20 Aug 1990
[Before interviewing JM, Nicky Campbell played a Prince track (Graffiti Bridge) and then reported that John had said that he would really like to hear Prince and Miles Davis working together. He then played a B52s record and started the interview...]
NC: John Martyn, you're here!
JM: Yes indeed I am (very Scottish accent).
NC: That was a long flight, wasn't it?
JM: It was. Well, it didn't help - the normal hour's delay each end, the first one because of the late incoming of the previous aeroplane, and then of course that puts them an hour behind and then they lose the luggage... aah the usual. Airport stories.
NC: Yeah airport stories. You're nice and relaxed now though.
JM: Aah yeah (contented sigh sound)
NC: I know you're going to play us a couple of songs on the guitar, which I'm really looking forward to.
JM: Sure will (American accent)
NC: and living in Scotland?
JM: That's right, just outside Biggar, one of my favourite parts of the country.
NC: Beautiful, rugby playing country.
NC: You used to be a rugby player yourself.
JM: Oh absolutely. (both laugh)
NC: This is in the biog.
JM: This is true.
NC: What, forward was it?
JM: Yes, I played prop for a long while; and then flanker.
NC: But, a rugby player with such sensitivity, I mean ...
NC: No, no (both giggle)
JM: (still laughing) You haven't heard my version of 'Roll me over in the clover', have you?
NC: OK, we've got to categorise people but you, you ... over the years ... When did you make your first album, I don't know, early 70s, late 60s?
JM: 69's the first album.1
NC: Yep. Umm, within the limits of jazz, blues and folk and sort of guitar based stuff, you've had a very sort of chameleon-like existence.
NC: I know your latest incarnation - your latest album, (JM laughs) I've been playing tracks from it - you've sort of moved towards computers and stuff like that.
JM: That's right!
NC: A lot of people will find this anathema. A lot of die-hard John Martyn fans from those early smoke-filled rooms ... (JM laughs)... listening to Solid Air will find that rather strange.
JM: Well I don't know, I mean, I think it would be even stranger if they didn't expect me to move. I mean, one can't just do that sort of thing. I don't like formula music. I don't like the idea of catching a winning formula and just making it work for you. I think it's important to improve; and in my case, it's not, I mean I wouldn't always say it's a great improvement from album to album but it keeps my interest going. You know, if there's some other aspect I haven't covered and something for me to explore, it keeps me interested.
NC: Do you do all the old songs, the popular old songs, you know, like 'May You Never' and all those great songs in your set, your live set?
JM: Yeah, well, I kind of dash of some of the greatest hits (both laugh)
NC: Give the people what they want! Well let's hear the new single, and then you can sort of get yourself psyched up for a live performance.
JM: OK old bean!
NC: All right. This is the new single. It's called Deny This Love: John Martyn.
[Deny This Love is played, which sounds wonderful on headphones.]
NC: So we'll be seeing you on Top of the Pops then John, yeah?
JM: Oh undoubtedly (both laugh) already I've got my order in for the swimming pool. (NC laughs) The Ferrari arrives tomorrow. (NC laughs again)
NC: That's from the album, the brand new album, it's called Deny This Love, the single, the album is called The Apprentice. John Martyn, my special guest tonight, who's hustled and hassled down from a flight from Glasgow - or was it Edinburgh tonight?
JM: It was Glasgow as it happened.
NC: You were doing the Edinburgh Festival last week doing a couple of ...
JM: Yup, yup
NC: ... dates.2 What sort of stuff was it, 'John Martyn in cabaret'?
JM laughs: No it was John Martyn with computerised keyboards and drum machine in fact, oh and guest guitar player.
NC: Right, go down well, did it?
JM: Yeah, it was great, I really enjoyed it.
NC: Funnily enough Tom Robinson was in the other night talking about his forthcoming show. It's nice doing down here and talking about the Edinburgh Festival ...
JM: That's right.
NC: Amazing stuff there. So, the legendary bouts of wildness: are they over?
NC: Cos they, did the dissol...
JM: Grrr (puts on the John Wayne growl) I'M NOT REALLY SURE! (NC laughs)
NC: The way you're feeling tonight, possibly not.
JM: No no no, yeh, yeh, well, legendary bouts of wildness, they were never that legendary, I wasn't as wild ... I mean, I was quite tame by comparison with some of the people I toured with.
NC: What sort of things did they get up to then?
JM: Oh, the old tricks of, you know, the fire extinguisher in the lift and the, you know, the usual hotel-wrecking and the colour television out the seventeenth floor, what have you ...
NC: Did you ...?
JM: (mock innocent voice) No, I never, no, I never did any of that, (NC laughs) I merely witnessed it and roared with laughter (NC laughs and JM joins in)... No, occasionally I suggested it, you know, (still laughing) I thought when things were being ... but I've got far too much an instinct of self-preservation to get involved. I mean, the funny bit is when they get dragged off drunk by the police (both laugh), kicking and screaming 'Do you realise who I am, I'm the lead singer with Spinal Tap', or whatever, (puts on official sounding voice) 'Oh yeah, cuts no ice son, walk this way'.
