MARTIN STEPHENSON talks to folking about life, music and everything

Martin Stephenson

Martin Stephenson had his rather more than fifteen minutes of fame in the late eighties and early nineties. His first albums were critically applauded and sold well but then things changed. How did he get into music in the first place? Continue reading MARTIN STEPHENSON talks to folking about life, music and everything

BRIDGET ST JOHN – DANDELION ALBUMS AND BBC COLLECTION (CHERRY RED RECORDS CRCDMBOX 17)

BStJOften described as obscure yet she worked with John Martyn, Mike Oldfield, Kevin Ayers, and Mike Chapman, championed by John Peel (as the leading female singer-songwriter) and even Terry Wogan, during four well-received albums. And that was just in the 1970s. It’s interesting—and crucial regarding career—that Bridget St John was Dandelion Records first-ever signing and release, when folk’s second wave was rolling via Island in England and (Dandelion’s distributor) Elektra in USA. If Dandelion evolved around their first signing, hindsight and eclecticism suggest differently. The DJ said that “the main reason why we started the label was nobody else was going to record her stuff” – not Elektra, Island, or even the fledgling Apple?

Dandelion was a co-operative where artists had creative control, but when it folded in 1973 (“like a family break-up” St John recalled) the ethos was rare and tastes mutating. There was no Plan B. After John Peel’s death this has been accentuated by the sale of their publishing to a conglomerate, against Dandelion’s principles and a nightmare for those of its roster still active. (It would be even worse if Cherry Red Records didn’t exist.) These origins have put a particular spin on their careers, perhaps contributing to major labels’ lack of keenness and thus the obscurity tag.

Her first demo was made at Al Stewart’s home, thanks to her guitar mentor John Martyn. A boyfriend gave it to Peel at a gig, and within three weeks debuted on Night Ride in August ’68. That distant session is on this box-set at an almost-equally amazing budget price. The three LPs are on replica-label discs, plus singles, Montreux 1972, and a CD of (mostly wiped) BBC sessions 1968-1972. The latter was on a double some years ago, as was Montreux (on Thank You For…also from Cherry Red), but are here in context. It was this radio material, based on solid albums and gigging—like the Dandelion Euro tour sponsored by Polydor with Medicine Head, Beau and Kevin Coyne—that attracted a loyal following.

In a cover reminiscent of legendary folk labels—minimalist but evocative with her picture when a baby – Ask Me No Questions (1969) was produced by Peel in one ten-hour session at CBS Studios with Simon Stable on bongos, John Martyn and Richard Sanders on guitars. The seven-minute title track in doubled vocals of “Ask me no questions, tells me no lies”, with Peel ransacking the library for bird song and bells, is pure Dandelion and ’69. Still played live connecting her to the Dandelion people she says, it was one of the first tunings learned from Martyn. It opens with her recent debut single, the bass-string driven ‘To B Without A Hitch’ about France while enjoying “buttercup sandwiches”.  ‘Autumn Lullaby’ lilts through childhood memories of Richmond Park, ‘Curl Your Toes’ tells a by-the-fireside tale, ‘Barefoot And Hot Pavements’ about city wandering, and among the twin guitars one of her most beautiful songs, ‘Hello Again (Of Course)’. There’s even psych without the electricity, a plucking delight (‘The Curious Crystals Of Unusual Purity’). Appended from 45s are Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ and ‘The Road Was Lonely’, a hypnotic ballad with rare backing harmony.

Peel called her voice and songs “full of woods and hedgerows, startled deer and hedgehogs”, and the rustic imagery and free-wheeling acoustic dexterity is a timeless debut. Songs For The Gentle Man (1971) came from November-December sessions costing £2,000 at Sound Techniques, also used by Fairport Convention and Drake. Produced by Ron Geesin, fresh from Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, he contributed organ (for Martyn’s ‘Back To Stay’), Sanders returning on guitar, with a chamber ensemble including brass giving a lusher effect. Looking more like an Edwardian muse than a hippy in Kensington Gardens with the photographer’s hound on the gatefold, scenes are woven tapestry-like from another mansion room: ‘A Day A Way’ with jangly guitar/flute/oboe about a seaside day trip, subtle echo-reverb (‘Early Morning Song’), while Donovan’s ‘The Pebble And The Man’ sounds like her own. Absences of people and places, time shared or alone, but it’s not melancholy (the closer’s 40 seconds is about growing into the loved person). Politics are outside her remit but it’s her most confessional LP. Some were ready for her debut as they’re on her January 1969 radio session.

