John Martyn in concert

John Martyn in concert
JohnMProgrammeI saw the great John Martyn several times in the 1970s. The first time was at festivals; the Lincoln Festival in 1972, and then Reading 1973. I remember the Reading appearance well; John appeared early on the Sunday afternoon with the great Danny Thompson on bass. At that time John was very much the folk hippy troubadour, and the song that we all knew was “May You Never” which appeared on the “Solid Air” album. I also saw John Martyn at a concert upstairs in the Londonderry pub in Sunderland; it must have been in 1972 or 1973. By that point John was beginning to experiment with his echoplex, and he was just amazing. The sound of his voice and guitar echoed again and again, filling the room with layers of sound. It was tremendous and not what I was expecting at all. John was exploring the use of his voice as an instrument, intertwining it with his echoing guitar, and creating sounds unlike anything I have ever heard before. I googled to see if I could find any record of that gig, as it doesn’t appear on his gigography. The only thing I could find was a blog report by a guy who was also at the gig: “Saw JM only once – in Sunderland at the Londonderry Hotel. Brilliant evening where he wasn’t paid a lot but promised to come and play and kept his word. Arrived in Newcastle station from London and was picked up by John …. somebody and driven through to Sunderland. Walked in – set up in a flash an started to play. I sat 8 feet away and could not believe that he was better live than on disc. Rolled the guy a j and shared it while he played. Very quiet – came into our lives and went in a couple of hours – back on the train to London…..Singing in the rain will never sound the same as when he played it live – brilliant guitar playing accompanying as always. Doo doo doo doo doo dee doo doo doo dee do dee doooo!!!!”(John B) I’d almost forgotten that he played a great version of “Singing in the Rain”.
After that great gig at the Londonderry my memories are a little vague, I’m afraid. I remember going to a gig at Newcastle University in the lateish 70s and possibly one at Sunderland Poly and Newcastle Poly? I also found a report of a gig at Redcar: “1979-11-18 UK, Redcar (Teesside), Coatham Bowl. The place wasn’t full and he was swearing (like bigtime!)” (Ian Hepplewhite). “He came on stage pissed, then smoked the biggest spliff seen by mankind and was then too out of it to play. My friend ended up crying at our table because he was so disappointed with the performance..” (Ian Wallis). I also though I saw John at Redcar, but don’t recall the gig being as poor as that. All of those 70s gigs seem to blend into one now…..
martyn81The next time I definitely saw John Martyn was at a gig at Newcastle City Hall on the Glorious Fool Tour. His band was Jeff Allen, Drums; Danny Cummings, Percussion; Max Middleton, Keyboards; and Alan Thomson, Bass. The programme sums the gig up well: “Who can fill a hall with sound using just a guitar and an echoplex? Who wears natty suits, complete with braces? Who has gained ecstatic reviews for every album he has released in the last ten years? The answer to all these questions is John Martyn. His new album “Glorious Fool” will be eagerly awaited by rock fans, not least because producer and drummer is Phil Collins, with whom Martyn collaborated on his last album Grace and Danger, his final album for Island, after an eleven album run with that label.” The Support Act that night was a band called Bumble And The Beez.
martyn2007 I saw John once more before he sadly passed away. That was at a concert at the Sage Gateshead in 2007. John was playing the Solid Air album, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. By then his health was poor, and he had lost part of his right leg and was in a wheelchair. But his spirit and voice were still great, and the concert was simply spell binding. John sadly passed away two years after that gig, and we lost a unique spirit and talent.
Setlist from John Martyn’s 2007 Solid Air tour: Cooltide; Looking On; Dreams by the Sea; The Man in the Station; Over The Hill; The Easy Blues; Gentle Blues; Don’t Want to Know; May You Never; I’d Rather Be the Devil; Go Down Easy; Solid Air; Rock Salt and Nails; Never Let Me Go

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Neil Thompson on December 9, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    I saw John a few tines in the 70s. first up was (I think) his first Necastle City Hall headliner (November 30th 1975) Support was from my fave folk band and local heroes, Hedgehog Pie (I’d seen them a few months earlier do a brilliant set supporting Isotope at the Durham Domefest) – also on the bill was Pete Scott. The same package came back to the City Hall on July 6th 1976. Both times he apologised for the lack of Danny Thompson but me and our Mitch were pleased to see him on his own – especially when he rocked on his seat to the echo bits – brilliant.The next time he came to Newcastle was November 30th 1977 – at the Polytechnic supported by Prelude. In the early 80s (81 or 82) I went to the Dunelm in Durham and shared! a ticket with my mate (taking turns to go downstairs on the same ticket!) The support band were Any Trouble who were great on record but never seemed to cut it at a gig. When it came to my turn to go down to see John I was surprised to see that he had a band – I wasn’t prepared for this and I stayed down for a few songs but it wasn’t the same as the fantastic City Hall gigs.


  2. Posted by John Ballard on August 25, 2020 at 10:03 pm

    Nice write up. The Londonderry was a special night. Yeah, I think we were all surprised that he pitched up haha.
    John Waters was the guy who met him in Newcastle off the London train as I recall.
    My claim to fame was that I rolled him a j too.


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