NC: But you've got, I mean, getting that sort of drugs scene in the early seventies: now a lot of people who did get into the heavy drugs and stuff, and then created music, the music was dire as a result (JM laughs), but you made some wonderful music. Was it in spite of or because of?
JM: Um, I used drugs a long time ago ... um ... and I think, I think, I wouldn't have, I wouldn't have thought of half the things I did, if I hadn't been stoned on something or other at the time but, I mean, I could be deluding myself: perhaps if I'd drunk coffee all my life I'd have been a superstar! (NC laughs) Who knows? (both laugh)
NC: Right, can you do us a song?
JM: Yes, absolutely.
JM: To take the edge off the er (plays a chord) all the electric stuff, I'll er zap you a May You Never. Hippies of the world unite! Pin back your lug'oles!
[John does a wonderful acoustic version of May You Never.]
JM: Thank you fans.
[Some other music starts...]
NC: Music and conversation from John Martyn tonight live. More later. [...]
NC: My guest tonight, the suave, charming and debonair John Martyn.
JM: You missed out handsome! (both laugh)
NC: Now you've touched on jazz and folk and blues and rock throughout your career. An interesting stage in your career was when you actually moved to Jamaica?
NC: When was that and how long were you there for?
JM: That was ... Nineteen Seventy Three, I think.
JM: Seventy Three, Seventy Four, and I was there for eighteen months.
NC: Right at the sort of height of that creative period ...
JM: That's right. It was very sweet: I liked it. Umm ... I was kind of bored with music at the time and I was trying to think of something else to do and (laughing) the record company were obviously not keen on this and decided to ship me off and sort of rehabilitate me a little. So, I didn't play for a long time, I didn't play for about eight months. I just got bored with it. Funnily enough, you do actually get bored from time to time. And I think it was down to the influence of reggae and especially Scratch Perry that I got involved in playing again. Thank you Scratch.
NC: Did you get involved in playing reggae with the reggae musicians over there?
JM: Yes I did. I did a few sessions with Scratch and with a band called Burning Spear who were kind of very good.
NC: Must have been a remarkable atmosphere in the studios there, watching those musicians ...
JM: Yes, excellent: great fun, great fun.
NC: Yeah ...
JM: What I can remember of it (laughing)
NC: Was it like that: a bit sort of over the top, was it?
JM: Yeah, oh, well over the top but great fun, I mean really, just loads of rum and reefer.
NC: Yeah. You got paid OK did you?
JM: Oh no! No no no, you never got paid! You were offered ... at one point I was offered: would I like, was it a case of Tia Maria? Or was it Kahlua? - I can't remember: coffee liqueur anyway, umm, two blue movies or 500 counterfeit American dollars.
NC: So you went for the movies?
JM: No I went for the American dollars and sold them! (NC laughs and JM joins in). That's true. That's how I got paid. It was amazing. Yes. It's a wonderful, very strange kind of thing. It's great fun. Nothing in the world like it, I don't think.
NC: Moving on to 1990: The Apprentice album is something that what... How long did it take you to record then?
JM: Aha ... well, it had two, it had two bashes. Umm, the first one was unsuccessful. Island records didn't like it. Clive Banks didn't like the material.
NC: Is this on, I was going to say, is this on Island this one?
JM: No, it's not. No, it's on Permanent Records, my very own record label.
NC: Oh I see: a record Label owner...
JM: Exactly ... No no no, it's just it was formed for me. Umm, I don't own it: nor would I wish to ... umm (laughs) not with an A&R man like that! (NC laughs)... Where was I again? I've forgotten now.
NC: You were on the new album.
JM: Oh that's right. It took a long time to do. The first draft, as it were, was rejected by Island and I was kind of incensed with this and said 'Well, OK, I'm going to go off and do it on my own then.'
NC: Oh dear.
JM: So I did, a very expensive and costly and long-term business.
NC: Why were Island Records giving you such a hard time? You were the first white artist on Island ...
JM: I don't know.
NC: You gave them the best years of your life! (indignantly) (JM laughs)
JM: (in high pitched voice) and after all these years! (laughs) I don't know what happened. Chris wasn't around: Chris Blackwell - I've always liaised very closely with the old guard you know?
JM: ... and the new mob, who were kind of the vanguard of Polygram or Phonogram or whoever it is who bought the new ...
NC: Sharp suits and cell-phones?
JM: Yes and ... well not, actually no: the suits went out the window. It's 'cazh gear' (short for 'casual') (both laugh). Er, the suits don't exist. Very high level guys in WEA wear suits still. The Ertigans still wear suits but everyone else is into 'cazh gear'. Designers.
NC: I mean, you can't get on with these people: but you're compromising your art if you get on with these people, aren't you?
JM: That's what I thought. So I went off and did it myself. So there you are. Hee hee.
NC: This is an end result that is proving to be selling very well and this is a track that I know you like. It's called Income Town - a live track!
JM: Yup. (silence)
NC: (laughing) Yes, and we have confirmation it is a live track! Is it the only live track on the album?
JM: It is, yeah.
NC: Yeah. It's quite unusual that isn't it?
JM: Live at the Green Banana.
NC: Oh right.
