John Martyn has what is usually referred to as a 'cult following'. When he decided to distribute Live at Leeds from his home, he managed to sell 10.000 copies by mailorder, many of them to the United States.
He might also be considered as a 'musicians' musician'. One time John was being referred to as a 'cult musician's cult musician', which just about sums it up.
He didn't fill stadiums with crowds on a gig but on the other hand, he usually got an appreciative audience that knew what it came for, and listened to his music. The more intimate the venue, the more fun one usually got...
JM fans have undergone a process that became known as 'being Martynized' (a word coined by the late New York writer Glenn Franz). The typical John Martyn story goes through the following stages.
- In the late seventies | eighties I visited a concert | heard a record from a friend.
- I was very impressed with the band | the sound. Then I discovered it was a single person.
- I was blown away | mesmerised | hooked for life | I almost fell off the balcony.
- I have been looking for his records ever since | I own almost every single one of them.
- My girl | boy friend thinks I should play some other music for a change | In any record shop, I go straight for the 'M'.
- Does anybody have a copy of ...? | I would give my right arm | I would kill for a CD of...
If you recognize these symptoms, you've come to the right place. Start digging in these pages along with the other Johnkies...
Halfway through 1998, Voiceprint records started an 'Official John Martyn Fanclub'. Apart from being expensive (15 pounds) it was rather slow. Members were supposed to get a 'free' CD-single with a mediocre live track (Over The Rainbow) and a news letter that contained little news (which proved to be incorrect also). The second newsletter appeared May 1999, so about eight months late. Since then the club is defunct. Better stick around here...
Hillarby: "Nice shirt, John!"
John: "Thank you. It was made by Miquel Batista, he's my personal designer.
I gave him six months off, he is in the Philippines now leading a revolution."
(Reading, 3 June 2000)
Fans often wonder why John has never made it Big Time. This is a complicated question because on the one hand, John has been in fact fairly successful. His essential Island titles have been steadily reissued and most of this catalogue is still available, even after thirty years. Also Warner would never have given him a record deal if they had thought he were a bad investment.
On the other hand it is true that far too little people are aware of John's qualities. This is sad but also partly John's own fault, because he always refused to let himself be pigeonholed in categories the music industry can understand and handle. As soon as, for instance, it became clear that he could become as big as Cat Stevens, he immediately chose to do something to completely destroy this reputation. John wanted to be successful alright but only on his own terms.
To complicate things further, John's music usually is too good to be commercial but simultaneously, it sounds too good to pass for genuine 'underground'. Many musicians name him as a formative influence or source of inspiration, like The Verve, Faithless and Beth Orton. John Hillarby's list of covers indicates that a great deal of artists must have been familiar with his work, Eric Clapton and Doctor John included. Just imagine what could have happened if Big John had become a household name on a world scale... We would be able to compile something like the following
List Of Imaginary John Martyn Covers
What if John had become mainstream?
We would have seen
|The Easy Blues
|Man In The Station
|Sweet Little Mystery
|Johnny Too Bad
|Go Down Easy
Consider it a sign of John's quality that we can't come up with any Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey titles.