Friday, January 30, 2009

John Martyn - "Every Bird that Sings is Born to Fly"

One Day Without You
I was saddened to hear of John's passing yesterday - but even then the thought of him brought a smile and "for-the-life-of-god!" shake of the head. I was glad to know he'd made it this far and hope he was content with his legacy; he certainly he lived wild and hard and brought some great music into the world.

I first saw John Martyn perform at the Troubadour in LA back in the 70's. My friend Alan and I had come to see the featured act -Incredible String Band - whom we had long admired and seen previous but they were in the midst of personnel and style change; Martyn however was an unexpected delight and, for me, a life-changing influence.
May You Never

It was the perfect intimate venue for him to play, accompanied by only his (predominately) acoustic guitar and warm smokey voice. It took about 20 minutes to comprehend what he was singing about, and chattering on exuberantly about through the thick lilt of a Glaswegian accent. The paradox of him was that most of his songs were unchecked soulful and emotional outpourings, in that sense very much like Van Morrison, and his music layered with gorgeous altered minor ninth chords and lovely intricacies but his in-between chatter was hilarious, self-deprecating, and bubbled forth with spontaneity. I think most of us were savvy enough to know exactly what he was singing about whether or not a few decipherable words swam their way to the surface.

A live rendition of You Can Discover on John Peel's BBC show. One of my favorites in the sweet melancholy twilight that John dished out.
Here another later live, less nuanced, version of the same tune but entered here for a taste of John's between-song rambles.
John would often cap off a set encore with one of these snippets of classic old-time American popular song:
Singin in the Rain
and Glory of Love

Though his major influences were recognizable - Davy Graham, and Skip James amongst others - John had a unique guitar style. He had a popping, slapping/dampening technique that he would often lay down on beats 2 and 4 that gave his tunes a jazz-like lift. He chose a variety of tunings but never played with the droney cliches many oft settle for but he also equally held forth expressively in standard tuning - it was all about the song.
One more I always loved - live with Danny Thompson;
Sweet little Mystery

Whenever and wherever I went out to see him I managed to say hello and he always had a humble but eager thanks to offer in return. He is still transmitting through the ether!

The following clip has John paired together with his friend and collaborator, the double-bassist Danny Thompson. The two were, seemingly, not always the models of sobriety; once they dared one another to do a concert set in the buff and followed through. Another tale of the road has Thompson, after a night of inebriation, nailing a hotel rug over Martyn while he snoozed oblivious on the floor. I'm sure John awakened thinking he was either buried alive or had finally met his Judgement.

John, we Couldn't Love You More

I can't resist one more simple favorite, as a goodbye. I like to blow some floating tenor sax lines over this one....
All For the Love of You