A LESSER man might have taken his audience slowly, by easy stages, through from his acoustic beginnings onto his electronic now. After all, moving from wooden sounds to solid state electricity has always been a hard road, and has floored many a great talent before him, who has had to wait a while until his audience catches up with him.
But John Martyn started right in, Echoplex whirling like a dervish to repeat his angry guitar into the diminishing distance, and he never once lost his audience. Not once. They were with him every inch of the way.
And then, having established exactly where he is of now, he unscrewed the pick-up from his guitar, got his faithful old Yamaha, which had somehow got smashed in the first hours at London's Shaw Theatre on Sunday and reverted to acoustic music from then until his final number.
Actually, though doing it that way may seem unorthodox, it sounded logical then, because having shown where his of love of the fast-repeated phrase could take him electronically , in the acoustic numbers you could sense the same feeling growing and growing, until at the end it was logical for him to plug in once more.
The other remarkable thing about his current performances is the rapport he has now established with Danny Thompson. Last time I saw them, in Edinburg a couple of months back,1 the relationship was somewhat sensitive, rather like two tomcats stalking round each other to decide who was going to be cock o' the walk. This time, they passed the mastery of the right of way between them like a ball, and often the passage was so fast that it was hard to hear where Thompson began and Martyn left off.
Danny Thompson knows when to play it simple, which he did in what for me was the highpoint of the show, a beautiful pipe-sounding tune which John played on electric guitar accompanied only by a drone-like sustain on his own lower strings, and simpler notes from the bass.2
One small gripe: if John Martyn is going to ever become more than just a guitarist's guitarist, he's going to have to bring the less dedicated listeners more into his confidence either by announcing his songs more clearly or letting them hear something of what he is actually singing. Otherwise, a knockout. — KARL DALLAS
1 This was the show of 22 August 1973, in the Empire Theatre.
2 Must have been Eibhli Ghail Chiuin Ni Chearbhail.
This review was printed in the Caught In The Act section of Melody Maker, 27 October 1973. The text on my picture was virtually impossible to read so some mistakes might have crept in.