Eclectic psychedelic fusions of jazz, folk, blues and jazz guitar experiments in alternate tunings and acoustic atmospheres.
Born to humble origins in New Malden, England in 1948, his early style was influenced by early blues. He became known for pioneering effects like the Echoplex, which allowed him to continuously loopback tape recordings of his guitar while playing lead pieces over the augmented loops. John Martyn’s career spanned 4 decades in which he released 22 studio albums.
His first album London Conversation was released in 1967.
Shortly after this release, he became a resident at the Cousins Club - a centre of the London folk scene in Soho during the late sixties. He would here come into contact with Bert Jansch, Al Stewart and one of his key early folk influences, Davey Graham. He met his muse and partner Beverley Kutner and they would release two records together in 1970 before corporate pressures from Island records supposedly pushed him to record on his own.
His landmark '73 album Solid Air, was written for Nick Drake, who Martyn shared a close friendship with. Both are now respected figures within the sixties British folk revival. Shimmering melodies and gentle undertones mixed with sonorous and occasional vocals, the album showcases Martyn as he moved towards more exploratory horizons.
Small Hours from his '77 album One World conveys a vastly experimental approach, an 8 minute fusion of soundscapes employing one of his experimental 6 string tunings CFCCGD and numerous effects variations. He turned his guitar into an orchestra itself - a stellar example of his emotional vibrancy - particularly in the live '78 rendition...
A long term struggle with addiction perhaps finally began to blight his creative, unfortunately including but not limited to Heroin, Cocaine and Hashish, this addictive side is well documented in his '67 song ‘Cocain.’
The death of Nick Drake in 1974, was a marker of the far cry from the brief spiritual freedom of the sixties, the death of such a close friend deeply affected his attitude and approach to music, the marked pessimism and anger he felt towards record companies and recording contracts. Martyn ventured that Drake had been “killed by the indecent, parasitic opportunism that pervades the [western] music business.” The latter half of his career saw him return to some of his blues roots as well as an exploration into pop.
Art is a dance around suffering - a reimagining of what is possible through love and awareness of the intersubjective nature of existence. John Martyn is described as having been a gruff and intensely loving man.
I would like to leave you with one of his more simplistic and poetic songs which we echo here:
"I don’t wanna know about evil / I only wanna know about love."
- PSYCHIC GARDEN