solid air

The April 2013 edition of ‘Mojo’ magazine shines a spotlight on the late John Martyn and two albums he made 40 years ago.

‘Solid Air’ and ‘Inside Out’ (Island) are chalk and cheese, but as Mat Snow’s article points out it was actually the latter record that Martyn himself revered.

Big John Martyn fan that I am, I’m in the ‘Solid Air’ camp when it comes to defining his classic albums.

That’s in part because the title track was inspired by Nick Drake, though in the article Martyn’s ex-wife Beverley says her own mental health problems might have played a part.

When I was collecting material for what became a BBC radio documentary about Nick, I interviewed John Martyn.

According to the John Martyn website ‘Big Muff’ which lists every gig he ever did, this was after a concert on 17th October 1991 at the Southport Arts Centre on the ‘Cooltide’ tour.

I’d actually got my dates muddled and turned up the night before to find an empty venue, which I like to think of as an unplanned recce.

After the gig, I lurked outside the dressing room area waiting to be summoned into the man’s presence.

Eventually, after what must have been nigh on an hour, I found myself perched on the edge of a chair, using a tape recorder for the first time and pointing a microphone in what I hoped was the right direction.

I think it’s fair to say that he was, on this occasion, a reluctant interviewee.

Looking back at the transcript of this brief encounter, which lasted only 5 or 6 minutes, I can see why afterwards I was uncomfortable with what I had on tape.

Basically, this post-gig John Martyn was ‘out of it,’ and much of what he said didn’t tally with his previous ‘on the record’ statements about Nick.

So my 1991 interview remained squirreled away until 2004 when, with Brad Pitt on board to narrate an updated version of the documentary, I relistened to it and identified a couple of very usable quotes to illustrate the Martyn/Drake relationship.

Since his death four years ago, Martyn’s own musical reputation seems to have grown in stature rather like that of his friend Nick Drake .

‘Solid Air,’ a song which perhaps best captures the enigma of both men, is certainly the album where I would begin if you’re new to John Martyn and his beguiling music.


John Martyn with Danny Thompson – Solid Air


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