Thursday, 25 April 2013

Albums for Life: 15: John Martyn: Solid Air

Don’t know what’s going wrong inside
And I can tell you that it’s hard to hide 

When you’re living on solid air 

I first remember seeing John Martyn on The Old Grey Whistle Test back in 1973. He was plugged in to what looked like an old reel to reel tape machine (an Echoplex) and was wrenching some amazing sounds out of a beaten up old acoustic guitar. It was an extraordinary performance; he gurned and slurred as he wailed about the devil. He then performed 'May You Never' and I was lost. This huge, hairy hulk with the face of a cherub and the voice of an angel produced a heavenly sound. His song was for a fallen brother and yet the message was undeniable: L O V E
'Solid Air' was, remarkably, the 25 year old's 5th album. The folky finger picking was ably accompanied by mainstay, double bassist Danny Thompson and given a smokey, jazzy undertone by the sax of Tony Coe, famous for having played the Pink Panther theme tune.
It's a classic 'chill out' record; you could get stoned just by listening to it.

The template for the album's sound was put in place by the previous album 'Bless the Weather' but all the stars aligned for 'Solid Air'. Here he transcended the limitations of the singer/songwriter genre to create something truly original.
"I was very sweet and gentle until I was 20," he confessed "then I got the heave with Donovan and Cat Stevens and all that terribly nice rolling up joints. I'm not really very nice, so I consciously turned away from all that."
There are lullabies and blues colorings in with the jazz flourishes but the best description that I could muster would be progressive folk/soul.  It's not going to sell many t shirts, is it?
"There's a space between words and music and my voice lives right there,"
Martyn was, by all accounts, a violent and gentle man. He was a warrior for sure, although unsure of his foe he thrashed around, charging at windmills in his final years. His hard man/hard drinker persona became his lifestyle, one that he could never sustain, eventually leading to a perforated ulcer and a lost leg. The excesses finally claimed him in 2009.
The Scotsman proclaimed 'Solid Air' 'The 6th Best Scottish Album Ever' behind:
- Primal Scream (Screamadelica)
- The Proclaimers (This is the Story)
- Average White Band (AWB)
- The Blue Nile (A Walk Across the Rooftops)
- Teenage Fan Club (Bandwagonesque)
Mmm, I'd agree with one of those...
Here are those two 1973 OGWT performances followed by a full Dublin concert from 1987.
It's a great way to waste an hour.
If you haven't the time go to 5.15 to hear the title track from 'Solid Air'.


  1. I think I can guess which of those six you'd agree with. Not sure I agree with any of them. This album will have to accept a place on the other side of zero in my list but it has to be there somewhere.
    That list, though. Where's The Alex Harvey Band?

  2. Good call.
    Remember 'Next' on The Whistle Test.
    Both Alex and the clown guitarist used to scare the sh*t out of me...

  3. Forever linked with a friend from poly who lived his life in a sarong (sp) , stones , and looking to borrow a copy of Suzanne Vega's Solitude standing lp which was he choice of shagging music. WE could never understand a} how he had such a high hit rate and b} why he didn't simply get his own copy as it must have been a bit of a passion killer as he slipped off to go form room to from looking for a cassette
    I had a holiday in Spain with him and another friend and his contribution to the music was John Martyn. I cant hear it now without seeing stripey t shirts soft pack amrlys and rolled up chinos .

    CC arrived today - as ever going to be a grower but intial favs are park bench and any human heart. loving th ehwole lp so tanks trev and another top quality lp from you and Marcus

  4. Sorry to hear that your mate's passion has killed your interest in Solid Air. Worth a revisit David.
    And, Susan Vega as shagging music? 'Solitude Standing' sounds like a lonely erection to me...
    Glad that ICC arrived; thanks for the listening...

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