One World (Island)
The layered folk of a hi-tech rag 'n' bone man enters the orbit of planet Jupitus.
A spacey 'n' smooth classic from the prolific UK folk fusionist. Martyn is the subject of the documentary John Martyn: Johnny Too Bad (Friday BBC2).1
For me, the post-punk years were a confusing time in terms of my musical taste. Much as peer pressure dragged you toward the hip bands of the day, there's no accounting for free will, so I found myself listening to John Martyn. Fans will be aware that 1973's Solid Air was one of the must-have albums of the mid-1970s, with its sophisticated, folky brilliance, but my introduction to Martyn came in 1977, at the height of punk. While we were having our ears hammered by the Clash, the Jam and the Pistols, in solitary moments I found myself drawn towards the hippy-esque, ambient sounds of Martyn's wonderful One World.
Obviously I couldn't tell any of my punk-rockin' amigos of this transgression, as the songs were anything up to eight minutes long, layered in synthesisers and possessing a great deal more than three chords. So John Martyn was consumed only behind the locked door of my tiny bedroom. Another guilty teenage secret, then, like dog-eared copies of Mayfair and six-packs of Club biscuits.
I was drawn towards
the hippy-esque sounds
Produced by Island boss Chris Blackwell, One World features legendary collaborators. Bassists Dave Pegg and Danny Thompson, Traffic's Steve Winwood and trombonist Rico all appear. At certain points, the album has loose, almost dub feel; indeed, the album's bouncy centrepiece Big Muff was co-written with Jamaican legend Lee Perry. To wonderful effect, Martyn made great use of tape loops to layer his incredible guitar playing over itself, as evident on Dancing.
A few years after One World's release, I went to see him in concert at Southend's Cliffs Pavilion.2 At the time, I was a skinhead and wearing a leather jacket and Doc Martens. Keen to hear something from my favourite album, I shouted out "One World!" and Mr Martyn looked in my direction and replied, "You're so right... you to**er!" Maybe that's why I stopped buying his records.
Did you know...
Martyn did a wonderful cover of Glory Box by Portishead.
Three to listen out for...
Dealer, Certain Surprise, Small Hours.
In a similar vein...
Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, Roy Harper.
Phill Jupitus presents BBC6 Music's weekly morning show
[Caption below eighties live picture:]
GO AHEAD, PUNK
John Martyn's layered ambience countered the late-70s frenzy.
1 The BBC film in the "Originals" series Johnny Too Bad by Serena Cross went public Friday 28 May 2004 on BBC4, was repeated the following Saturday and again, on a larger scale, July 2nd on BBC2. Both times this site went down as over 500 people tried to download many pages from my (cheap) Internet Service Provider. All for a good cause...
2 This could have been the Well Kept Secret tour gig of 17 September 1982.
Clipping kindly provided by Martin Claridge