John Martyn is Dead

by Harry on January 30, 2009

In the fall of 1981, while living in a squat in Kentish Town and working at some disused church in Hampstead making an absurd number of placards for the upcoming CND demonstration in order to distract attention from the ubiquitous SWP banners, I listened to Solid Air nearly every day. My much older friends all said that it was best listened to while stoned but they may just have been teasing me for my notorious abstemiousness. A couple of years later I rode my rickety old bike from Oxford to Aylesbury (and back) to watch him (one of the few musicians I’ve bothered to see live). He was exquisite. Seeing that documentary about him a couple of years ago, it was clear he didn’t have long to live. BBC obit here. The youtube clips of his recent performances, though badly recorded, make it seem that he remained a great performer till the end. But this is the one:



may 01.30.09 at 1:46 am

Johnnie we hardly knew ye.

we’ve lost one of the best.


kid bitzer 01.30.09 at 2:37 am

yeah. spencer the rover. one day without you. unbelievable stuff.


Luther Blissett 01.30.09 at 2:58 am

I came to him late. It’s remarkable how few people know his work in the US.


Russell Arben Fox 01.30.09 at 3:01 am

Some people read CT for the economics; some people read it for the philosophy; some read it for the sociology; some read it for comments threads in which they can argue with intelligent people about all of the above.

I read CT for all those reasons, but I think mostly I read CT so that I can learn, through Harry and others, about a world of music and politics and art that I like more and more, and kind of regret having never been able to have been a part of more and more, with every glimmer of it that gets posted here. Even when those glimmers are sad ones.

That was a beautiful and haunting recording, Harry; my thanks. John Martyn and Solid Air go on my list as one more slice of the world I need to get to know.


riffle 01.30.09 at 3:17 am

As Luther Blissett said “It’s remarkable how few people know his work in the US.”

Agreed. I don’t even know his work that well. But decades ago, probably on the old NPR show “Midnight Special” (the Chicago radio show, not the TV show), they played “May You Never.” It’s a tune that’s so infectious that even though I’ve never owned a copy I can sing most of it.

I would wager it’s a song that’s less popular in its home country (too cloying and hippy dippy maybe?) but it’s a pretty damned catchy tune that has lasted several decades in memory for this Yankee. Or maybe it’s a beloved old song there now, I don’t know.

RIP Mr. Martyn.


lindsey 01.30.09 at 4:04 am

Oh sad! I love fairytale lullaby and london conversation, in fact I just listened to the former on my walk home from school.


Dave Maier 01.30.09 at 4:57 am

I saw him in Philadelphia a while back — a tremendous show. I didn’t know his work as a whole that well, but I always liked Inside Out and One World, and I have a live disc which totally rocks. I should go listen to Solid Air now.


ejh 01.30.09 at 8:24 am

<i<In the fall of 1981

In the what?

Oxford to Aylesbury on a bike isn’t bad. Mind you, round that way people probably did the same to see John Otway.


ben wolfson 01.30.09 at 8:26 am

Solid Air and Live at Leeds are among my favorites.

It’s remarkable how few people know his work in the US.

There’s a really bad—in as many senses as you care to attach to this—review of one of his albums at pitchfork. Negative review, horribly written, uninformative.


Phil 01.30.09 at 8:55 am

Never been into him myself – I haven’t got any of the albums – but he’s always been there. He was incredibly influential, too; one of the pioneers of that loose, jazzy acoustic sound which sounds so obvious now. (First Davy Graham and now this – I hope Danny Thompson’s keeping well.)

I spent some time yesterday pulling up Youtube videos and reminding myself how much we’ve just lost. I’d heard that, live, he’d been going through the motions for a while, but there are some performances from 2006 and 2007 which sound pretty strong to me. But some of his 70s work is just stunning – his OGWT “I’d rather be the devil” really pinned my ears back. I’m glad he got the OBE in time – wonder if they knew he was ailing.


martyn wong 01.30.09 at 9:02 am

The biggest influence musically for me both lyrically and playing wise.

He manifested to express himself, and all we can do is carry on and expand within the depths of his path, so that his pain that he carved out from himself, may you never realize.

Hopefully this world will now learn and grasp a true essence of itself from the original troubadour. Peace be finely with you.

Love you big man and will remember you always



Chris Bertram 01.30.09 at 9:21 am

I remember seeing the OGWT with May You Never like it was yesterday. One of the performances that really stuck.


David 01.30.09 at 9:31 am

I remember an old friend of mine teaching me the chords of ‘I don’t wana know’ back in 1974, and since then i was hooked on Johns music. With songs like ‘Couldn’t love you more’ & ‘Certain Suprise’ revealing the heart of the man, he’ll be sadly missed. Thanks for all the great times John.


simon 01.30.09 at 12:26 pm

A superb guitarist that accompanied a voice like an alto sax,harsh for one minute then smooth the next and lyrics that struck a nerve every time you listened to any of his songs.So many tried to imitate his style of guitar playing and in doing so fell head over heels in love with his unique style.Joining the likes of Davy Graham.Both never attained the full recognition for their special talents .They both will be in everyones thoughts every time there music is played.


laura 01.30.09 at 1:24 pm

Really good, Harry. I have forwarded this post around.


john clough 01.30.09 at 1:50 pm

See ya in the bar John.
Love Dawn&John Clough
Gonna miss ya you auld bugger.


Doug K 01.30.09 at 4:38 pm

Oh this is sad.. I bought Sapphire based on the cover art and the Fisherman’s Dream, wore that record out and had to buy it twice.
It also has an entirely ravishing version of Over the Rainbow.
Cheesy video here, don’t watch, just listen:

once the working day is over I’ll find the record and have a drink in memoriam..


