I went to see John Martyn perform at Oxford New Theatre on 9th November 2008. Sadly, this was one of his last live performances as he passed away on 29th January the following year due to double pneumonia. He hadn’t been well for quite some time and the entire performance was given from a wheelchair, the result of the amputation in 2006 of his right leg, below the knee, due to a burst cyst. There is an excellent BBC documentary based around this period in Martyn’s life called ‘Johnny Too Bad’ which you can watch below should you be of a mind to:
The album that’s in the bag today is one I already owned on CD but is one of the few John Martyn vinyl records I own. It’s a used copy of ‘Grace & Danger’ that was recorded in ’79 and released in ’80. The only issue I have with this album is the inclusion of Phil Collins on backing vocals, because backing vocals should be just that, in the background, but the voice of Collins is too recognisable and, quite frankly, it annoys me that it is there. That having been said, this is another album full of great song writing and performances from Martyn. Despite occasional obvious 80’s production it’s an eminently listenable collection of songs that showcase so much of what Martyn was about. He was an honest performer who could make the listener feel the emotion that he transmitted, not in a cursory way, but deep down in the bones. Take ‘Hurt In Your Heart’ as an example, I find it to be a wonderfully emotional performance on the studio version, and live at the height of his powers, it was capable of causing the owners of the hardest hearts to suddenly have something in their eye, not a tear, of course not, probably an eyelash or something.
There are quite a few videos and suchlike in this post, but if you just watch one, then watch the one below, I just did, and damn, it gets me every time.
Looking back to it’s release in 1980, Angus MacKinnon of the NME wrapped up his album review as follows:
“It’s always been tempting to use the consistency and quiet, careful innovations of Martyn’s work as a stick with which to thrash at the monstrous dumbness of so much contemporary rock ‘n’ pop, but to do so is to render Martyn a disservice. ‘Grace & Danger’ is perfectly capable of recommending itself on its own considerable merits. It’s also the best album I’ve heard all year.”
That’s the thing about Martyn, he could have been Chris DeBurgh if he wanted to, but he always followed his own path, so often with extraordinary results. I would have no hesitation in stating that John Martyn is one of the greatest artists that this island has ever produced, though he never received the recognition he deserved, but I’m glad of that, because had he done so, then he may not have produced so perfect a body of work.
There will be more John Martyn here at some point. The guy was a genius.
Here is a video playlist of some of my favourite songs, performed live at various periods during his life.
Finally, here is a spotify playlist of my favourite songs: