Don't call it folk! John Martyn is 46, but he's not too old to kick up a stink if you dare lump him in with the finger-in-ear brigade. Paul Tingen dons his profanity-proof sou'ester to meet Britain's most eccentric and unique guitar stylist.
Jazz, blues, funk, soul, rock - or none of the above? As always, the music of John Martyn denies simple categorisation... Interview by Rick Batey.
John Martyn is looking positively perky. This is probably not unconnected with the fact that a three-year struggle to get his twentieth album off the ground has finally come to an end. The Apprentice is released in April*) on a brand-new label, Permanent Records...
John Perry discusses guitar tricks unique to John Martyn - as revealed by the man himself
Lanarkshire is hard country. Grey little granite houses huddle on the lee side of countless steep hills, and fast running burns rush down to join the headwaters of the River Clyde. Wind-swept sheep populate the fields and peat bogs, seemingly oblivious to the roaring air.
All in all it is tough country, and as such it's admirably suited to accommodate a man who has survived more than 21 years in a business which has found a dozen ways to kill off, stultify or suppress many of its greatest talents.
As a guitarist, Glasgow-born John Martyn is undeniably one of the finest in Britain. As a guitar innovator, he's one of the very few. Having embarked on a recording career at the ripe old age of eighteen (with London Conversation), he's since recorded seven albums in as many years (including Stormbringer! [Island, ILPS 9113], with his wife, Beverley), the latest of which, Sunday's Child [Island, ILPS 9296], was released last December.
Probably the most decisive influence on developing acoustic guitarists on the folk scene these days is a young Glaswegian who hasn't played the folk circuit himself for many months. But although John Martyn is now established quite firmly as an electric rock player, his style and his unique approach to the acoustic guitar have spawned a whole generation of imitators. It is virtually impossible to spend an evening in any but the most traditionally-oriented clubs without seeing at least one guitarist trying to achieve the rhythmic pungency and explosive dynamics which are the Martyn trademarks. And though John's career has led him away from the clubs, his spirit is as dominant now as that of, say, Bert Jansch or Davy Graham in the late sixties.