Monday, February 02, 2009

John Martyn RIP

I first met John Martyn in 1968 (69?) - I used to busk with Alan Moller, a guitar player who later played bass with me in Mouseproof & Radar Favourites. There was a folk club in London's Soho district called Les Cousins - every saturday they had a gig by well-known musicians, & if you got down early enough, you could book a short spot to play before the main act. Alan said we had to get down there to see John - being a bit of a jazzer I'd never heard of him, but Alan said I'd probably like it. So we got there & booked our spot - we used to play quite jazzy modal kind of stuff when we weren't busking. John liked what we did & asked us to join him for a couple of numbers at the end of his set. Alan was of course over the moon - I was still head in the clouds - we did the tunes with John & it went down pretty well. Later Alan disappeared somewhere, & John came up to me & said "I didn't want to upset your mate, but I really like your flute playing, & maybe you can do a few gigs with me if there's enough money" - he handed me a copy of "The Tumbler", his latest album, saying "There's some flute on a few tracks - if you can play more or less something similar that would be great" - we swapped phone numbers & off he went. Of course Alan was a wee bit jealous, but understood the situation. When I looked at the album, I saw the flute player was Harold McNair, one of my heroes! So being a bit shy & wet behind the ears, I already felt a bit intimidated & out of my depth, but also pretty chuffed by the offer. After listening & playing along to the album I phoned John, & he invited me to a flat in Kensington somewhere for a rehearsal. Things got off to a good start - the usual endless supply of real 60's spliffs put me in a relaxed mood - we went through a few songs, then into a long very abstract impro, which I hadn't been expecting - pretty experimental to say the least. (I also had my first taste of muesli there, the result of which was an extremely long visit to the loo, emptying the old bowels!). His lifestyle was already pretty chaotic - people came & went - Sandy Denny from Fairport Convention, American singer Jackson C. Frank, & many other musicians & hangers-on - I was quite a heavy dope smoker in those heady days, but these people were way out of my league! I don't think I've ever smoked so much in such short spaces of time & still been capable of playing....all pretty wild. The first gig I did with him was at Chelsea Art College - he said he'd play a few songs then invite me up. I was quite nervous - he was very relaxed as always, tuning his guitar differently for almost every song, chatting & joking with the audience while he did it.....very impressive! Then he said "Ladies & gentlemen, I'm pleased to introduce a good friend & great flute player - give a big hand for DADDY LONGLEGS"! I was mortified! Hadn't expected that one at all! So on I shuffled, thinking "you bastard!", but also pleased to be part of the action. A great experience. Over the next couple of months we got together once or twice a week to rehearse, but his chaotic lifestyle didn't always help - he would sometimes just disappear for days on end - nobody seemed to know where he was or what he was up to - once he missed quite a few gigs after inadvertently taking an overdose of acid, resulting in a three day trip which was so powerful he just unplugged the phone, drew the curtains, & locked the door, refusing to see anybody. In the end I only played 4 or 5 gigs with him - musically he was a loner at heart, until his partnership with bassist Danny Thompson & drummer John Stevens a few years later - they were all serious heavy drinkers, & I guess John knew I couldn't hack it on that level, so we just kind of drifted apart. But it was a great period while it lasted, & like most people I'll miss him - his contribution to the more jazzy & experimental side of "folk" music will live on through his recordings, & anyone who ever saw him performing live will never forget the experience.
Wherever you are Johnny boy, aka Jack The Lad, rest in peace.
(The name "Daddy Longlegs" stuck - see Black Sheep).

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