The 400-odd people at the Bert Jansch/ John Martyn concerts at the Canberra Theatre on Monday night was considering the performers' relative obscurity in Australia, a good turnout.
One of the essential attributes of a good folk music performer is the ability to chat to the audience between songs, giving a preamble of the background of the song, and generally feeling at home with an audience.
Bert Jansch did this well in his short stay on stage but John Martyn, ah well, rave he did. Some of his preambles took more time than his songs, but he certainly let the audience know he was having a good time.
It was stoic of Jansch to perform on Monday night as he did. He had injured his left hand on this tour and was playing against doctor's and other people's advice. He had cancelled two other Australian performances before the Canberra one.
He managed five songs, with The Cuckoo taking up more than six minutes, a well-controlled instrumental; his fingers were still working. The curiosity with Australian culture, as displayed with his exchange with the audience before the song, helped create a relaxed atmosphere (he obviously hadn't heard of a galah before but there was one sitting in the audience who squawked quite rudely).
Ask Your Daddy was very touching and One To A Hundred showed he has a rare voice befitting his songs. His final blues in G number revealed his diverse guitaring techniques.
Though brief, his set was entertaining.
John Martyn would be one of the most authentic performers I have seen. He cannot be classified as a pure folk musician, but rather admixtured. The embellishment of his otherwise simple melodic acoustic-vocal presentation with harmonic density and mind-blasting electrical multi-pedal effects was astounding.
This improvisation was first heard in his second song Glistening Glyndebourne, which provided over six minutes of controlled brilliance. Writhing, spasmodic movement with his guitar in hand showed how dramatic it really was to perform.
"So what brings you to Canberra?", Martyn asks casually.
"Its odd, you know it looks like a ready-made ghost town," he said.
"I thought Philadelphia was bad," and so on.
A traditional folk song, One Day Without You, following his unduly drawn out nattering 'brought down' the audience into a more sedate mood. His too-quick alphabet story when introducing his raunchy General Baker1 was something again, showing Martyn's diverse talents. Then came his 'coupled' romantic songs. Bless The Weather saw him concentrating on a more peaceful style.
Back to the multi-pedal effects panel and into the energy-consuming I'd Rather Be The Devil, another six-odd minutes of punchy, electrical excitement.
His encore number and my favourite, May You Never, proved he is a folk artist, singer-songwriter to be reckoned with. "Hip Hip Goodave".
1 sitenote: Probably meant Jelly Roll Baker, so The Easy Blues.
This review was published in The Canberra Times of Wednesday 17 August 1977, on page 33.