Martyn in 1978
|Birth name||Iain David McGeachy|
|Born||11 September 1948|
New Malden, Surrey (now Greater London), England
|Died||29 January 2009 (aged 60)|
Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland
|Genres||Folk blues, progressive folk, folk-rock, folk jazz|
|Associated acts||Beverley Martyn|
Martyn began his career at age 17 as a key member of the British folk music scene, drawing inspiration from American blues and English traditional music, and signed with Island Records. By the 1970s he had begun incorporating jazz and rock into his sound on albums such as Solid Air (1973) and One World (1977), as well as experimenting with guitar effects and tape delay machines such as Echoplex. He struggled with substance abuse and domestic problems throughout the 1970s and 1980s, though he continued to release albums while collaborating with figures such as Phil Collins and Lee "Scratch" Perry. He remained active until his death in 2009.
Martyn was born in Beechcroft Avenue, New Malden, Surrey, England, to Betty (Beatrice Ethel, née Jewitt), his Belgian Jewish mother and Thomas Paterson (Tommy) McGeachy, his Greenock-born Scottish father. His parents, both opera singers, divorced when he was five and he spent his childhood alternating between Scotland and England. Most of this time was spent in the care of his father and grandmother, Janet, in Shawlands, Glasgow, part of his holidays each year spent on his mother's houseboat. He adapted his accent depending on context or company, changing between broad or refined Glaswegian and southern English accents, and continued to do so throughout his life. He attended Shawlands Academy in Glasgow. At school, he was a keen rugby player. On leaving school he attended Glasgow School of Art, but left to pursue his musical aspirations.
Mentored by Hamish Imlach, Martyn began his professional musical career when he was 17, playing a fusion of blues and folk resulting in a distinctive style which made him a key figure in the British folk scene during the mid-1960s. He signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records in 1967 and released his first album, London Conversation, the same year. Released in 1968, his second album, The Tumbler, was moving towards jazz.
By 1970 Martyn had developed a wholly original and idiosyncratic sound: acoustic guitar run through a fuzzbox, phase shifter and Echoplex. This sound was first apparent on Stormbringer! released in February 1970.
Collaborations with Beverley Martyn
Stormbringer! was written and performed by Martyn and his then-wife Beverley, who had previously recorded solo as Beverley Kutner. Their second duo album, The Road to Ruin, was released in November 1970. Island Records felt that it would be more successful to market Martyn as a solo act and this was how subsequent albums were produced, although Beverley continued to make appearances as a backing singer as well as continuing as a solo artist herself.
Released in 1971, Bless the Weather was Martyn's third solo album. In February 1973, Martyn released the album Solid Air, the title song a tribute to the singer-songwriter Nick Drake, a close friend and label-mate who would die in 1974 from an overdose of antidepressants. In 2009, a double CD Deluxe edition of Solid Air was released featuring unreleased songs and out-takes, and sleeve notes by Record Collector's Daryl Easlea. On Bless the Weather and on Solid Air Martyn collaborated with jazz bassist Danny Thompson, with whom he proceeded to have a musical partnership which continued until his death.
Following the commercial success of Solid Air, later on in 1973 Martyn quickly recorded and released the experimental Inside Out, an album with emphasis placed on feel and improvisation rather than song structure. In 1975, he followed this with Sunday's Child, a more song-based collection that includes "My Baby Girl" and "Spencer the Rover", which are references to his young family. Martyn subsequently described this period as 'very happy'. In September 1975, he released a live album, Live at Leeds — Martyn had been unable to persuade Island to release the record, and resorted to selling individually signed copies by mail from his home in Hastings. Live at Leeds features Danny Thompson and drummer John Stevens. In 2010, a 2CD Deluxe version of Live at Leeds was released, and it was discovered that not all of the songs on the original album were from the Leeds concert. After releasing Live at Leeds, Martyn took a sabbatical, including a visit to Jamaica, spending time with reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry.
