His fingers didn't leave his hands
John Martyn grits his teeth, rocks back on his chair and rolls his guitar across his knee as a wave of sustained notes surges through Dallas Brooks Hall. The scene is Wednesday night's concert. He is playing Inside Out [sic], a stunning combination of virtuosity on amplified acoustic guitar involving the use of Echoplex, wah-wah pedal, stereo projection and lyricism. The concert, a blend of folk, rock and Caribbean influences, was a success.
The audience warmed up by a powerful opening act from Australian singer Margret Roadknight, was eager to acknowledge Martyn's ability. But there are no more Melbourne concerts planned. He flies to Sydney tomorrow for three more performances there.
Martyn, 29, has 11 record albums to his credit, including a self-financed, live LP. And his music will be heard on the soundtrack of Australian director Ebsen Storm's new film Search for Anna. Yesterday, the Scottish-born guitarist reflected on his Dallas Brooks performance: "By the time I'd finished I was really up. I went through a nervous opening and my voice was a bit dry because I went to sleep in an air-conditioned room before the concert."
In performance there was a deliberate effort to keep the mood light. "Watch carefully, at no time do my fingers leave my hands," he told the audience. What followed was a flashing display of acoustic guitar – fast runs with rapid key changes as he slid the capo up and down the length of the fretboard 1. He called this his "alternative guitar solo" to counter the flashy efforts of other folk guitarists.
"I don't like people to take me too seriously," he says. "Image is a thing I do give a lot of thought to. I think it's important not to be seen as some little fairy prince... a latter day Donovan. When I was a kid I had my whole routine down. I knew the running order, the maximum impact of everything. But it's all too facile and a waste of time. You just get bored with yourself."
What does he think of audiences?
"I have, on occasion, thrown my guitar at them. They influence how I play, there's no doubt about it. In front of a bad audience I can have a really bad time. But I'm a live performer. There's no better ego-booster. If I had to choose between giving up records and concerts I'd give up records."
Jazz is an important influence on his music. He names US group Weather Report –recent visitors here- as his favorite. Although he disclaims politics, he has strong beliefs on racism. One World, the title song from Martyn's latest album, urges co-existence. He says it was prompted by the Rhodesian and South African confrontations.
"It's a very political song and stunningly simple," he says. "And so obvious that you couldn't possibly evade it. It's come close to home now, in London. They're having fascist riots, Nazis... the National Front is gaining support."
But protest songs are not his meat. "I used to walk out on those songs of political protest. In Glasgow where I was brought up they were always whingeing about how Scots were oppressed by the English. No wonder the Scots got beaten..."
"That's why I sing about emotional situations, simply because politics is so boring... I mean, what do you do? You either whinge of celebrate, depending on whoever is winning. I'm just an old hippie and I'll die a hippie."
1 Seven Black Roses aka Spiders on the Strings
The Age is a Melbourne based newspaper. This review appeared on page 2 of the edition of Friday 21 July 1978. The date of the Melbourne concert is a problem as in an earlier article it was announced for 15 July, where the Wednesday preceding this edition would imply the 19th.