Remembering John  (Martyn)

I first met John one sunny afternoon in 1977.  I was watching tv in the living room at Hamish Imlachs place in Motherwell Scotland. The door crashed open & in walked this tall hyper young guy in his late 20's, wearing a well tailored suit (quite impressive then, as we were all slopping around in jeans & baggy things) and asked me "who're you?" ,   "well, I'm Phil, who're you?",  "I'm John, pleased to meet ya".  It's strange how time distorts things but that's how I remember it, although we later often argued about our different versions of the event & the length of time we'd been friends. 

I was soaking up music like a sponge & there I was, unbelieveably sitting face to face with a musical legend, I'd seen John a few weeks earlier on BBC television doing all that innovative & boundary pushing music with his incredibly slurry soulful vocal, acoustic guitar & echoplex . In essence he was  working out a whole load of personal troubles through his music, a fact of which at that time I wasn't aware. He had  his cutting edge albums 'Bless the weather' & 'Solid Air' behind him & Eric Clapton had just recorded 'May You Never', things were  looking up & I was hooked on his 'One World' album.  Over the following months when John wasn't down in London or on tour,  we'd meet up at Hamish's place and have some pretty whacky weekends in the flat at Motherwell  cooking curries, fooling about & telling tall stories, or if Hamish had any gigs, we'd pile into my old Landrover & off we'd go ...... 3 Men & Some Dope, (sure there's a title for a book there!).

John was always 'pushing it', like the time when Hamish had just come back  from Hong Kong with a bottle of high percentage spirits / liquor (probably formaldehyde) that had a preserved lizard  in it.  A game of 'dare you'  ensued &  sure enough "mad Martyn" was the first to try it ...... Hamish & me watched in a sort of queezy anticipation as John took a few chugs out of the bottle  with the lizard kissing his lips..... yuck!  I think he held it down for all of 10 seconds! This crazy, extrovert edge to John's personality was a trademark throughout his life,  it made for a lot of fun but coupled with his single minded stubbornness it would often land him in some sticky situations. I quickly realised that he had a penchant for 'going over the top' and I also learned  when to leave him alone.

It was all around this time (1979 - 80) that John was working out the frustration & hurt he obviously felt with the breakup of his marriage to Beverley (Kutner, whom I never got to know)  that he released the album "Grace & Danger".  It knocked me out from the first time I heard it, it felt like John had reached a pinnacle or some special secret  level of musical maturity in pouring out his soul that non of` ' us/we others' ever would attain.                                                                                                                     I distinctly remember John, Hamish & myself going for a few beers in Motherwell & seeing Phil Collins's  "Face Value" on sale in a record shop window, John said to me " see him, he's a smart boy". Now all these years have passed & I've finally taken on board exactly what John meant.  I thought then as now, that 'Grace & Danger' & 'Face Value'  were 'sister' albums almost like sister ships, both destined to sail separate courses  but with their component parts sharing the same foundry.

I started touring in Europe late 1980 and saw very little of John  during his "Glorious Fool" & "Certain Surprise" days except occasionally when I was playing in Scotland or staying with Hamish.  Sometime during 1984 he was performing at the "Zeche" in Bochum Germany, not too far from Düsseldorf where I lived at the time, so  I went to the gig & fate threw us together again.       John asked me to call him next time I was in Scotland which I duly did, this led to numerous nights spent in the cottage near Lanark enjoying the Martyn's hospitality, (which was second to none),  jamming & recording on an old fostex 8 track   that he had set up in his middle room.  I went up there one day and found John struggling for breath & bandaged up, evidently he and his new wife Annie (Furlong) had been up the burn (stream) skinny dipping, something had disturbed them & in a panic to cover up his modesty, he'd spiked himself on a fencepost & damaged some ribs!  He was also later to flatten his thumb & break a finger or two with a lump hammer whilst installing a stove in the old place. That was typical of John, he seemed to stoically bear serious physical damage, self inflicted or not, as though he didn't really care! He was getting himself into all kinds of trouble but always seemed to come out the other side almost unscathed! He was  very single minded with a mean & moody streak  which could sometimes literally turn people off, but he was always soft as a lamb with me & always full of encouragement & support.

He invited me to tour with him in Germany & in the U.K. too, opening the show in such venues as Ronnie Scotts & the Liverpool Philharmonic etc.  We only ever fell out with each other once . We were performing in Ayr Scotland, & John was under pre-gig stress &  he chewed me out  about nothing really, so I told him to 'stick' his tour which led to a 24 hour non-talking communication blackout. I remember sitting in our individual dressing rooms & the tour manager running back & forth with messages because "we weren't talking" .  The following morning he phoned & invited me to breakfast as though nothing had happened,  what a pair of babies!

1996 wasn't a particularly good year, Johns private life was topsy-turvey and Hamish Imlach died on new years day. We'd both lost our shared  best friend, musical mentor / father, the suddenness of it all was numbing. I was spending Christmas with family & friends in Yorkshire, so I immediately drove up to Motherwell to be with Hamish's family but called in at John's place  first. I really wanted some support,  but on arriving at the cottage it was obvious John had taken the news hard,  we spent a couple of hours talking and he decided that he didn't want to come with me to Hamish's place, couldn't face seeing the family & the state they might be in.    As far as I know, he just holed up there for the next couple of weeks or so until the funeral, for which he managed to pull himself together & to attend.   I think he never really managed to fully accept the loss of  Hamish and his other  friends Paul Kossoff & Nick Drake even though he always put on a brave face when asked about them.

A year or so later he invited me to tour with him on what started out as a solo tour but developed into a trio as the whole thing progressed .  I was introduced to Jim Lampi , a lovely guy who plays & is a master of the'Chapman Stick' and also to Spencer Cousins (Piano & keyboards).  Soon after the tour, John moved to Ireland to start a new phase in his life.  I saw the BBC documentary about him & the amputation, but sadly we'd lost touch over those last 10 years with just the odd message passed between us through mutual friends.  Looking at some recent vids of John performing live I still see the complicated person that I knew & loved and I can also see Hamish in there too.

It feels like I've lost a brother who I haven't seen in a while.

Phil, Jan 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

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