And Live

Date: 
30 Jun 2003
Written by: 
John Hillarby
john martyn

Massive Attack, Morcheeba and Portishead to name but a few, are often credited as the pioneers of Trip-Hop. Trip-Hop is music that is slowed down with dub influences and rounded, sometimes indistinct and slurred vocals that fuse seamlessly with the music. Nothing new for John Martyn fans here, John has been singing in this way and using his voice as another instrument for many years. John's pronunciation is reminiscent of that of an educated palette tasting a fine wine. He doesn't so much sing the words as caress them and roll them around in his mouth before delivering them in his own unique way.

A captivating voice of effortless charm, love and sensuality that is also capable of explosive anger, jealousy and hate. Occasionally a weathered growl perhaps as a result of the time John spent in the USA in smoke filled dimly lit clubs as a professional poker player, a pastime he still enjoys today albeit socially of course!

With Trip-Hop taking the music scene by storm John released And in 1996 and yet again was at the epicenter of the latest musical storm, so bolt the doors and secure the windows for this 'twister' of a gig in Carlisle on 5th April 1996, a tremendous recording a few months before the release of And. John is suited and booted, sporting cool shades and hair extensions.

[His band is featuring] Spencer Cozens on keyboards and Alan Thomson on bass guitar, Karl van den Bossche on drums and percussion, and the late Gerry Underwood on saxophone. A tremendously talented musician Gerry died in August 2002 and is a great loss to music. Karl van den Bossche has worked with The Brand New Heavies, Des'ree, and Sade and has also performed with Robert Palmer. Karl plays congas, drums and assorted percussion.

John and his band perform five new songs from And, some old favourites and two cover songs, 'Rock, Salt and Nails' and 'Yes We Can'. 'Rock, Salt and Nails' was written by the folk artist and singer/ story teller Utah Phillips, a man apparently married more times than he cares to remember! John's vocals are engagingly honest and cool with just a hint of anger.

On the banks of the river where the willows hang down
And the wild birds all warble with a low moaning sound.
Down in the hollow where the water runs cold,
It was there that I first listened to the lies that you told.
The letter you wrote me, it was written in shame,
And I know that your conscience still echoes my name.
Now I lie on my bed and I see your sweet face;
The past I remember, time cannot erase.
The nights are so long and sorrow runs deep,
And nothing is worse than a night without sleep.
I walk out alone and look at the sky,
Too empty to sing, too lonesome to cry.
If the ladies was blackbirds and the ladies was thrushes,
I'd lie there for hours in the chilly cold marshes;
If the ladies was squirrels with their high bushy tails,
I'd load up my shotgun with rock salt and nails.

The funky 'Yes We Can' is a favourite with fans and the band having originally been a hit for Lee Dorsey in 1970. An interesting character, Lee was born in New Orleans in 1924, and served in the U.S. Navy before taking up boxing and fighting as a light heavyweight in the early 1950s as 'Kid Chocolate'. He met songwriter/ producer Allen Toussaint at a party and they worked together throughout the 1960s. Perhaps his most well known songs being 'Ya Ya' and 'Working In A Coal Mine'. 'Yes We Can' was his last top ten hit. Lee recorded with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and again on his own in the late 1970s but could not emulate his early chart successes.

The raw edged guitar driven 'Step It Up' and 'Carmine' have kicking riffs that tingle the hairs on the back of your neck as John wields his Gibson Les Paul Gold Top Super Deluxe and contrast with the sexy and seductive 'She's A Lover'/ 'Solid Air' - aural sex for all ages! John punctuates the beginning of 'Sunshine's Better' with a mischievous boyish laugh at his own expense as he mixes up Daddy and Sugar in the lyrics -

If I call you Daddy, if you call me sugar,
Does it mean we're in love?
If you call me sugar, if I dare to call you honey,
Does it mean you got a hand in my fate?
If I give you all my love and in return you give me hate,
Does that mean it's all down to give and take?
The sunshine's better on the other side,
The other side of the street, the sunshine's better over there.
The sunshine's better on the other side,
The other side of the street, the sunshine's better over there.
The sunshine's better on the other side, the other side of the street,
The sunshine's better over there.
The sunshine's better on the other side, the other side of the street,
The sunshine's better over there.

Powerful room shaking performances of 'Johnny Too Bad' and the guitar frenzied 'John Wayne' bring this set to an explosive end. I've heard many renditions of these two songs over the years but this recording is outstanding with Gerry Underwood's blowing and Karl van den Bossche's percussion adding a different dimension to the songs.

Bonus songs from 1986 are included for your listening pleasure; 'Serendipity', 'Lookin' On', 'Angeline', 'One World' and 'Over The Rainbow'. 'Angeline', a song John wrote for his then wife Annie, and 'Serendipity' originally appeared on John's studio album from the same year Piece by piece and whilst in the process of being written were known as 'Franklin' and 'Whistles' respectively! John could never be accused of being a traffic hazard; he's never middle of the road. From the spine tingling 'Step It Up', the powerful 'John Wayne', to the soulful 'Rock, Salt and Nails', and the downright funky 'Yes We Can', And Live... commands your attention, keeping you on the edge of your seat so turn up the volume and enjoy the storm!

John Hillarby

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