Glasgow, Royal Concert Hall, 10 May 2004

11 May 2004
The Scotsman
Fiona Shepherd
John Martyn * * *

Bigger and gruffer than ever

JOHN Martyn, arguably Scotland's most respected singer-songwriter, has played the musical equivalent of steady darts throughout his career, while continuing to attract new fans to his understated brand of Celtic soul. Consequently, last night's audience represented a broad church, who were politely receptive to his support act, a mousey young minstrel called Eva Abraham, who has obviously heard a Joni Mitchell album or ten in her time.
Although not comfortable with the practice of inter song banter, her singing voice was sure footed and swelled with sweet clarity, even if her songs were rather soporific.

Martyn himself has always been something of a sleepy presence, but reassuring with it. His new album On the Cobbles, which features guest performances from Paul Weller and ex-Verve guitarist Nick McCabe is, barring a hoary Frankie Miller cover, a predictably mellow affair and his set was never going to be anything other than laid back.
Martyn is bigger and gruffer than ever. Following the amputation of his lower leg, he now has to guide himself to his seat using a massive staff. Otherwise little has changed. His spoken observations took the form of an extended slurred chuckle, his guitar playing was deft and warm and his voice was a comforting husky soulful growl, as always.

But admiring the elegant under-statement of the performance only worked for so long. After a while, this was replaced by a hankering for an element of surprise - an unexpected heavy metal lick perhaps, or a streaker overcome by the nonchalance of it all.
Sweet Little Mystery provided some soulful levity and an acoustic "greatest hits" interlude during the second half could not have come soon enough to brighten up his blues with some mesmeric melodies. Yet, knowing exactly what to expect seemed to take none of the shine off the show for his fans.

Fiona Shepherd