John Martyn - Lacking Danger
THE people who came to see John Martyn play in the Castle last Friday night were ready for anything - when you listen to this man's music you have to be. And, okay, they didn't get the Second Coming (though from the looks of rapture on a few faces you'd have thought otherwise) but they certainly got their money's worth, and more.
The last time he played in Galway, Martyn brought a bass player who doubled occasionally on synth; this time out he had a keyboard player who made use of a battery of synths and a drum machine to build up great chunks of accompanying sound behind him. His own guitar playing and singing both use a lot of blues infections - and it is perhaps worth noting at this point that as a white blues singer he is among the best of them. But for all the blues influence, what he actually comes out with is highly personalised and instantly recognisable. As both a singer and a guitarist he is by turns tough and tender, delicate and outright demented.
He couldn't, of course, have played everyone's favourite tracks, otherwise he would have been there all night (not that that would have been a bad idea). But it was good to see how well songs like Sweet Little Mystery and Could Have Been Me stood up to the mainly electronic instrumentation. On occasion you'd miss the easy, funky suppleness of his studio sound (where was that confounded bass player?) but at the same time the electronics left a lot of space in the music for new things to come in. His cover of the Slickers' Johnny Too Bad was the biggest disappointment of the night, and the long, bluesy version of Solid Air the nicest surprise. His unrecorded tribute to John Wayne deserves mention too. As, of course, is his ability to knock back bottles of Harp with an onstage élan that's hard to equal.
Final verdict? There certainly could have been a lot more danger in the music, a lot more of that sweet little mystery. But in a live context, that would be expecting a bit too much. There is little doubt, however, that the 1985 model of John Martyn is by no means going to be the last. He has an originality and freshness in his music that never stops renewing itself.