In 1977, he released One World, which led some commentators to describe Martyn as the "Father of Trip-Hop". It included tracks such as "Small Hours" and "Big Muff", a collaboration with Lee "Scratch" Perry. Small Hours was recorded outside; the microphones picked up ambient sounds, such as geese from a nearby lake. In 1978, he played guitar on the album Harmony of the Spheres by Neil Ardley.
Martyn's marriage broke down at the end of the 1970s and "John hit the self destruct button" (although other biographers, including The Times obituary writer, attribute the break-up of his marriage to his already being addicted to drink and drugs). In her autobiography, Beverley also alleges protracted domestic violence. Out of this period, described by Martyn as "a very dark period in my life", came the album Grace and Danger. Released in October 1980, the album had been held up for a year by Chris Blackwell. He was a close friend of John and Beverley, and found the album too openly disturbing to release. Only after intense and sustained pressure from Martyn did Blackwell agree to release the album. Commenting on that period, Martyn said, "I was in a dreadful emotional state over that record. I was hardly in control of my own actions. The reason they finally released it was because I freaked: Please get it out! I don't give a damn about how sad it makes you feel—it's what I'm about: the direct communication of emotion. Grace and Danger was very cathartic, and it really hurt."
In the late 1980s, Martyn cited Grace and Danger as his favourite album, and said that it was "probably the most specific piece of autobiography I've written. Some people keep diaries, I make records." The album has since become one of his highest-regarded, prompting a deluxe double-disc issue in 2007, containing the original album remastered.
Phil Collins played drums and sang backing vocals on Grace and Danger and subsequently played drums on and produced Martyn's next album, Glorious Fool, in 1981. Martyn left Island records in 1981, and recorded Glorious Fool and Well Kept Secret for WEA achieving his first Top 30 album. In 1983 Martyn released a live album, Philentropy, and married Annie Furlong but the couple, who had lived in Scotland, later separated. Returning to Island records, he recorded Sapphire (1984), Piece by Piece (1986) and the live Foundations (1987) before leaving the label in 1988.
1990s and 2000s
Martyn released The Apprentice in 1990 and Cooltide in 1991 for Permanent Records, and reunited with Phil Collins for No Little Boy (1993) which featured rerecorded versions of some of his classic tracks. The similar 1992 release Couldn't Love You More was unauthorised by and disowned by Martyn. Material from these recordings and his two Permanent albums have been recycled on many releases. Permanent Records also released a live 2-CD set called "Live" in 1994. And (1996) came out on Go! Discs and saw Martyn draw heavily on trip-hop textures, a direction which saw more complete expression on 2000s Glasgow Walker; The Church with One Bell (1998) is a covers album of blues classics, which draws on songs by other artists, including Portishead and Ben Harper. In 2001, Martyn appeared on the track "Deliver Me" by Faithless keyboard player and DJ Sister Bliss.
In July 2006, the documentary Johnny Too Bad was screened by the BBC. The programme documented the period surrounding the operation to amputate Martyn's right leg below the knee (the result of a burst cyst that had led to septicaemia) and the writing and recording of On the Cobbles (2004), an album described by Peter Marsh on the BBC Music website as "the strongest, most consistent set he's come up with in years." Much of Cobbles was a revisiting of his acoustic-based sound. Martyn's last concerts were in November 2008 reprising Grace and Danger.
In collaboration with his keyboard player Spenser Cozens, Martyn wrote and performed the score for Strangebrew (Robert Wallace 2007), which won the Fortean Times Award at the London Short Film Festival in the same year. The film concept being a strong influence of the album design of Martyn's Heaven and Earth (2011). On 4 February 2008, Martyn received the lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. The award was presented by his friend Phil Collins. The BBC website stated Martyn's "heartfelt performances have either suggested or fully demonstrated an idiosyncratic genius." Eric Clapton was quoted saying that Martyn was "so far ahead of everything, it's almost inconceivable."
