Tributes paid to John Martyn

Hot Press

Tributes paid to John Martyn

Promoter Derek Nally and singer Juliet Turner are among those who have paid tribute to Scottish musician John Martyn, who passed away on Thursday.

"I was not only a fan of John Martyn's music but I also had a business relationship with him as a gig promoter since the early '80s. He was a remarkably generous guy, always keen to talk to people no matter what their station in life. When the Irish Press newspaper group was fighting to survive I asked him to play a benefit gig to raise funds for the strikers, and he agreed straight away, whereas some Irish artists made their excuses.1
He was utterly business-like in going into all the figures about a gig and totally reliable to deal with. I know he had health problems over the years, but he never ever let me down in any way. Whenever I met him I'd get a big hug. He was a little like Van Morrison when it came to musicians, and he would let a band member know in no uncertain terms if his playing wasn't up to par.
Although John came out of the folk scene in the late '60s, he was much more than a folk singer. He embraced jazz, blues and rock in his music, and he was one of the first players from that background to use effects, and his Echoplex guitar sound more or less became his signature sound. Solid Air is one of the landmark albums of all time, and even those who don't know John at all would know Sweet Little Mystery. But the title track of Cooltide, about eleven minutes, is glorious. He was a true original who never had the commercial success his music deserved, but he was also a very decent and funny guy, and that's how I would like to remember him."

"I played support to John at the start of my career at the Temple Bar Music Centre in Dublin.2 I was mainly familiar with his Solid Air album, and I love the lines in his song May You Never, 'May you never lay your head down without a hand to hold. May you never make your bed out in the cold.' I first heard that song sung by Iain Archer. But that night John blended a lot of jazz into the music.

Afterwards he invited me down to his dressing room, not something every musician does for their support act. But he seems to do it as a matter of course, as if he had respect for musicians. The dressing room was bizarre. The walls were all painted red and most of us seemed to be wearing black, so it had a strange effect. Then at one point John and one of the guys from his band3 drew up chairs facing each other and they started to play a trance-like kind of mouth music at each other. They kept this up for ages, with their eyes locked on each other. It wasn't something they were doing for a laugh, it was totally serious. As a beginner in the business this was mesmerising for me.

Some years later when I played the Dylan gig at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny I met him again. He was living in Thomastown and he was in a wheelchair by then, with his leg amputated. I was chuffed that he recognised me, but that's the kind of guy he was. He was a very sweet man, and I have fond memories of him."

1 This must have been before May 1995 but I cannot find any info on this concert and Derek Nally is no longer among us.
2 Juliet Turners first album appeared 1996 and John played the Temple Bar Music Centre twice, on 17 and 18 November 1997.
3 As yet unclear who this could have been as John did a solo spot.
This article was published in Hot Press of 30 September 2009 as a follow-up to a more general announcement.