Over the past few days the BBC has shown a couple of tributes to the late great John Martyn. Firstly they reshowed the great documentary made in 2003/4 when John was recording what came to be the last album he released – On The Cobbles. Incidentally I think it a really great album reaching back to John’s acoustic roots within the group setting of his later work. If you are a John fan of any era I’d recommend you check it out if you haven’t done so.
Also the BBC reshowed an Old Grey Whistle Test solo set recorded in 1973 which was brilliant.
The final programme in this set was John Martyn at the BBC which was a selection of songs John had played live in some context for the BBC between the early 1970s up to his last appearance on Later with Jools Holland in 2004.
If you wanted a snapshot of this stunning songwriter and performer and to see his immense capacity to perform this had it. In an hour you are taken from solo performances for the Old Grey Whistle Test of May You Never, Small Hours etc. through duets with Danny Thompson again on Whistle Test into the band era with Phil Collins and on through his 90s band efforts right up to One For The Road off On the Cobbles.
I make no secret that bucking the fashionable trend I actually preferred John as the band leader esp. in the early 1980s and the few tracks taken from this period, including one with Max Middleton on keys were among the highlights for me. Another one of the great highlights was a reunion with Danny Thomson on bass for the Transatlantic Sessions in the late 1990s with them performing Solid Air.
So the programme started with a young John hunched over a Martin acoustic playing May You Never and having seen John in many guises including the SG and Les Paul wielding cool band leader on early Later with Jools Holland shows ended with an older, larger, greyer John hunched over … a Martin acoustic singing “One for the Road”. I’ll not linger on the irony of that given his health issues and untimely end that his alcoholism no doubt had a major part in.
RIP John. And thank you BBC for a great tribute. If you can spare the hour check it out here...