Monday, February 2, 2009
John Martyn Dies Aged 60 (1948–2009)
Singer-songwriter John Martyn has died at the age of 60.
The folk, blues and funk artist was widely regarded as one of the most soulful and innovative singer-songwriters of his generation.
He was born in Surrey but grew up in Glasgow. He was appointed an OBE in the New Year Honours.
A statement on his website on Thursday said: "With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning."
The musican, who passed away in hospital in Ireland, has been cited as an influence by artists as varied as U2, Portishead and Eric Clapton.
He was unique and we'll never see the likes of him again. I loved him dearly and will miss him very much
He was regarded as a maverick within the music industry and battled with drugs and alcohol throughout his life.
He collaborated with many musicians throughout his life, including Phil Collins, and his song May You Never was covered by many artists - including Clapton.
Phil Collins paid tribute to his "infuriating" friend.
He said: "John's passing is terribly, terribly sad. I had worked with and known him since the late 1970s and he was a great friend.
"He was uncompromising, which made him infuriating to some people, but he was unique and we'll never see the likes of him again.
"I loved him dearly and will miss him very much."
Born Iain David McGeachy in Surrey in 1948, he spent his much of his formative years at his father's home in Glasgow following the divorce of his parents.
He moved to London in his late teens and became a fixture at Les Cousins - the Soho club at the centre of the city's folk scene, which also spawned the likes of Ralph McTell, Bert Jansch and Al Stewart.
He was the first white act to be signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records, and recorded his debut album, London Conversation, for £158 in 1968.
Many of his albums - especially Solid Air, released in 1973 - are regarded as classics.
In 2003, he had to have his right leg amputated below the knee after a cyst burst, and in his latter years he performed from a wheelchair.
He regularly performed in Scotland - a place he considered home - and appeared in concert at last year's Celtic Connections festival.
John Martyn dies aged 60
British musician John Martyn has died aged 60. Our writer recalls a prickly encounter and examines his legend and his legacy.
John Martyn 11th September 1948 - 29th January 2009
By Colin Irwin
Last Updated: 9:12AM GMT 30 Jan 2009
Refused to play the music business game: John Martyn
Singer and guitarist John Martyn had a reputation that always preceded him. A rebel in all senses, he railed against every musical cliché and genre straitjacket they tried to pin on him – annihilating the genre barriers between folk, blues, jazz, rock and avant-garde as he bullishly rejected attempts to tame him and mould him into a sellable product.
The trappings of fame and celebrity held no interest for him, which is why one of the greatest, most exhilarating and innovative British albums of the past 50 years - 1973’s Solid Air - remains largely unrecognised by the general public. Martyn not only refused to play the music business game, he took great delight in giving the industry a bloody nose whenever he could. The same bohemian sense of daring which made his music so thrilling also made him one of rock music’s most notoriously problematic characters. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and liked journalists even less.
Tales of his drunken rants and ornery behaviour were legendary. Whenever his name was mentioned as a possible interviewee at music-press editorial meetings there would be a dash for the exit. As a callow young recruit on Melody Maker in the early-1970s I was the lamb sent to the slaughter around the time of the release of Outside In, his free-form follow-up to the relatively melodic, folk-jazz fusion Solid Air.
We met at the offices of Island Records in West London – I in fear and trepidation and he bored and truculent, clearly at loggerheads with a label seemingly unenamoured of his stridently anti-commercial new direction. Solid Air included the classic love song May You Never (covered by Eric Clapton) and Island was anticipating more of the same. But what they got was a furious burst of modern jazz improvisation, electronic experiments and slurry vocals.
Time has come to view Inside Out more sympathetically, but back then it got a pasting from the critics. Martyn made no attempt to disguise the fact that he regarded me as the enemy. He mumbled flippantly when asked to explain why his music had changed so radically. This, he said, was where his head was at right now. His heroes were jazz musicians and he had no interest in his previous work, positively wincing when reminded of his own early days on the folk scene.
Yet when I got up to leave he shook my hand, smiled warmly and thanked me for my time. It was a surreal moment that left me thinking well of him. I last saw Martyn a year ago, a huge figure in his wheelchair receiving a lifetime achievement gong from Phil Collins at the BBC Folk Awards. He played May You Never that night with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and the beauty of the song lit the place up. The backstage gossip was that he was as cantankerous as ever. Would we have wanted him any other way?
I will miss him. Goodbye John! This is a early recording of his folk years. It is still my favorite.
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