solid air 2

There’s been a Nick Drake and John Martyn thread running through my occasional recent posts.

So it’s timely that both artists were coupled in the latest edition of ‘Johnnie Walker’s Long Players’ on BBC Radio 2.

The show’s format is that Johnnie and music journalist David Hepworth talk about and play tunes from two classic albums over the course of an hour.

Martyn’s ‘Solid Air’ and Drake’s ‘Bryter Layter’ are linked together in a myriad of ways as the programme underlined.

For starters, they share the engineering talents of John Wood and both records epitomise Island Records unflinching commitment to singer-songwriters in the early 1970s, despite lacklustre sales.

Another link that only became clear in later years is that the title track of Martyn’s album ‘Solid Air’ is about his friend Nick Drake.

Recorded towards the end of 1972, my own theory about the song is that it might have been prompted by a visit Martyn made to the Drake family home in Warwickshire where Nick was struggling with depression.

It’s a visit that both Martyn and Nick’s mother Molly recalled when I interviewed them for a Radio 2 documentary broadcast in 1998 and clips of which featured in the ‘Johnnie Walker’s Long Players’ programme.

Martyn talked graphically about walking with Nick around the Drake’s garden and being amazed when he told him that he was depressed because he thought he was going to be a big star – and wasn’t.

Molly remembered that Nick went to bed early, exhausted by the exchanges and then Martyn stayed up with her and husband Rodney, talking into the early hours – ‘the twain met very happily’ as she put it.

Hearing tracks from each album in full, I still get a buzz from songs that I’ve heard hundreds of times over the years and which continue to share their riches over 40 years after they were written and recorded.

If you don’t know either album, do yourself a huge favour and purchase both – they’ll provide listening pleasure for the rest of your life.

BBC iPlayer – Johnnie Walker’s Long Players

Solid Air – blogpost – 6th March 2013

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