To mark Martyn's 60th birthday, Island released a 4CD boxed set, Ain't No Saint on 1 September 2008. The set includes unreleased studio material and rare live recordings.
Martyn was appointed OBE in the 2009 New Year Honours and died a few weeks later. Martyn had recorded new material before he died and his final studio album, Heaven and Earth, was completed and released posthumously in May 2011. The sleeve note says, “all the tracks on this recording were kept as John wished — in their entirety”.
Martyn died on 29 January 2009, in hospital in Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland, due to acute respiratory distress syndrome. He had been living in Thomastown with his partner Theresa Walsh. Martyn's health was affected by his life-long abuse of drugs and alcohol. He was survived by his partner and his children, Mhairi and Spencer McGeachy.
Following Martyn's death, Rolling Stone lauded his "progressive folk invention and improvising sorcery". Friend and collaborator Phil Collins paid tribute to him, saying, "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."
Mike Harding introduced an hour-long tribute to Martyn in his Radio 2 programme on 25 February 2009. A tribute album, Johnny Boy Would Love This, was released on 15 August 2011, comprising cover versions of his songs by various artists.
The “Grace & Danger: A Celebration of John Martyn” tribute concert held on 27 January 2019 at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall marked the tenth anniversary of his passing. Curated and hosted by Danny Thompson, artists including Eddi Reader, Eric Bibb and Paul Weller performed “to do full justice to a selection of Martyn's finest songs and channel some of the great man’s spirit”.
|Year||Album||Peak chart positions|
|1970||Stormbringer! (with Beverley Martyn)
|1970||The Road to Ruin (with Beverley Martyn)
|1971||Bless the Weather
|1980||Grace and Danger
|1982||Well Kept Secret
|1986||Piece by Piece
|1992||Couldn’t Love You More
|1993||No Little Boy
|1998||The Church with One Bell
|2004||On the Cobbles
|2011||Heaven and Earth
|"-" denotes a release that did not chart. Note: the 2009 reissue of Solid Air reached 88 in the UK chart.|
- Live at Leeds (September 1975)
- Philentropy (November 1983)
- Foundations (October 1987)
- BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert (May 1992)
- Live (July 1995)
- The New York Session (November 2000)
- Germany 1986 (July 2001; with Danny Thompson)
- The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal 1986 (August 2001) (with Danny Thompson)
- Live at the Town & Country Club, 1986; Collectors Series 2 (August 2001)
- Sweet Certain Surprise (live in New York, 1977) (October 2001)
- Live at the Bottom Line, New York, 1983; Collectors Series 3 (November 2001)
- Live in Milan, 1979; Collectors Series 4 (May 2002)
- And Live (June 2003) (recorded in 1996)
- Live in Concert at the Cambridge Folk Festival BBC 1985 (December 2003)
- Classics Live (November 2004)
- Live in Nottingham 1976 (May 2005)
- On Air (Bremen Town Hall, Germany, September 1975) (May 2006)
- In Session (August 2006) (BBC sessions, recorded for John Peel and Bob Harris, between 1973 and 1978)
- Live at The Roundhouse (May 2007)
- BBC Live in Concert (June 2007)
- The Battle of Medway: 17 July 1973 (November 2007)
- The Simmer Dim (Garrison Theatre, Lerwick, August 1980) (June 2008)
- The July Wakes (July Wakes Festival, Chorley, Lancs, July 1976) (October 2008)
- Live at Leeds (2010) (deluxe 2 CD reissue)
- Live at the Hanging Lamp (Richmond, London, May 1972) (2013) (vinyl-only release)
- So Far So Good (March 1977)
- The Electric John Martyn (October 1982)
- Sweet Little Mysteries: The Island Anthology (June 1994)
- The Hidden Years (December 1996)
- The Very Best Of (April 1997)
- Serendipity — An Introduction to John Martyn (1998)
- Another World; Collectors Series Vol 1 (1998)
- Classics (March 2000)
- The Best of Live '91 (July 2000)
- Solid Air — Classics Re-visited (September 2002) (compilation of previously released tracks)
- Late Night John (May 2004)
- Mad Dog Days (June 2004)
