Wednesday, September 13, 2006

john martyn at the barbican

Time Out's pre-emptive review of John Martyn's appearance on this year's 'Don't Look Back' season, performing the beautiful Solid Air hopes that the gig will be one of the highlights of the year: 'a unique live incarnation of 1973’s ‘Solid Air’, Martyn’s finest 35 minutes...tonight you won’t get any of that terrible blues-rock stuff that Martyn made in the 1980s; no coked-up disco-rock hybrids made with Phil Collins and Eric Clapton; no interminable dub epics recorded with an Echoplex pedal; no vomitting on stage; no spliff-addled stand-up routines.'

If only that were true.

OK, it really wasn't that bad, and I'm incredibly glad I went, just to have seen John Martyn, but it certainly wasn't the most riveting of performances. In the purest sense of the word, it was a bit pathetic. No scorn or malice intended in that review, but I found it genuinely sad. In my silly little head, John Martyn still looked like he did in the '70s, a devilishly good looking young man who would sound just like the remastered version of his album. Therefore, I concede it is partially my stupid fault for being disappointed.

But then, having seen other 'Don't Look Back' gigs, I did expect (perhaps foolishly) him to play Solid Air in its entirety, in the right order, and then mess about with some other choice tracks. Instead, it was rather more haphazard - much slurring and chuckling and rather overblown renditions of songs that sound better when delivered drunk and sparsely, as opposed to wasted and overcooked. Yes, that's the word - wasted.

Still, there was something endearing about John Martyn, whose attempts at speech in between songs veered between the 'vey vey drunk' guy from The Fast Show and the cookie monster. Plus, he was still John Martyn, even if there was a lot more John (give or take a limb) to love. I felt much the same way when I saw Brian Wilson - amazing songs, blissful performance, and yet, looking at Brian Wilson himself was like looking at a simulacrum of Brian Wilson, this weird, empty, not entirely conscious, heavily medicated old guy in a Hawaiian shirt singing about emotions he may not have felt for decades. Alongside all the beauty, it was just deeply sad.

Still, I went - and having grown to love Solid Air, and indeed One World, I would have felt worse about not being there on Monday night, then being there and being slightly disappointed, if not still entertained, only not in the way I had anticipated.

11th September 2006 is not just the 5th anniversary of you-know-what, or indeed the night I saw John Martyn - it was also John's 58th birthday. So happy (belated) birthday Mr Martyn, and thank you for the music.


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