LONDON CONVERSATION: John Martyn
THE ROAD TO RUIN: John and Beverly Martyn (Festival)
John Martyn was already a well-known name on the London folk circuit when he recorded his first album London Conversation at the age of eighteen, in 1967. In 1970 he recorded his fourth album, The Road To Ruin with his wife, Beverley. Despite the brief three years between these albums, they are worlds apart.
When Martyn recorded London Conversation he was still very much a 'straight' folkie. Although most of the album features his own original material, the songs are rooted very much in the folk tradition, and the album features only vocals and guitar, with the exception of one track, Rolling Home on which Martyn plays a sitar. This song is an interesting experiment, and stands out as the most successful track on the album.
The rest of the album, whilst showing off Martyn's excellent guitar playing and quite mature vocals, is fairly undistinguished folk music. The album is of interest for historical reasons, but is a long way from that distinct, individual 'Martyn' sound that comes through on albums such as Solid Air.
The Road To Ruin, on the other hand, shows Martyn emerging as a more distinctive talent, and marked the beginning of his fascination with jazz, which has played a large part in his subsequent career.
This album features the piano very strongly, with very little guitar work evident at all. The exception is Tree Green, which features beautiful guitar work and that patented vocal slurring which becomes a much greater part of his style on later albums. New Day also stands out with a syncopated beat, and a subtle flute fine that really adds to the song.
The lead vocals are shared fairly equally between the two Martyns, but whereas John on this album was beginning to emerge as a distinctive vocal stylist, Beverley's voice is fairly ordinary and undistinguished. Some subtle harmonies show up in one or two songs, but do not play a big part on the album.
This was an important album for Martyn, and is well worth listening to, both for its own sake and also for its significance as a pointer to where Martyn's career was heading to.
— IAN DEARDEN
Festival (re)released some old Martyn titles in the context of his second Australian tour.
This review was published in Semper, 'Brisbane's Independent Newsmagazine'. Streetdate was 7 June 1978 and the review can be found on page 24.