- Anthology (September 2004)
- The John Martyn Story (May 2006)
- One World Sampler (November 2006)
- Sixty Minutes With (April 2007)
- Ain't No Saint (September 2008) (40-year anthology)
- May You Never — The Very Best Of (March 2009)
- Remembering John Martyn (June 2012)
- Sweet Little Mystery: The Essential (September 2013)
- The Island Years (September 2013) (18 disc box set)
- The Best of the Island Years (November 2014)
- May You Never: The Essential John Martyn (November 2016) (3 Disc Compilation)
- Head and Heart: The Acoustic John Martyn (June 2017)
- Johnny Boy Would Love This (August 2011)
- "John The Baptist" / "The Ocean" (Island WIP 6076, January 1970)
- "Anni Part 1" / "Anni Part 2" (with John Stevens' Away) (Vertigo 6059 140, 1976)
- "Over The Hill" / "Head And Heart" (Island WIP 6385, February 1977)
- "Dancing" / "Dealer" (version) (Island WIP 6414, January 1978)
- "In Search of Anna" / "Certain Surprise" (Island K7450, 1979)
- "Johnny Too Bad" / "Johnny Too Bad" (version) Island WIP 6547, October 1980)
- "Johnny Too Bad" (extended dub version) / "Big Muff" (extended remix) (Island IPR 2047, March 1981)
- "Sweet Little Mystery" / "Johnny Too Bad" (Island WIP 6718, June 1981)
- "Please Fall in Love with Me" / "Don't You Go" (WEA K 79243, August 1981)
- "Hiss on the Tape" / "Livin' Alone" (WEA K 79336, October 1982)
- "Gun Money" (U.S. remix) / "Hiss on the Tape" (live) (WEA 259987-7, November 1982)
- "Over The Rainbow" / "Rope Soul'd" (Island IS 209, October 1984)
- "Angeline" / "Tight Connection to My Heart" (Island IS 265, February 1986)
- "Classic John Martyn" (Island CID 265, February 1986)
- "Angeline" / "Tight Connection to My Heart" / "May You Never" / "Certain Surprise" / "One Day Without You" (Island 12 IS 265, February 1986)
- "Lonely Love" / "Sweet Little Mystery" (live) (Island IS 272, October 1986)
- "Send Me One Line" / "Patterns in the Rain" (Hypertension HYS 100 102, May 1990)
- "Deny This Love" (remix) / "The Apprentice" (live) (Permanent S12, August 1990, 7-inch vinyl)
- "Deny This Love" (remix) / "The Apprentice" (live) / "Deny This Love" (album version) (Permanent CD Perm 1, August 1990)
- "Jack The Lad" / "Annie Sez" / "The Cure" / "Jack Sez" (Permanent CD Perm 3, April 1992)
- "Sweet Little Mystery" / "Head and Heart" (Permanent, Perm 6, September 1982)
- "Lonely Love" / "May You Never" (Permanent, Perm 8, December 1992)
- "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (Voiceprint, JMCD001, 1998)
- "Excuse Me Mister" / "God Song" (live) / "Rock, Salt & Nails" (live) / "John Wayne" (live) (Independiente, ISOM14MS CD, May 1998)
- "Deliver Me" (with Sister Bliss) (Multiply Records, CDMULTY72, March 2001)
- John Martyn in Vision 1973–81 (1982)
- Live from London (May 1986)
- Foundations: Live at The Town and Country Club (1988)
- Purely Music (January 1992) (released on LaserDisc)
- The Apprentice Tour (August 1990)
- Them Them I'm Somebody Else (2000)
- Live in Concert (John Martyn & Band at Camden Palace Theatre, London, 23 November 1984) (2001) (DVD release of 1986 Live from London; re-issued Live at the Camden Palace Theatre London 1984 (2004) & Live from the Camden Palace (2012))
- Live in Dublin (with Danny Thompson at Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, for RTE TV, Ireland, June 1986) (February 2005)
- John Martyn at the BBC (various 1973–1982) (August 2006)
- The Apprentice in Concert (John Martyn & Band with Dave Gilmour at Shaw Theatre, London, 31 March 1990) (2006) (DVD release of 1990 The Apprentice Tour)
- Empty Ceiling (John Martyn & Band recorded for Ohne Filter, German TV, April 1986) (November 2006)
- The Man Upstairs (John Martyn (solo) recorded for Rockpalast, German TV, 17 March 1978) (2008)
- Solid Air Live at The Roundhouse (John Martyn & Band in London, 3 February 2007) (May 2007)
- The Man Upstairs (recorded in Hamburg in 1978) (April 2008)
- One World One John (John Martyn & Band recorded mostly at Vicar Street, Dublin in 1999, 2000 & 2003) (February 2012)
- Obituary: "John Martyn: guitarist and singer", The Times, 30 January 2009, pg. 75.
