We're steering unsteadily along narrow corridors on an upper floor of a London hotel, John Martyn cheerily pointing the way with a tumbler of brandy and port. I've got one hand on his wheelchair, one on the handle of a swing door. There's a wheezy cackle in his throat that makes a rich baritone sound like it's fighting through radio interference. "Sorry mate, I don't have a reverse gear, I can't go back... "
Some rock stars affect outrageousness but John Martyn was the real deal. Powered by more than 40 years of enjoying the excesses of a rock'n'roll lifestyle, John could be boisterous, difficult company. Consequently, his enemies -and he had a few- genuinely disliked him. Back in his heyday, he hung out with gangsters and had a reputation for resorting to violence: he once broke the ribs of a former manager during a brawl.
I know that some people just adore John Martyn's music. He has a loyal fanbase indeed. These fans would have been delighted that John just got awarded the honour of an OBE — but then everything is overshadowed by his death yesterday.
John Martyn emerged from the British folk scene in the late 1960s to make some of the most hauntingly evocative and mesmerising music of his era.
A virtuoso guitarist with a laid-back but highly expressive voice, he made innovative records that defied categorisation and thrillingly blurred the boundaries between folk, jazz, blues and rock. At his height, every note he played or sang seemed to be imbued with a spacious elegance and sublime airiness all too rare in the hurly-burly of modern popular music.
Hellraising folk musician and creator of the seminal album Solid Air
Ain't No Saint was the title of the four-CD restrospective of John Martyn's career, released to mark his 60th birthday last September. The name could hardly have been more apt, since Martyn, who died yesterday, became renowned for a career that lurched between triumph and disaster, both personal and musical. Drugs, drunken brawls and marital breakdown littered his CV, but then so did several of the most enduring and idiosyncratic albums made by a British artist in the last 40 years.
Matthew Bannister tells the life stories of people who have died recently: Bill Frindall, John Updike, John Martyn, Reg Gutteridge and Angela Morley.
British musician John Martyn has died aged 60. Our writer recalls a prickly encounter and examines his legend and his legacy.
Singer and guitarist John Martyn had a reputation that always preceded him. A rebel in all senses, he railed against every musical cliché and genre straitjacket they tried to pin on him – annihilating the genre barriers between folk, blues, jazz, rock and avant-garde as he bullishly rejected attempts to tame him and mould him into a sellable product.
John Martyn: guitar pioneer
For many music fans, one lingering image of John Martyn, the British singer-songwriter who has died at the age of 60, remains preserved in the amber of the communal memory bank: 36 years ago, the pioneering acoustic artist appeared on The Old Grey Whistle Test playing the song for which he will probably be remembered best, May You Never.
In 'Paranoia City', the hellhole that was our home, Martyn's heartfelt concert made us feel human again.
The news of John Martyn's passing took me back to a packed gymnasium in what, at the time, was one of the most dangerous high security prisons in the country. HMP Long Lartin, a festering wound of a jail nestled in the heart of the beautiful Vale of Evesham, Worcs, held men serving some of the longest sentences in the system.
It's ironic that John Martyn’s final live shows, late last year, found him performing his classic 1980 album Grace & Danger in its entirety, as the singer-songwriter had constantly spoken of his reluctance to dwell on the past. He'd previously excused himself from any involvement in the obligatory deluxe edition reissue of the record in 2007, and had taken a similarly hands-off approach to last year's career-spanning box set Ain't No Saint.