John Martyn has just finished his second tour of Australia.1 He says he'd like to do many more. In fact he'd like to tour more often and give up recording. He's back in England now, finishing off an album with British jazz-man Neil Ardley, and beginning work on his new set. The Ardley album, The Harmony Of The Spheres, is, says Martyn, "very jazzing... maybe a little bit straighter than Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows. Not much straighter. In fact it might even be further out - it depends what you're into."
Marten is a bit of a larrikin, befitting his Glasgow background. He enjoys fast, hard living. He enjoys a joke. Life's a bit of a laugh. But not always. When he gets down, like he did when his good friend, Nick Drake, died, he writes songs. In that case it was Solid Air. About this writing process, he says: "What you do is try and exorcise something, especially with the down ones. You are exorcising something that's going on in your head. I always feel a whole lot better afterwards. It's a cathartic thing. The whole reason for singing that down shit is to get rid of it. In fact, the whole business of singing is very selfish, if you're doing it seriously. If it's pop music, it ain't selfish because it just doesn't mean anything. It's disposable. Singles are like a box of Kleenex. You pick one up, wipe your face with it and go for another one."
Before Martyn came to Australia for his series of concerts, he had toured the United States, first with Eric Clapton and then by himself. He found both tours very, very different. "I thought the people who would come and see Clapton would have been into him for a long time. However, it turned out that they were 17-year-olds who were turned on by Lay Down Sally (Clapton's top 10 US single), so it was a kind of Status Quo audience. It was really hard because they insisted on me going on at 8 o'clock all the time, when the place is about one eighth full with just guys selling bad grass and lousy speed. Canada was very good and the southern States were terrific."
Not so the eastern seaboard. His most negative response was had in New York. "I died a complete death and ended up giving them the finger. It was one of the most exciting things that happened all week." Martyn says he doesn't really appreciate what he calls "white punks" coming to his show. "The average 17-year-old white punk doesn't know what the fuck's going on. I mean he doesn't know a solo from a kick in the arse. I got frustrated with a lot of the crowds. They wouldn't know good music if it bit them. As long as there's a back beat there. They're just into rock'n'roll."
He reflects back to when he was a 17-year-old white punk and agrees that he was doing the same thing, "I'd groove to Chuck Berry and Howlin' Wolf and pull chicks at Cream concerts. I mean, it's great. It's better than them hanging out on the streets getting screwed up." The audiences he does enjoy at his shows are black audiences. They don't sit and listen. They get up and dance. "Given the right mood, I'd dance to the clock."
Before he flits off, he's dragged back to talk about his music and how's it's progressed. He's not keen. He doesn't like to analyse such things. "It's moment to moment. It's really instinctive. I mean, I try and live my life that way. I do try and live it as much as possible off the top. So any musical changes that come about are a result of whatever changes are going down in my life."
Martyn has recorded two of his 10 albums with his wife, Beverley. He says that she is working on her own album at the moment and it should be released by Christmas. She is also writing a number of songs for other British singers. "She writes infinitely more commercial stuff than I do. I'm quite sure she's going to have a hit single one day. She has a more cogent grasp of pop than I do. She has an affection for it, which I don't."
On the Ardley album Martyn has been suggesting some outlines, singing some parts and writing some sections of the pieces, as well as playing guitar. He has also been writing songs for his new solo album, Grace And Danger. He says that he has been exploring those two words as much as possible.
He quotes from one of the songs:
Like an old man says to his dying son
Boy you're going to be all right
I'm a man of my word
But I sometimes have to lie.
"That's grace and danger," says Martyn.2
1 July - August 1978.
2 The quote looks like a lyric that did not make it into the final version of the Grace & Danger title song.
Roadrunner ("Australia's smartest music paper") was an Australian low budget magazine published in Norwood, South Australia (a suburb of Adelaide). Editors were Allan Coop, Stuart Coupe, Alex Ehlert, Bruce Milne and Donald Robertson. "Recommended retail price 30 cents (SA), all other states 50 cents."
This story is uncredited and features on page 9 of the issue in the "Live Vibes" section. The issue has a yellowish drawing on the cover of an airplane sticking out a pond.