London, Regent's Park, 4 Jul 1976

10 Jul 1976
New Musical Express
Rod McShane

John Martyn

IT WAS about November when John Martyn announced that he'd be taking a year off from live appearances in Britain.

It wasn't believable at the time; and this wasn't the first gig since the itchy-fingered Martyn's pronouncement. But the small steep-tiered Open theatre in the heart of Regent's Park on Sunday evening must be just about the ideal setting for Martyn's music.

Without his usual partner Danny Thompson Martyn still managed to fill the arena effortlessly, and after another afternoon of sub-tropical London weather, the capacity audience hardly needed to warm to the man. Somehow he imagery of much of his material gained further point floating on the balmy evening breeze, particularly 'Bless the Weather' and the encore favourite 'Singing in the Rain', the goin' home songs like 'Spencer the Rover' and 'Over the Hill', and the long electric pieces using the echoplex, fuzz, and wah-wah.

Martyn's stage manner easily slipped from balmy to barmy after the first couple of numbers, long crazy raps punctuating off-the-wall pairings of songs - 'One Day Without You' seguing into [] 'My Baby Girl', 'Make No Mistake' slipping into 'Bless the Weather'.

There was the usual repartee with the audience -requests, chats with early leavers, abuse of his roadie- and a continual stream of persons from the front rows ambled up on stage providing everything from lights to ale, and even at one point guitar strings!

The guitar playing was, as usual, immaculate, despite tuning problems and one tongue-in-cheek 'Angie'-style1 pyrotechnic solo2, which had him piddling about with his capo on chord changes.

Toward the end of the suite Martyn's breathy, scatty singing was increasingly impassioned, and the finale of the Skip James standard 'Rather Be The Devil' was in his own words extremely 'hot and nasty'. The audience demanded two, got one encore - a curse on the GLC Sunday curfews.

Rod McShane

1 Famous Davey Graham tune.
1 Seven Black Roses, also known as Spiders On The Strings, or 'The visual guitar solo'.