NC: Income Town: John Martyn.
[Income Town plays']
NC: Yeah, we enjoyed that. That's Income Town from the album The Apprentice from John Martyn. John is here. Actually, Paul Williams and I, the producer of this show, we got all John's back catalogue out the BBC library and I plumped it in front of John - much to your horror in fact.
JM: (laughing) Yes, it looks - it's kind of depressing (NC laughs). I seem to have grown up somewhat.
NC: That's right. I know, I mean, someone like you does musically move forward. You know, it's a bit galling, I know, to have all the old stuff again and again but er ...
JM: (laughing) Oh no, it's flattering in a way ...
NC: By special dispensation of John Martyn, we're slightly...
[Break in the tape here, which ran out after 45 minutes of the show. Side two starts with 'Lonely Love' from Piece by Piece, which was NC's choice as his favourite John Martyn track.]
NC: Whatever John Martyn says, a beautiful song, from the album Piece By Piece, some back catalogue there. And he's with me tonight, a man once called one of music's best kept secrets?
JM: ha ha ... Well, (NC starts giggling in the background) I mean I wish somebody would start pushing it about a bit, you know what I mean (laughing). I don't know when I'm going to get this Ferrari.
NC: Yeah, why have you never had a hit single? All those albums, those cult albums, that huge following, (JM yawns a yeah) everyone's enormous respect that people in the business and without the business have for you. Never the hit single?
JM: I've only ever released, I think, four singles.
NC: Yeah, never striven for a hit single?
JM: No, I never, I've never written with that in mind. I suppose I should try once.
NC: Yeah. Could you do another song on the old ...
JM: The old wooden bit ... (strums)
NC: Are you going to do that song, um, (JM starts giggling in the background) Solid Air, by any chance? (both break into laughter)
JM: Oh you mean the one you were talking about earlier? (both laughing loudly). Yes, I'll rattle that off.
NC: Spontaneity! Or something. It's a song ...
JM: Rattle humbug ...
NC: It's a song I spent many um sleepy evenings to.
JM: Yes, as did I!
[JM starts playing Solid Air in perfect relaxed acoustic mode and laughs as he finishes.]
NC: Thoroughly enjoyable. Thank you very much. John Martyn, Solid Air there. Started as a folk musician didn't you?
NC: What were those other folk musicians like then? The traditional image of folk musicians: woolly jumpers and all the rest of it?
JM: What are they like?
JM: Or what kind of one was I? No I was a hippy folk musician.
NC: Oh a hippy folk musician.
JM: Yeah, (laughing). Yes, I was in the back of a Land Rover with a spliff, you know ...
NC: Hmm ...
JM: While the hairy ... There were a lot of hairy mountain jocks, all, you know, the half pint mug strapped to the thick leather (NC laughs) on the faded levis and the woolly jumper and of course the socks outside the boots ...
NC: Mmm hmm .. Did you ever mix and mingle with them?
JM: Oh yes I did! Yeah, I tell you there was a whole section of them, as I remember, who were all mountain climbers: Dougall Haston, Tom Peaty, and all these people. They've all fallen off mountains since. But they used to kind of stay up and drink whisky and sing mad folk songs till five o'clock in the morning, while I was lying in bed with a terrible hangover, you know, half past seven they'd be half-way up the Schh ... (NC laughs) ... unbelievable: great characters!
NC: Interesting world you've ... I mean reggae and folk and blues and all these different ... How would you categorise yourself ultimately?
JM: Ooohh, (breaks into song) 'A wandering minstrel I have things for heads, and patches of ballads, songs and snatches and dreamy lullabies'.
NC: I knew we'd get three songs from you eventually!
JM: (continuing singing) 'I'm out in my pyjamas ... ' I'm sorry ahem. There you go. Yeah. That's it, I'm a wandering minstrel, simple as that.
NC: A troubadour. (JM laughs) Listen ...
JM: What a terrible thing to call me (NC laughs too)(puts on pompous tone) 'A Troubadour'.
NC: All right, listen John, choose one of these, from your own album.
JM: Oooh hold on, what have we here? Right, here's a song that I wrote, Look At That Girl. I wrote for my daughter, who's just been on holiday with me. (calls out) 'Hello Vi, hope you got home safely!
Spencer, don't be upset, I'll write you a song next week.'
NC: How old's your daughter?
JM: My daughter is nineteen and she came with her brother who's fifteen, and I haven't yet written him a song. I'm quite sure it galls him now and again. 'It's coming, Spen, it's coming, son!'
NC: Thanks very much for coming in.
JM: (laughing) Thank you.
[Look At That Girl starts playing.]
1 Not quite. London Conversation surfaced 1967.
2 John played the Edinburgh Festival 14 and 15 August 1990. This places the interview at 20 August or a few days more. The Deny This Love single was also released that month.
Transcription by Bob Jacobs.
This is a transcript of an interview of John Martyn by Nicky Campbell on Radio 1 in 1990, shortly after the release of The Apprentice. I taped it from the radio and missed a bit in the middle but otherwise it's complete.
I've edited out some of the hesitations etc but tried to keep as close as possible to the mood of the original.