John Martyn Interview, 27.2.86, Hanley [part 1]

Rob O'Dempsey
Musin' Music Magazine #4
John Martyn Interview, 27.2.86, Hanley [part 1]

The interview took place February 27th 1986, Hanley, Victoria Hall and appeared in two issues, #4 en #5.

R: How does it feel looking back over your 20 year career?
JM: It doesn't feel like twenty, for a start, it feels more like seven or eight, it feels fine.

R: Your very much a survivor of the music business, do you still enjoy touring?
JM: Yeah, well. I've always enjoyed it. I find it very dull staying at home. It's a bug once you get it...!

R: You described the new album Piece By Piece as your best to date. Would you like to tell us about it?
JM: Basically it's a duo album, myself and Foster Paterson, although it doesn't sound like one. There's string and fretless bass on two tracks from Alan Thomson. Danny Cummings plays percussion on six tracks and Colin Tully plays sax and flute.

R: It continues the pattern of including one non-JM song on the album and this time it's one by Foster Paterson.
JM: I just like the song - I tell a lie - I don' t like the original song which was about a miner who was brought to the surface piece by piece. I though that was a bit tacky. So we just re-built it.

R: The whole album has a very smooth sound - FM radio for America?
JM: Yes, it's a bit more mature and sophisticated, What do you expect from a 37 year old man? It's not going to be raucous and punkish, hardly going to have the U2 feel about it. I think I'd rather have the word 'adult' used than smooth. It' s smooth, slick and sophisticated musically, but my idea of smooth is somebody like Barry Manilow.

R: Lonely Love is very much a pop song for you.
JM: It is, isn't it. Yeah, it' s also very much like some of the previous record stuff I did early in my career, like just about anything on The Tumbler. It's very flippant, very youthful, sort of coltish almost. Angeline is just a love song to my wife Annie and Serendipity is just a hymn to good luck.

R: John Wayne has been described as the magnum Opus of the album.
JM: I wouldn't say it was that. It's a bit schizoid and strange but I've grown to love it.

R: Is there an element of humour in it?
JM: Oh there is, certainly. I was really pissed off with an ex-manger of mine and I was sitting down writing these very vindictive I'll get ya, I'll get ya... then I realised what a self righteous little prick you sound like, this is really stupid. Who's the biggest self-righteous twit you can think of? And it was John Wayne, so I slid him in to confuse the thing in my own brain.

R: At Cambridge you gave a similar treatment to Lookin On which the little children were very disturbed by.
JM: I suppose they would be. It's very adult stuff, I actually like it that way. I think passionate music should be passionate, the music isn't for two year olds. I have actually been commissioned to write some songs for children, by Blackie Publishing. It's very difficult to do if you're a bit hairy arsed and rough round the edges like I am. It's difficult to consider what is suitable for children, the brief was to be educational and informative at the same time as being right to the music, and it's actually quite a challenge. You see, I don't really want a 'Postman Pat' is worth his hat, I don't want to do a Ralph McTell on it, it really bores me that kind of stuff. I'd like to write something that actually stood up in the way, 'The Little Prince' or 'Hans Christian Andersen' does for children, so there is the element of morality and there is a lesson to be learned as well as information to be gathered, that's what I find interesting about it, so that's actually one of my interesting projects. It will come out on cassette and be published in a book form. There are going to be twelve songs, I'm hoping to do three. I'm also working with Charlie Hayden this year, who's an out and out avant-garde bebop bass jazzer. He's about the best bass player I've ever heard. I'm also hoping to do an album with Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner, all of that's going to happen in America.

R: It sounds like a very unusual combination.
JM: I don't think so, no, I think me and Ry Cooder will get on famously. We' re both very rhythmic. I come from a slightly less ethnic based background than he does in terms of where I think the blues should be. I think we would be able to work out a lot of really good stuff. The Jazz thing is going to be very interesting because Hayden is famous for his Arabic scales, I'm pretty found of those as well. I explored them quite a lot on Inside Out, and I'd like to go back and explore them rather more thoroughly. I've probably agglomerated a few more bits of information that I could stash into the works...

In the same issue that appeared in Stafford and originally cost 50p, Rob made a few relevant remarks in the editorial section:
"JOHN MARTYN toured extensively in February with saxophonist Colin Tully alongside Fos Paterson & Alan Thomson & various drummers and receiving favourable reports from as far afield as Newcastle and Cheltenham... There wasn't enough room to include the full JM interview in this edition but the balance will hopefully appear in the next one and covers the Kossoff trilogy, Nick Drake, unreleased songs, production, mixes, session work, the conversation lasted an hour..."
And also: "Next issue of MUSIN' [] will probably appear in the autumn."

Part II indeed appeared in #5 and was titled 'Excerpt from an interview' but obviously not complete.

Edited parts of this story -mainly the questions and answers- were reprinted uncredited as so-called "Previously unpublished interview" in Lee Barry's Well Kept Secret fanzine, issue #4 (February 1998).

Photocopies kindly provided by Tim Deeks