John Martyn, Fyfe and Drum Room, Beacon Arms Hotel, 88 Albert St.
— Mike Pinder, Citizen
— After devoting many years to folkiedom and a certain amount of inevitable navel gazing, John Martyn found out he'd rather spend more time searching out the fret board of his electric guitar and less gawking at his soul. This is not to say his music is now mindless. There is still plenty of brain food here, but along with that is emotional nourishment and a cosmic giggle as well.
The sharp edges of live performance at times changed the moody blanket of his current LP, Grace & Danger, which put Martyn's stuff in terrific focus. Here the successes were less even, but it worked on a wider Richter scale. While there were a few moments where the hypnotic quality was lost, there were others where musical presence brought it to a new euphoria.
The Scottish musician plays an uncrowded electric jazzish guitar relying on no Flash Bimbo tricks. Every note counts. Jeff Allen adds drumming that matches Martyn's unpredictable finesse, but doesn't get carried away. You can still find the beat to move you through the music.
Alan Thomson's rhythm playing is essential, yet cunningly subliminal while keyboardist Max Middleton has an important role in creating the music's weird allure.
But it is Martyn's vocals that give his tunes their quirky character. He sings in a bluesy scat rap that has rhythm on its own. He drawls it out with sleazy phrasing, speeds up the pace into a stutter, and rolls the r's into long buttery drags.
There is a subdued light-heartedness to John Martyn. He takes his music seriously, but never gets overbearing about it. Should anyone become too straight-faced, his Glaswegian sense of comedy, which takes the form of humorous monologues between songs, makes certain the crowd's mood will never be too somber.
The show opened with Bob Stark who is an acoustic folkie of the whine variety, protesting this, that and the other thing. The 10-year veteran has just returned to his original base of Ottawa after spending two unencouraging years in Vancouver. Apparently the Pacific Coast metropolis was no place for his sort. It was overrun with punk rockers, a situation he is clearly upset about.
Stark chose to demonstrate his point with a send-up of the spike-hairs. He revealed an Archie Bunker 'Get Stifled' T-shirt for the occasion and sang a song about finding true romance at The Brain Eaters bar with a girl called Anarchy.
It produced a few giggles until he got snarky about The Clash. "Hey, careful," someone warned. John Martyn hadn't attracted the solid anti-punk crowd Stark expected. They lost interest halfway through the song and resumed talking and running around the room until the Scotsman appeared. So it goes.
John Martyn performs again tonight. Cover charge is $7.00.
This review was published in The Ottawa Citizen of Tuesday 7 April 1981, on page 58 in the Entertainment section. It was accompanied by this advert.