John Martyn: gentle melodies
The English folk-jazz tradition, advanced here in the 60s by the likes of Donovan and Pentangle, has been relatively quiescent in recent years, but if the audience for this adherents has not. At 28, John Martyn is one of the form's most highly respected songwriter/ guitarists, and his performances this past weekend at Kenny's Castaways were skillful exhibitions of brisk plucking and moody vocalizing.
Dressed in a black vest and blue shirt, a small gold earring shining through his wet, curly hair, Martyn is a convincing acoustic guitar gypsy. He sings in a dry, pleasantly worn voice, casually slurring the corners off weather-beaten lyrics, and he japes easily with the crowd between numbers.
Martyn's music is characterized by gentle, dusky melodies, most of which are collected on his current So Far So Good album. Love songs like One Day Without You and Head And Heart, and the traditional ballad Spencer The Rover, are all familiar to his followers, but May You Never is the one people sang along to.
He counterpointed these tunes with some spectacular instrumental soloing, augumented by an echoplex pedal. At times the attention-grabbing gimmick stretched his notes into electra-glide spaciness a la Pink Floyd. At other moments, employing intense reverberation reminiscent of Sandy Bull's1 technique, his plucking clattered as percussively as African jungle drumming.
1 Alexander (Sandy) Bull (1941–2001), American folk musician and composer. His early work blends non-western instruments with the 1960s folk revival. Bull used overdubbing as a way to accompany himself. Sandy Bull's use of tape accompaniment was part of his solo performances in concert as well. John and he have met in the early seventies.
This review appeared in the New York based Daily News of Monday, 20 June 1977.