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John Martyn Special on Sunday Showcase, August 21, 5-7pm

Art Porebski's picture

Join Katherine and Art Porebski for this very special presentation of the music of John Martyn!


John Martyn

John Martyn, OBE (11 September 1948 – 29 January 2009), born as Iain David McGeachy, was a British singer-songwriter and guitarist. Over a 40-year career, he released 21 studio albums, working with artists such as Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, Paul Kossoff, Levon Helm, and Danny Thompson, among others. He was described by The London Times as "an electrifying guitarist and singer whose music blurred the boundaries between folk, jazz, rock and blues".

His professional musical career began when he was 17; a blend of blues and folk resulting in a unique style that made him a key figure in the London folk scene during the mid-1960s. He signed with Island Records in 1967 and released his first album, London Conversation, the following year.

This first album was soon followed by The Tumbler, which was moving towards jazz. By 1970 Martyn had developed a wholly original and idiosyncratic sound: acoustic guitar run through a fuzzbox, phase-shifter, and Echoplex. This sound was first apparent on Stormbringer in 1970, which featured Martyn's then wife, Beverley Kutner, as his collaborator. She also appeared on The Road to Ruin in 1970.

In 1973, Martyn released one of the defining British albums of the 1970s, Solid Air, the title song a tribute to the singer-songwriter Nick Drake, a close friend and recording label-mate, who in 1974 died suddenly from an overdose of antidepressants. On this album, as with the one that preceded it, Bless the Weather, Martyn collaborated with jazz bass player, Danny Thompson, with whom he proceeded to have a fruitful musical partnership which continued to his death. He also developed a new, slurred vocal style, the timbre of which resembled a tenor saxophone.

The 70’s saw additional album releases by John, including Inside Out, Sunday’s Child, and Live at Leeds.

After releasing Live at Leeds, Martyn took a sabbatical, including a visit to Jamaica, spending time with famous reggae producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry and sitting in on the Burning Spear recording session of Man in the Hills.

In 1977, he recorded One World, which led some commentators to describe Martyn as the 'Father of Trip-Hop'. It included tracks such as 'Small Hours' and Big Muff, a collaboration with Lee 'Scratch' Perry. One World was recorded outside, the microphones picked up late-night ambient sounds of the lake, including geese.

The end of the 70’s saw the breakup of John’s marriage to Beverley. The album Grace and Danger, released in 1980, reflected the hurt and melancholy of his breakup. In the late 80’s Martyn cited Grace and Danger as his favorite album, stating “probably the most specific piece of autobiography I’ve written. Some people keep diaries, I make records.”

The 80’s saw additional album releases including Glorious Fool, Well Kept Secret, the live album Philentropy, Sapphire, Piece by Piece and another live album, Foundations as well.

Martyn released The Apprentice in 1990, Cooltide in 1991, and Couldn’t Love You More in 1992. In 1993, John reunited with Phil Collins for No Little Boy which featured re-recorded versions of some of his classic tracks.

Additional 90’s album releases including a Live album and an album called And, saw Martyn drawing heavily on trip-hop textures, which continued on into his subsequent albums. In 1998 the much anticipated covers album The Church with One Bell was released.

In July 2006 the documentary Johnny Too Bad was screened by the BBC. The program documented the period surrounding the operation to amputate Martyn's right leg below the knee (the result of a burst cyst) and the writing and recording of On the Cobbles (2004), an album described by Peter Marsh on the BBC Music website as "the strongest, most consistent set he's come up with in years." Much of Cobbles was a revisiting of his acoustic-based sound.

On 4 February 2008, Martyn received the lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. The award was presented by his friend Phil Collins. The BBC website says of Martyn, "his heartfelt performances have either suggested or fully demonstrated an idiosyncratic genius." Eric Clapton was quoted as saying that Martyn was, "so far ahead of everything, it's almost inconceivable."

Martyn's last concerts were in November 2008.

Sadly, John Martyn passed away on January 29th, 2009, due to double pneumonia.

Prior to the time of his passing, he had been in the studio recording what was to be his last album, Heaven and Earth. This posthumous album was released in 2011 and during recording the album was provisionally entitled Willing To Work. Heaven and Earth is sort of a tribute album consisting of unfinished tracks that Martyn was working on at the time of his death in 2009, some of them bluesy, some reggae-inflected or jazzy, but all of them feeling with a powerful sense of space and an expansive approach to melody.

John Martyn was a legend in British music circles, a phenomenal guitarist and arranger whose influence has been acknowledged by everyone from Bob Marley and Eric Clapton to Brian Eno and the Edge, and whose approach to soundcraft helped lay the foundation for an entire generation of trip-hop artists and DJs.


Studio Albums

Other Albums

  • Live at Leeds (September 1975)
  • So Far So Good (1977)
  • The Electric John Martyn (1982)
  • Philentropy (November 1983) (live)
  • Foundations (October 1987)
  • BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert (1992)
  • Couldn't Love You More (October 1992)
  • No Little Boy (July 1993)
  • Sweet Little Mysteries: The Island Anthology (1994)
  • Live (1994)
  • Serendipity — An Introduction To John Martyn (1998)
  • Germany 1986 (2001; with Danny Thompson)
  • The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal 1986 (2001) (with Danny Thompson)
  • Live at the Town & Country Club, 1986; Collectors Series 2 (2001)
  • Live at the Bottom Line, New York, 1983; Collectors Series 3 (2001)
  • Live in Milan, 1979; Collectors Series 4 (2002)
  • Solid Air — Classics Re-visited (2002) (compilation of previously released tracks)
  • Live in Concert at the Cambridge Folk Festival BBC 1985 (2003)
  • Late Night John (2004)
  • In Session (live) (2006) (BBC sessions, recorded for John Peel and Bob Harris, between 1973 and 1978)
  • BBC Live in Concert (2007)
  • The Battle of Medway: 17 July 1973 (live) (2007)
  • Anthology (2007)
  • The Simmer Dim (2008)
  • The July Wakes (2008)
  • Ain't No Saint (2008) 40-year anthology
  • May You Never — The Very Best Of (2009)
  • The Island Years (September 2013) 18-disc box set