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’:

STUART CASSELL has left the RED HOT CHILLI PIPERS

Founder and frontman of The Red Hot Chilli Pipers and the phenomenon of Bagrock, bagpipe rock-star Stuart Cassells (32) has left the band. After nearly 10 years since forming the band, Stuart has decided it is time to step down from Bagrocking stages to pursue his other goals and opportunities.

Always a natural showman, Stuart was the recipient of The BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2005 and was the first person to gain a degree in bagpipes from The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.He went on to record with rock group The Darkness for their second album ‘One Way Ticket to Hell and Back’ and for the Harry Potter film ‘Goblet of Fire’.

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Phil Collins commented on his piping: “I must say that I am one of those people who find the sound of Bagpipes exciting, invigorating and inspiring. So when Stuart’s CD starts there is an emotion, energy. This recurs time after time with memories of the early Who, believe it or not. His pipes are like the open string Rickenbacker of Pete Townshend. Not much between them”  Phil Collins

Despite achieving much success in traditional bagpipe competitions, Stuart got greater pleasure and satisfaction from entertaining with the bagpipes and soon found himself in great demand all over the world performing at a variety of functions and engagements. It was in 2002 whilst a student at the RSAMD, Stuart thought that there was a demand for a new, modern bagpipe group that could take the bagpipes to a wider audience by putting on show and taking the formality away from bagpipes.

For the last two years, Stuart has been suffering with the condition called ‘Focal Dystonia’ also known as Musicians’s or writer’s cramp. This has meant he has had to have various different treatments to allow him to perform to his high standard, including Botox injections into the arm. He is hoping his time away from performing will allow him to fully focus on recovering from focal dystonia and he can rejoin the band for a few special gigs in the future.

‘Focal Dystonia’ is a neurological movement disorder that affects about 1 in every 200 musicians and it prevents musicians from using the fine motor control required to play their instrument, resulting in cramps and abnormal postures. As well as musicians, the condition can also affect others who perform high precision hand movements such as surgeons and artists. Research is being carried out but at the moment there is no cure.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers have been ‘Rockin all over the World’ from New York to Beijing playing to huge festivals and packed venues. The band found fame after winning the BBC One Saturday Night television Talent show ‘When Will I be Famous’ and the band was named ‘Live Act of the Year’ at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2007 and 2010. Their four CDs, which Stuart co-produced, have sold over 250,000 copies combined.

Artist Web Link: www.redhotchillipipers.co.uk