Colston Hall, Bristol
HE LOOKS an odd sort of bloke, does John: under the guitar, he's wearing a beige suit with a jacket that crumples in all the wrong places, and the naval full-set under the beetle-brows imparts a vague menace. A man who looks like he could be trouble, who's just come out of a pub in Glasgow.
It might be protective colouration, a hangover from his youth in that city; either way, it's not at all real, to judge from his songs. They are homes for heartaches and laments for love; it's here that his emotions are focussed, turning the despair into anger and tenderising the traumas.
If tragedy is the subject, the weapon is the voice. He sings in a voice that alternates from sounding like a tiger who's worried about breakfast, to resembling a toffee machine on a go-slow. Gruff. The lyrics are for the most part just a flexible coat-hanger for the tune, the words stretched or spat as the melody demands; such is the intensity that the microphone drips sweat when he walks away from it.
With the addition of a backing band, the numbers have been beefed-up, taking his music from the land of folk-rock to someplace with more listeners, a more widely-acceptable sound: there's both a loss and a gain there. The band are the same people who recorded Glorious Fool with the expected exception of Phil Collins, and one has to have a certain amount of sympathy for Geoffrey Allen on drums, although the drums, percussion and keyboards are always more than adequate. The fretless bass player, Alan Thomson, is sheer delight, especially in the slow–burn Johnny Too Bad.
Before you know it, it's over. It might not have been the most riotous gig ever seen in Bristol, but it was one of the most pleasant. John Martyn, although looking like a misfit, is perhaps more human than most of us.
This review was published Record Mirror of 21st November, 1981.
Material provided by John Neil Munro.