Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, 3 Sept.
John Martyn gamely moans, grimaces and jokes through his set to widespread indifference, weaving long, serene workouts which seem to drift on past the lifespans of most of the smaller arthropods. They can't really be said to be meandering, because they don't actually meander anywhere. No harm in that. Listening to John Martyn play two endlessly repeated notes can be a lot more rewarding than listening to most people pack middle eights and time changes on top of each other; but perhaps this isn't the right moment for such blissful hypnosis, with punters still trooping up the stairs in their cold- weather clothing. One horriﬁc acoustic guitar solo later and it's all over bar May You Never, which gets the kind of reception he must have been hoping for all along.
The Castle Esplanade is actually smaller than one might think — or is it just Nanci Griffith who makes it seem that way? She could be performing in a small club, ambling on in simple denim, seeming entirely unfazed by the surroundings. By her side is pianist James Hooker, but she could carry it off alone. Hooker is surplus to requirements most of the time (and l mean that in a nice way, possums), but in the moments when he really makes his presence felt, like the rousing chordal accompaniment on Outbound Plane —the Griffith song Suzy Bogguss took to the top of the US country charts— we're all glad he's there.
Stripped of all the little rituals peculiar to country singers —except perhaps the anecdotes and the fulsome tributes to those whose songs she covers— Griffith stands revealed as a folk-inclined mainstream singer-songwriter par excellence. She introduces lt's A Hard Life as the best protest song she's ever written, and every left-leaning liberal verse makes it obvious how right she was to follow her own path and not attempt to become a queen of the Nashville scene. (Alastair Mabbot)
This review was published in The List #210 of 10 September 1993, on page 34.