John Martyn: Sunday's Child
NOW THAT the acoustic sincerity school of singer-songwriters has largely gone out of vogue, it's time the true heavyweights of the genre –Roy Harper and John Martyn– got the credit and prestige they have thus far been denied. Neither Martyn nor Harper fit comfortably into the acoustic/ folk bag, since their instrumental prowess extends them well into rock territory.
Indeed Martyn's technical wizardry and highly charismatic live performances have always set him apart from the whimpering mass of his contemporaries – but equally important is his steadfast refusal to treat a song as an emotional peep-show, wherein the writer is expected to flash a flaccid psyche at his audience.
True, his writing is intensely personal and proceeds from his particular situation and experience – but he never presumes this to be sufficient reason in itself to justify a composition. He actually has things to say; and what's more, he says them from a position of strength.
Most of the songs in Sunday's Child are celebrations of the joys of marriage and fatherhood - topics that have proved no small stumbling-blocks even for the likes of Zimmerman and Lennon, but which find themselves carried by Martyn with remarkable confidence and directness.
In numbers like Clutches and One Day Without You, he explores the paradox of relinquishing a bachelor/ minstrel liberty for the far greater freedom of his family – the theme of his own songs being aptly echoed by the two traditional numbers, Satisfied Mind and Spencer The Rover (with the latter providing the most enchanting moment of the album in a tale of a rambler returning to home and family, where the children and their 'prink prattling stories' drive care away).
While many of the songs use only Martyn's frenetic Jansch-style plucking against Danny Thompson's booming bass, there's a startling variety in the accompaniments, varying from the dirty electric sound of Root Love, where over-layered guitars scud back and forth across Martyn's anguished tones, to Call Me Crazy, the ending of which consists of miraculous utilisation of echoplex technology to create sweetly sustained melody.
Not quite perhaps, The Album That Will Rock 1975 – but a very important and undeniably masterful work nonetheless.
This review was published in the NME of 25 January 1975. Material provided by Rob Jarvis.