London, Hammersmith Odeon, 1 Nov 1981

7 Nov 1981
Melody Maker
Paul Colbert
Regeneration game
JOHN MARTYN, Hammersmith Odeon

"I'D LIKE to draw your attention to one ghastly fact… all the power in the building has just gone off."

Well… not the entire building, just the stage. The light show stayed on to expose the breakdown, flurried efforts to solve the problem and the strain on those involved in the rescue. Unconsciously it cast the same illumination as John Martyn.

Neatly besuited (but no tie), he was like a well trusted holiday courier, guiding his charges on trips into the darkness, shattered love affairs and low moments. The coach careers round another mountainous bend; hand at mouth you stare into the gulf under the wheels but never lose hope. He's made this outing dozens of times before, and he's always come back safe.

Though the whole night was an even sandwich of old and new songs, the setting was firmly 'Glorious Fool', true to the laconic Phil Collins production with a shade more Latin in the percussion. He was lucky enough to drag Max Middleton on stage for the keyboards and use him alone to hit the highest point of the night, a lonely version of Don't You Go – just Martyn's sorrowful vocals, a droning synth and a lightly stroked piano. Heart-rending, spellbinding, it silenced the Odeon to a man.

It's worrying the way he manages to squeeze out a desperate growl, head tilted at the mike, shoulders pitched forward, then snap back into jokey discussion with the band or audience. Emotion on tap, and a high head of water behind it.

By the end of the evening the easy cruising of Martyn and band was wearing just a little too smooth, and he acted smartly to encore with Solid Air in a sombre mood, revolving around a silky fretless bass solo from Alan Thomson.

Somewhere during the applause the power vanished. The band were on, off again, back a second time, consigned to the wings once more before finally getting the next encore third time round. Somewhere in the melée John Martyn told the audience not to 'panic', though he'd really been saying it all night. – PAUL COLBERT


This review was printed in Melody Maker of 7th November 1981; the concert took place 1 November. Photo provided by John Neil Munro.

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