The third disc mirrors Cherry Red’s 2005 release of Thank You For… (July 1972) with a full April ’72 Swiss concert. Here reprised is the MCA 1973 A-side ‘Passing Thru’ (from Leonard Cohen’s own cover on his first live LP), produced by Mike Chapman but uncredited when he rescued its shambolic session. (She guests on his Deal Gone Down the next year.) The Beeb played it a couple of times then decided it was too depressing! With Jerry Boys for co-production, the folk-rock sports the impressive cast of Tim Renwick and Quiver, Andy Roberts (Liverpool Scene, Plainsong, uncredited Beatles sessions), Gordon Huntley (Matthews Southern Comfort), Pip Pyle, Dave Mattacks, Rick Kemp, Sanders, and Martyn. Hand-picked for each song, a spontaneous spark with very few overdubs shines through. ‘Nice’ was on Polydor b/w ‘Goodbaby Goodbye’ about a break-up “at the end of time”; ‘Every Day’ is Buddy Holly with a missing chord! The anti-lynching ‘Lazarus’ (still played with added guitar-thumping) is from early influence Buffy St. Marie’s Many A Mile, and a dreamier version of Dylan’s ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’. ‘Fly High’ should’ve charted with its big production, ironically about the music biz (“So please remember all you have and not what you might lose, it isn’t always easy but is better when you do”).

The Montreux concert with Sanders features live premieres of the album, introduced in fluent French, including a hypnotic ‘Fly High’, and a faster ‘Ask Me No Questions’. A visual example is on YouTube from French TV in May 1970. The 19-track BBC disc has an amusing/awful interview with Peel, covers of Martyn, sitar-style guitar Donovan, Joni Mitchell, unreleased songs, and a 1971 In Concert duet with the late Kevin Ayers from their unfinished children’s songs. Her 1970 B-side of his ‘Yep’ is oddly omitted. She contributed to his Shooting At The Moon (1970) with Mike Oldfield (she’s on his Ommadawn and Amarok), and The Unfairground (2007).

After Chrysalis stymied Jumble Queen 1974 (reissued by Beat Goes On), when a ‘Melody Maker’ poll that year rated her fifth best female singer (Maggie Bell was number 1, Shirley Bassey number 9), she emigrated to Greenwich Village where she lives today. From buttercup sandwiches to fast food, it seems a little ironical as she never saw herself in England’s folk scene. A rare recent glimpse is an interview/performance on the excellent TV station of Cherry Red who also released a 19-track sampler (2010, CDMRED440).

“I’m not a narrative songwriter, I don’t sit down to write stories, I just write feelings out,” getting “high off people, ideas and things”. Voice, instrument and lyric allow a place and air for later listening. It doesn’t date, a beguiling delivery of observation and experience tinged with her favourite autumn and nostalgia-driven Englishness swirls like labelmate Beau with a pinch of John Martyn and dash of Donovan. Narrowly missing fame, this is supplanted by cult status more suiting her low profile. This box-set brings dispatches from a more innocent age, when communication meant exactly that and not technology, a time not just to listen but hear. Once heard, never forgotten.

Brian R Banks

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‘Nice’ – The Old Grey Whistle Test.

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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Label website: http://www.secretrecordslimited.com

John Martyn with Dave Gilmour – ‘One World’:

Beverley Martyn: NEW ALBUM ANNOUNCED + TRACK STREAM

Beverley MartynBeverley Martyn started her musical career at just 16 with the jug band The Levee Breakers and recorded her first single “Babe I’m Leaving You” in 1965. In 1966 she was chosen to launch Deram Records and released a single, “Happy New Year” written by Randy Newman. She contributed to the Simon & Garfunkel album Bookends, toured America with the duo and later appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival on 16 June 1967.

In 1969 she met John Martyn, whom she later married. As a duo they issued two albums, Stormbringer! and The Road to Ruin. Although she was spending more time with her children, Beverley continued to contribute to John’s solo projects until the breakdown of their marriage.

At various times, Martyn has worked with Levon Helm, Jimmy Page, Dave Pegg, Richard Thompson, John Renbourn, Ralph McTell, Davy Graham, and Sandy Denny. She appeared in the photograph on the album sleeve of Bert Jansch’s 1965 album It Don’t Bother Me; where she can be seen lounging in the background.  In December 2013, Beverley appeared at the Royal Festival Hall as part of a celebration of Bert Jansch, alongside friends and contemporaries such as Donovan, Martin Carthy, Pentangle and Robert Plant. Her powerhouse performance of “” was described by Mojo as ‘sounding almost Janis Joplin-esque’.  A film of the event is due to be shown by the BBC in the spring.

