LONDON SAW a new John Martyn on Monday night at the Rainbow.1 He seemed to have brought his highly original echoplexed approach to the guitar under control after the pit of self-indulgence he fell into about 18 months ago,2 and now all he needs is a concert sound system that will do him justice and his career ought to take off again.
It may well have been his recent spell in the studios with Island boss Chris Blackwell at the controls and Steve Winwood on keyboards that wrought the changes, but fans will be pleased to know he is again producing his soft-flowing, eerie music. The change has been pointed up by the addition on stage of Winwood together with two members of Gong in the rhythm section, Pierre Moerlen on drums and Hansford Rowe on bass.
The show opened with Martyn, Winwood and Martyn's old sparring partner Danny Thompson on electric double bass [sic] to whirl pleasantly through a couple of new slow numbers. Winwood's influence was hardly audible as he added a few restrained keyboard touches but Thompson's bass was as zippy as ever.
Then Thompson left to be replaced by the new rhythm section to lead into what Martyn announced as a "motorised" version of Bless The Weather. This was followed by a new song, Way Of The World,3 one of the best of the set, with Martyn using his echo machine sparingly and producing a beautifully soulful little solo in the mid-section.
On electric guitar, which was only used for one number, he chose Dealer for the jumpy phased treatment, and then it was back to the amplified acoustic for another new song full of soft, swirling gaelic-tinged guitar passages with the distinctive slurred Martyn vocals becoming a new instrument in the mix.
Danny Thompson returned for May You Never, one of three songs in the last part of the set from Solid Air, the album that many people believe showed John Martyn at his best. Winwood joined on vocals and electric mandolin for a treatment of Over The Hill from the same LP, and then after Big Muff, a rude and humorous song from his latest record sung to a Bo Diddley setting on the echoplex and driven along by Moerlen's deft drumming, he finished with an atmospheric Solid Air.
Good as the performance was, Martyn's come-back was badly marred by sound problems. Until the final Solid Air, Winwood's keyboard contributions were well nigh lost, and throughout there were snags with the guitarist's battery of foot pedals and renegade crackles from the pa. These gave the show an annoying stop/start feel and ruined the careful pacing.
1 The concert took place Monday 21 November 1977 as part of the One World tour.
2 Possibly this is referring to the Live At Leeds series of concerts.
3 Probably One World.
Pierre Moerlen's name was consequently misspelled as Moerlin. Bo 'Diddly' also got a bad treatment.
This review got published in Music Week of 3 December 1977 and was dug up by Rob Jarvis.