Richard Meves 01.30.09 at 4:43 pm

Very sad, I first heard John’s music around 1976. First listen and it knocked me out. I was off ,down to the record shop, I think I have most of john’s albums, though there seams a lot of over lapping ,or reissue /repacking going on. I was living in Santa Fe New Mexico, a small out of the way town at the time. But you could now and then hear him on the radio .People who heard me playing JM music always turned up there hears, and said “who’s that”. So I think in the 70s & 80s was john’s time in the US.why he wasn’t more popular? Who knows .but for me he’s in my top 10.
Oh where ever he’s at now they will have some fun.
you will be missed here.
God bless


M. Peachbush 01.30.09 at 7:20 pm

I saw him open for Yes in the 70’s (Tales of Topographic Oceans tour) at the Boston Garden. I enjoyed him, but most of the crowd didn’t. Boy did I feel sorry for a single guy with an acoustic guitar, opening for a space-opera rock band.

Oh well, may he never…


Annaick 01.30.09 at 7:40 pm

Very sorry to find Mr Martyn is gone. Saw him in Dublin only a year or two ago. His lucid moments showed breathtaking ability on the guitar, in stark contrast to his not so lucid moments- made me wish I’d seen him back in the day. Amazing musician and writer.


fabri 01.30.09 at 8:00 pm

forever over the raimbow peace john


Mick T 01.30.09 at 9:25 pm

I was lucky enough to see John in Cardiff (November 21)last year, not a full house but the guy was superb although clearly in poor health.He had the capacity to bring grown men to tears with his vocal delivery(I know cos I was one).
Good night John you touched a lot of peoples hearts,I hope you are at peace.

Posted by Mick T


harry b 01.30.09 at 9:49 pm

ejh — that’s funny, I puzzled over your question for a while, and now Ii see it. It is one of the few Americanisms I use completely unconsciously after more than 23 years (and was just explaining to an old friend why I like it).

My mum taught at the school Otway went to. I think. But not when he was there.


marianna 01.31.09 at 8:50 pm

An umbearable loss.
I will always miss you, dear friend.



Gary Ostertag 02.01.09 at 2:01 am

He was just astonishing. Martyn’s version of Ben Harper’s “‘Scuse me Mister” (on the Church with One Bell”) is one of the finest performances of a protest song I’ve ever heard. The first verse will stop you in your tracks.

He was also VERY funny. This is from an interview given just last summer, on his opening for YES during their 1974 US tour:

“That tour was a fucking nightmare! … I hated that band. They were snotty horrible people who thought they were intellectuals. They were hot from the university circuit, just hateful. I quite liked the drummer, Alan someone-or-other, but the guitar-player I never could stand at any price. They came from Scarborough or something and played Beach Boys covers — then the got into this “the frogs in the forest are flying away” shit and it was just horrible. And the didn’t give a fuck about me, they didn’t listen or care about what I was doing. It was very disheartening, but I’d go on a play another show to 200 people in a small club and they’d love my ass and pay me twice as much as those tight-fisted motherfuckers from Yes ever did. They were huge venues too — the smallest one was about 20, 000 people. With Free it was fun, but with Yes it was terrible, murderous. If you play your ass off you might win two or three of them over, but it was brutal. Funny now, mind…”

THE WORD, July 2oo8


martyn wong 02.01.09 at 11:04 am

The biggest influence musically for me both lyrically and playing wise.

He manifested to express himself, and all we can do is carry on and expand within the depths of his path, so that his pain that he carved out from himself, may you never realize.

Hopefully this world will now learn and grasp a true essence of itself from the original troubadour. Peace be finely with you.

Love you big man and will remember you always



Andrew 02.01.09 at 12:46 pm

The new just blew me off, losing John was like losing one of my closest friends.

He has been, at times, the sountrack of my life and I cannot describe how sad it is to know that he is not anymore among us.

God bless you John, and thank you for what you have given to me.


Sean Kearney 02.01.09 at 12:46 pm

I Never Knew you John, But I knew your Wonderful Music “Go Easy” John you will be deeply Missed.


David Nash 02.01.09 at 8:11 pm

The world is quieter and less interesting. His passing is but little compared to the fact we all got to hear him and be moved by his muse. We are lucky to have his legacy

‘Love is a lesson to learn in our time’


Jen 02.02.09 at 4:33 am

This great man, great soul provided so much depth and joy. He is a solid mountain, a tremendous figure on the horizon of music. So authentic, so fearless, so gifted and so giving. Our world was made better with him in it. Blessings to Theresa and all who loved him. Rest in peace.


marty 02.02.09 at 10:39 am

john your music has given me such pleasure over the years and you will be sadly missed……….enjoy ur jam in the sky! RIP the big man wi the geetar


Mark 02.03.09 at 3:18 pm

I was lucky. I saw him open for someone “famous” in maybe 1972, just after Solid Air. Can’t remember the headliner but I never forgot John. Every person I met with a interest in music I turn them on to him. Most people never had heard of him here in the US. But what pleasure he has given me for these 37 years. Long live John Martyn!


colin mckeown 02.04.09 at 11:17 pm

I never met you but somehow you were my friend. From the first time I heard your music in school ,throughout my life I always went back to your music. YOU helped me through ome difficult times. You are a class act and I will miss the fact that I will no longer experience the excitement each time you released a new CD. You were unique and you were the business. Life can be so short but you live on through the quality of your songs. God rest your soul John you helped so many feel.

Colin, Belfast.

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