Celtic Connections review:
Grace & Danger: A Celebration of John Martyn, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
John Martyn didn't do the big musical flourish, trading instead in subtle shades of sentiment and atmosphere. How to deliver such understatement yet match the sense of occasion at Celtic Connections' hottest ticket was never fully resolved at this tribute concert to mark the tenth anniversary of Martyn's passing, where the performers served the songs with varying degrees of delicacy, while stopping short of handling the music with white gloves.
Grace & Danger: A Celebration of John Martyn, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****
This heartfelt celebration was curated and compered by Martyn's close friend and associate, the ace bassist Danny Thompson, "wearing the gear" (a kilt) for the occasion and helming a band of "the original chaps", among them keyboard player Foster Paterson, to back a handpicked array of vocalists, including a couple of upcoming artists, Katie Spencer and Rory Butler, he had discovered through an online John Martyn fan group, and singer/ guitarist John Smith who played with Martyn in his later years.1
Thompson somewhat disproved his contention that "if you really want to know the man, listen to the songs" by regaling the room with loving anecdotes of Martyn's preferred pastimes – drinking, fly-fishing and confronting racism (literally) head-on. But the effortlessly skilled bluesman Eric Bibb brought a velvety assurance to Solid Air and his second half blues for "brother John".2
Eddi Reader honoured Martyn's "exuberant" side with a reggae-tinged Dancing and a similarly carefree cocktail jazz rendition of A Certain Surprise, while Couldn't Love You More, as sweetly rendered by Lucy Rose, showcased his capacity for tender romance.
Ross Wilson, aka Blue Rose Code, took on the mellow warmth of blues rock mantra Bless the Weather and the dusky reverie of Fine Lines, backed delicately by a string section led by Greg Lawson and then rocked out Make No Mistake in the second half, while allowing space for Lawson's solo violin.
The energy shifted noticeably when Paul Weller walked on stage but, star credentials aside, he was there to pay homage to one of his favourite songwriters and the focus was entirely on his tasty choices of Don't Want to Know, with jazzy electric piano flourishes from Paterson, and a beautifully pitched duet version of Sweet Little Mystery with Rose.
Job done, it was left to Bibb to lay the groundwork for the finale with a touching One World before a massed May You Never was enhanced with 2500 backing vocalists and everyone on their feet for archive footage of the man himself singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. - Fiona Shepherd
This review was printed in The Scotsman of Tuesday 29 January 2019, and featured an archive picture of Paul Weller by Roberto Ricciuti.
1 John Smith was supporting act for John in 2004 and 2007. He also contributed the song Walk To The Water to the tribute CD Johnny Boy Would Love This.
2 Fiona refers to the song Going Down Slow. Eric was supposed to play The Easy Blues but had trouble with the word 'slave' in the text and came up with this alternative.