John Martyn: RIP

I seriously don’t know how to express my sadness about this news.

The singer-songwriter John Martyn has died aged 60.

Known for musical marriage of folk and jazz, Martyn was one of the most distinctive and prolific artists of his generation. His most successful album was 1973’s Solid Air, the title song of which was said to be in tribute to singer-songwriter Nick Drake, with whom Martyn was often compared.

Another write-up here.

From about ten years ago when I was seventeen, John Martyn was someone I listened to (with my old friends James and Graham) with a great intensity. Probably like many fans, our fascination was a spin-off obsession from cult hero Nick Drake. We’d listen to Martyn’s music outdoors, we’d play it on our guitars. Seemingly endless summer drives in old cars, with his quirky folk-jazz coming from the stereo, carving our way through a balmy night. Listening to the vintage record Live at Leeds in a darkened room, trying to work out half the mid-set dialogue, me thinking that could be us one day. I think I took music more seriously then, sitting still through whole albums repeatedly. And we were all lucky enough to see him at a gig once, when he was on stage with legendary bass player Danny Thompson, which remains to this day one of the best pieces of musicianship I’ve ever witnessed.

There was such depth to his music, moving lyrics that weren’t simply just loosely cobbled-together feelings of hollow angst. If there was talk of love in there, it was properly felt – sensitively masculine thoughts. He had a grounding in true British folk music, and a soul you just hear too infrequently these days. His guitar playing was innovative, full of complex structures and unique effects, mellow, and he explored blissful tunings. Essentially, he put most modern guitarists to shame. I wouldn’t even like to say how many hundreds of times I’ve listened to the album Solid Air, or tried to find on my guitar the late night sound that only he could perfect. And he was an influence on a surprising number of current musicians. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.



By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.