John Martyn: Johnny Too Bad

Serena Cross
28 May 2004
Fine film made by caring people

BBC Four program in the series 'Originals'.

First broadcast 28 May 2004 on BBC Four; it was repeated on BBC 2 July 2004, followed by a 1978 Old Grey Whistle Test performance. The little John fest caused my site to crash twice...
The program was repeated 14 July 2006.

BBC text:

John Martyn is one of Britain's originals; a musician whose distinctive, drawling vocals and virtuoso guitar playing have been an inspiration to household-name musicians for decades.

This intimate documentary follows John Martyn as he emerges from a near-fatal encounter with "a dark cow on a dark night", a "hangman's fracture", infected cysts... At the beginning of filming, he's recording a new album in his front room and facing an operation to have his right leg amputated below the knee. With extraordinary behind-the-scenes access, we spend time with him cooking, drinking, recording, trying on silly hats (and latterly his new prosthetic leg) as he makes the painful progress towards getting back on the road.

Along the way, we dip into the past to learn more about his career - from London's folk clubs in the 1960s, to his best-loved album Solid Air, to his continuing musical experimentation.

The programme includes extracts from the following performance archive:

  • May You Never (1973)
  • Couldn't Love You More with Danny Thompson (1977)
  • Outside In (1973) with Danny Thompson
  • Make No Mistake with Danny Thompson (1973)
  • Small Hours (1978)
  • Sweet Little Mystery with band (Alan Thomson, Danny Cummings & Max Middleton) & Phil Collins on drums (1981)
  • Hurt In Your Heart with band (Foster Paterson, Alan Thomson, Jeff Allen, Danny Cummings) from A Little Night Music (1981)
  • Johnny Too Bad with band (Foster Paterson, Alan Thomson, Jeff Allen & Danny Cummings) on A Little Night Music in 1981
  • Couldn't Love You More on Jock and Roll (1982)
  • Gun Money with band (Ronnie Leahy, Alan Thomson, Jeff Allen and Danny Cummings (1982)
  • Step it Up with band and backing singers (Emma Heywood, Ernestine Pearce, Jerry Underwood, Alan Thomson, Miles Bould, Spencer Cozens) on Later With Jools (1996)

Unless otherwise indicated the performances are taken from The Old Grey Whistle Test.


The Scotsman 05 July 2004
Tom Adair

Worth staying in for was the rascally documentary tracking the talent, personality and vibe of musician John Martyn - John Martyn: Johnny Too Bad. Martyn’s career since the folk-music boom of the 1960s has followed, erratically, his need to change, experiment and grow - "to live on the edge," as he put it himself.

"I chose the vehicle, I chose the road," he said, referring to his drug and booze-fuelled early days and his continuing dice with the bottle, the glint on the glass reflecting the twinkle in Martyn’s eye. There were few regrets.

We had ample footage of Martyn in action across the 40 years of his brilliance: the blinding technique, the lived-in voice, and now, the strapped-up and dying right leg, which had to come off below the knee. "Peg-leg Martyn," he jested, probably counting his blessings - after all, it had not been an arm.

Now living in Ireland, he talked continuously, like a native, regaling Serena Cross, the programme’s director-producer, with tales of his curses (a burst pancreas, his wife’s death, the bumpy career), none of which daunted him. Best of all, we witnessed his comeback in a pub in County Cork. The night was a triumph, as was this atmospheric, free-form, glowing tribute.

Contributions by: Phil Collins, Ralph McTell, Chris Blackwell, Danny Thompson, Beverley Martyn, Paul Wheeler, Philip King, Beth Orton, Mike Heneghan, Danny Cummings, Andy Sheppard, Spencer Cozens, John Giblin and Gizmo the Dog