In 2004, Fat Boy Slim sampled Beverley Martyn’s song “Primrose Hill” for the track “North West Three” which is on his album Palookaville. Beverley still performs the song live along with ‘Auntie Aviator’, also from The Road The Ruin.

April 2014 will see the release of her new album entitled The Phoenix and the Turtle. Described by Beverley as a very personal album, it features songs written throughout her entire career, from her very first song, “Sweet Joy”, to the previously unrecorded Nick Drake & Beverley Martyn song “Reckless Jane” which was started in 1974 when Drake lived nearby Beverley in Hampstead. “We started writing the song as a bit of a joke,” she says, “I couldn’t look at it for a long time after he died, but then finally I decided to finish it.”

“When The Levee Breaks’ and ‘Going To Germany’ are songs Beverley used to sing with The Levee Breakers. Another song, ‘Women And Malt Whiskey’ is, in part, about John Martyn and other friends from the scene back then.

The Phoenix and the Turtle is Beverley’s first album in fourteen years and was recorded in Wales with guitarist and producer Mark Pavey; it also features contributions from bass player Matt Malley, ex-Counting Crows and drummer Victor Bisetti, ex-Los Lobos which were recorded “by the magic of computer” in California. The album “still has that in-a-room feel,” said Beverley recently, “it sounds like an old style analogue record. It’s very me, very transatlantic.”

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John Martyn – The Island Years

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We’ve just heard that Universal Music have announced the definitive John Martyn box set covering his classic years with Island Records and that the scheduled release in September 2013. The Island Years which will be strictly limited is the most exhaustive career retrospective from one of Britain’s most original and enduring singer/songwriters.

Housed in an LP size hard-back slip case, this lavish box set contains 18 Discs including:

  • 17 CDs featuring John Martyn’s 12 key studio albums, recorded for Island between 1967 and 1987, including the two John and Beverley Martyn albums from 1970, plus Martyn’s original mail-order only album Live At Leeds. These discs include previously unreleased Out-Takes, unheard songs and 2 complete, previously unreleased live solo concerts from 1972 and 1977 and the complete demos for The Apprentice, the last album Martyn delivered to Island.
  • 1 DVD containing rare television performances from the Old Grey Whistle Test, Sight and Sound – In Concert, A Little Night Music and first time on DVD for the VHS release, Foundations.
  • A hard-back book featuring a new essay by The Island Years compiler and researcher John Hillarby plus rare and previously unseen photographs and extensive memorabilia.

There is a strong selection of previously unreleased alternative takes from Martyn’s career defining 70s albums Stormbringer, The Road To Ruin, Bless The Weather,  Solid Air, Inside Out,  Sunday’s Child and One World; plus there are extensive outtakes and a number of unreleased songs from Martyn’s 80’s Island releases: Grace And Danger, Sapphire and Piece By Piece.

The original demos of the 1987 album The Apprentice feature the unheard song ‘Lifeline’.  Another of the unheard songs, from the Grace And Danger sessions, is a cover of ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ by Tommy Tucker which was the first record that John ever bought. There is also an unreleased instrumental from these sessions and a further unreleased song, ‘Love In Your Life’ from Sapphire.

In total, the box set includes five complete discs of previously unreleased or first time on CD recordings and the equivalent of a further three discs of rare, live and unreleased studio
material spread across the 17 discs.

Previously released outtakes and recordings have been excluded in favour of never heard before material.

There are also two complete, superbly recorded, previously unavailable solo acoustic concerts. The first of these was recorded at The Hanging Lamp, Richmond, in May 1972; the second was recorded at The Town Hall, Sydney, Australia in August 1977 where John shared the bill with Bert Jansch.

Among the other live recordings, the box set will include the original Live at Leeds from 1975, Martyn’s Rock Goes To College performance at Stirling University in March 1981 and his Glastonbury performance from June 1986, both recorded for the BBC.

Among the BBC studio sessions, two previously unreleased tracks from John and Beverley Martyn from 1970 have been found, ‘Traffic Light Lady’ and ‘The Road to Ruin’.

The final disc includes over three hours of live footage. This includes John’s appearances on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973, 1978 and 1981, Sight And Sound In Concert, 1977 and a particularly stunning performance for BBC Bristol’s A Little Night Music in 1981. Plus, an expanded version of the Foundations VHS was recorded at London’s Town & Country Club in 1986.

