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.
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!).
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.
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
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.
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 &
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!
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.
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.
like I've lost a brother who I haven't seen in a while.