/remastering is astonishing. Even listening in the car I swear I can hear things I’ve never heard before. The tracks drawn from Valentine are gorgeous with David Bedford’s orchestrations soaring and leaping from the speakers. Most of my Harper albums are on vinyl and although I’d never part with them I’m seriously considering supplementing them with new digital versions. Dai Jeffries

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ROY HARPER – ‘SONGS OF LOVE AND LOSS’

Few survivors from the golden age of British folk-rock have kept their reputations intact. Of the generation of troubadours who came of age in the folk clubs of Londonin the mid-1960s, there is one figure whose body of work, comprising 23 studio LPs and almost as many live and compilation releases, has come to stand for a particularly single-minded form of integrity. That man is Roy Harper.

On September 19th Union Square Music/Salvo Records releases the physical version of the 2CD set ‘Songs of Love and Loss’ Volumes 1 & 2 – 23 songs of raw, uncompromising honesty and emotion spanning Harper’s work from 1966 to 1992. One of the most innovative song writers to come out of the mid 60’s folk boom, ‘Songs of Love and Loss’ displays his remarkable array of styles, from the early folk finger pickings of Black Clouds and mysterious All You Need Is, to the bluesy ‘Little Lady’, the resonating ‘Frozen Moment’ and the lamenting ‘Another Day’.

Now officially ‘retired’, and living in a secluded corner of Ireland, Harper has recently been hailed as a key influence by a much younger generation of devoted starsailors who instinctively recognise his innovations, his refusal to compromise and his visionary world view. The likes of Fleet Foxes, Joanna Newsom and Jim O’Rourke are avowed fans; and in previous decades he has enjoyed public endorsements and tributes from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Kate Bush, Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour and many more.

Born in 1941 near Manchester, he was raised by a father and Jehovah’s Witness stepmother (his mother died when he was a baby) and developed an early aversion to dogma and organized religion. Running away he joined the Royal Air Force as a teenager, but didn’t take too well to their rules and regulations. Leaving wasn’t so easy as running away from home, however, and Harper opted to plead insanity to get his release. Part of the discharge deal meant he had to undergo unpleasant ECT treatment at a mental hospital. Harper later drifted throughout Europe, and by 1965 was a mainstay of London’s Les Cousins folk club, performing alongside the likes of Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Nick Drake.

In 1966 the tiny indie label Strike issued Harper’s debut LP, The Sophisticated Beggar; the record brought him to the attention of Columbia, which released his sophomore effort, Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith, the following year. In 1968, Harper mounted a series of free concerts in London’s Hyde Park, which greatly expanded his fan base in preparation for the release of 1969’s Folkjokeopus, which included “McGoohan’s Blues,” the first of his many extended compositions.

After meeting Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner, Harper was signed to EMI’s Harvest subsidiary, and in 1970 he issued Flat Baroque and Berserk, recorded with contributions from members of the Nice; that same year marked the appearance of Led Zeppelin III and its track “Hats Off to Harper,” a tribute penned by longtime friend Jimmy Page. Upon relocating to the Big Sur area of California, Harper began writing 1971’s Stormcock, regarded by many as his finest record; the following year he starred in the film Made, releasing the music he composed for the picture’s soundtrack in 1973 under the title Lifemask.

Valentine, a collection of love songs, appeared in 1974, and was quickly followed by the live album Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion, featuring appearances by Page, Keith Moon, Ronnie Lane, and Ian Anderson. In 1975, Harper formed Trigger, a backing group including guitarist Chris Spedding and drummer Bill Bruford; however, after releasing just one LP, HQ, the unit disbanded. In 1975 Harper also took lead vocals on “Have a Cigar,” a track on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

Harper rode the unsteady waves of the music industry during the 1980s but kept up a productive output and in 1994, he set up his own record label, Science Friction, to curate and re-release his entire back catalogue, along with a clutch of CDs of live and unreleased material covering his entire career. In his book, The Passions Of Great Fortune (2003), he published his complete lyrics together with photos, annotations and re-evaluations of every one of his songs. In 2005, old pal Jimmy Page presented him with the prestigious Mojo magazine Hero Award.

2011 will see a great deal of Roy Harper activity; Roy celebrates his 70th birthday, ITV Home Studios are to release a live concert DVD newly recorded at Metropolis studios and Roy will also play a sell-out gig at the Royal Festival Hall. Along with the reissue of a number of his original albums in digital form, Roy Harper’s incredible, visionary catalogue of work enters the digital domain in time for his music to take on a new, urgent and timely appeal, in an age in which the hypocrisies and injustices he railed against are more present than ever before. It’s been a damned good innings and he’s still not out.

Track listing sequence:

Volume 1

1.Black Clouds
2. Girlie
3. All You Need Is
4. Francesca
5. East Of The Sun
6. Little Lady
7. North Country
8. I’ll See You Again
9. Naked Flame
10. Commune
11. Frozen Moment

Volume 2

1. Davey
2. Another Day
3. South Africa
4. Hallucinating Light
5. Sleeping At The Wheel
6. Waiting For Godot
7. The Flycatcher
8. On Summer Day
9. Cherishing The Lonesome
10. My Friend
11. One More Tomorrow
12. Forever

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Artist Web Link: http://www.royharper.co.uk/