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For further information, biography and annotated discography visit: www.johnmartyn.com

Kate Rusby releases New Album ‘20’ to Mark 20 Years of Music Making

Kate Rusby 20FEATURING COLLABORATIONS WITH THE CREAM OF ROCK, FOLK & BLUEGRASS ARTISTS INCLUDING PAUL WELLER, RICHARD THOMPSON, NIC JONES, DICK GAUGHAN, PHIL SELWAY, MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER, CHRIS THILE, EDDI READER AND MORE…

The Barnsley nightingale Kate Rusby has released a new album to celebrate 20 years of making music. Entitled ‘20’ the album features new recordings of Kate’s favourite songs from throughout her illustrious career.

From the trad folk of ‘Jolly Plough Boys’ and ‘Annan Waters’ from her solo debut ‘Hourglass’ (’98) to the seasonal beauty of ‘Home’ from her 2011 Christmas album ‘While Mortals Sleep’ via ‘Unquiet Grave’, ‘Sho Heen’ and ‘Wild Goose’ from her Mercury nominated ’99 album ‘Sleepless’, the title tracks from ‘Underneath The Stars’ (2004) and ‘Awkward Annie’ (2007) and many more, Kate dips into every corner of her catalogue to create a set that is a wonderful introduction for the uninitiated and a fabulous reinterpretation of her ‘greatest hits’ for the committed fan. In addition Kate has written and recorded a beautiful new song for this album called ‘Sun Grazers’, on which she duets with Paul Weller, who has never sounded in finer voice. Other collaborators on the album include folk giants Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Paul Brady and Dick Gaughan, Radiohead drummer Phil Selway, bluegrass upstarts Chris Thile and Sarah Jarosz, American folk & country singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eddi Reader and many more.

‘20’ has been released on the Rusby family’s Pure Records label via Island Records. For this release Island has resurrected the legendary ‘Island Pink’ label on which albums by Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Sandy Denny, and Richard & Linda Thompson were released during the 70s.

‘20’ is available on double CD and digital download from the folking store link below. The full tracklisting is:

DISC 1

1. Awkward Annie (feat. Chris Thile)

2. Unquiet Grave (feat. Aoife O’Donovan)

3. Sun Grazers (feat. Paul Weller)

4. The Lark (feat. Nic Jones)

5. Planets (feat. Sarah Jarosz)

6. Wandering Soul (feat. Eddi Reader & Dick Gaughan)

7. Who Will Sing me Lullabies (feat. Richard Thompson & Philip Selway)

8. Jolly Plough Boys (feat. Dick Gaughan)

9. Sho Heen (feat. Eddi Reader, Phillip Selway & Jerry Douglas)

10.Bitter Boy (feat. Damien O’Kane)

 

DISC 2

1. I Courted a Sailor (feat. Jim Causley)

2. Mocking Bird (feat. Sara Watkins)

3. The Good Man (feat. Joe Rusby & Jerry Douglas)

4. Annan Waters (feat. Bob Fox)

5. All God’s Angels (feat. Paul Brady)

6. Elfin Knight (feat. Dave Burland)

7. Wild Goose (feat. Stephen Fretwell)

8. Home (feat. Mary Chapin Carpenter)

9. Underneath the Stars (feat. Grimethorpe Colliery Band)

10.Bring me a Boat (feat. Declan O’Rourke)

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Words and music on all songs are by Kate Rusby except ‘Jolly Plough Boys’ and ‘Annan Waters’, which are traditional songs arranged by Kate, ‘The Good Man’ whose words are a combination of trad and Kate with the tune written by Kate, and ‘Bring Me A Boat’, which has lyrics by Kate and melody by Phil Cunningham.

Kate Rusby was born into a musical family in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Her parents had a ceilidh band which Kate and her sister Emma joined at a very early age. Kate’s musical world is still very much a family affair – her parents, along with Emma and her brother Joe manage her, run her label, record her albums and book her tours, while her husband Damien O’Kane co-produces her records and plays guitar in her band. Kate’s first album release was a collaboration with another young singer – ‘Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts’ (’95). She has since released 9 solo albums: ‘Hourglass’ (’98), ‘Sleepless’ (’99), ‘Little Lights’ (2001), ‘Underneath The Stars’ (2004), ‘The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly’ (2005), ‘Awkward Annie’ (2007), ‘Sweet Bells’ (2008), ‘Make The Light’ (2010), and ‘While Mortals Sleep’ (2011). She was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in ’99 and has won Folk singer of the year (2000), Best album (2000), Best song twice (2002 for “Who Will Sing Me Lullabies” and 2006 for “No Names”) and Best Live Act (2006) at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Proof that the cottage industry approach can pay off in the 21st century, Kate has quietly sold over a million records on the family-run independent label Pure Records and regularly plays sell-out tours around the country.