- Hartenbach, Brett. "John Martyn: Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
- "Feeling Gravity's Pull - The Official John Martyn Website". Johnmartyn.com.
Since his birth in 1949 (sic), to an English mother and Scottish father, he's forever been shuttling the length ... In fact she wasn't she was Jewish Belgian. ... Exit Ms Frederick stage left, rapidly, but the song remains: Sandy Grey turns up the following ...
- John Neil Munro, Some People Are Crazy — the John Martyn Story; ISBN 978-1-84697-058-0, Polygon, 2007 p.125
- "Musical genius or a wasted talent? In search of the real John Martyn". HeraldScotland.
- "Martyn, John [real name Ian David McGeachy] (1948–2009), musician and songwriter". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/100767. ISBN 9780198614111. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- "Read Small Hours Online by Graeme Thomson | Books" – via www.scribd.com.
His parents were Thomas Paterson McGeachy and Beatrice Ethel Jewitt... Beatrice was born on December 10, 1924 to Maud and Harold Jewitt, into a Jewish family that had moved, after her arrival, from Belgium to England.* Her father was a broker for a shipping company, her mother a housewife. They lived at 34 Compton Avenue, in the new and affluent garden suburb of Gidea Park in Romford, Essex.
- "Serendipity - Brendan Quayle | Big Muff". Johnmartyn.info. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
- "Graeme Thomson on John Martyn's "lifelong grudges and huge, messy explosion of records"". YouTube. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
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- "Glasgow Walker | Big Muff". Johnmartyn.info.
- "London Conversation (1967)". The Official John Martyn Website. 4 April 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
- His obituary in The Times states that "The record's dubby, echoing soundscapes have been claimed as the forerunner of the 'trip-hop' style that emerged in the 1990s."
- "The wild man of folk dies aged 60". The Independent. 30 January 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
- Beverley Martyn, Jacki Dacosta, Sweet Honesty - The Beverley Martyn Story; ISBN 978-1-90721-188-1, Grosvenor, 2011
- "John's Diary 1980s — Martyn's biography on his website". Johnmartyn.com. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
- "John Martyn: Pioneering singer-songwriter who blended folk with jazz and played with Eric Clapton and Dave Gilmour - Obituaries - News". The Independent. 30 January 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
- "The Church With One Bell (1998)". John Martyn. 9 April 1998. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
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- "Johnny Too Bad". Bbc.co.uk. 1 January 1970. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
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- Some People Are Crazy - the John Martyn Story - John Neil Munro (Polygon 2007)
- "Classics Live (2004)". Johnmartyn.com. 26 April 2013.
- Angeline was the world's first ever CD single, released in 1986
- John Neil Munro, Some People Are Crazy: The John Martyn Story (2007), 2011: foreword by Ian Rankin, ISBN 9781846971655
- Chris Nickson, Solid Air: The Life of John Martyn (2011), ISBN 978-0-615-53485-5
- Mat Snow, John Martyn In Person (2011)