by Paul Oldfield
(Melody Maker, April 15 1989)
NOW that the likes of Talk Talk and AR Kane hove shunned pop’s pragmatic, strategic imperatives and turned instead to rudderless, downstream, slipstream meditations, all the forefathers of mutant, destabilised blues and folk are making a return as well. Just in the last year Roy Harper, Richard Thompson, Van Morrison and Kevin Ayers have all been back in circulation, Now it’s the turn of ex-folkie, early-Seventies guitar guru John Martyn. Tonight he’s as good-as carried aloft by the triumphal, comradely crest of crowd approval.
John Martyn himself looks, between numbers, as nondescript as a Water Board official and behaves like someone who’s as capable of standing his round as anybody, but he can liberate the visionar) inside. Mien he’s accompanied, massive wide-spaced beats open up great empty volumes of sky where his sketchy guitar probes diffract and refract. In this mode, he even comes near to sounding like Durutti Column, music that’s elegaic, as if it’s full of melancholy for a perfect world that’s been lost. Many of Martyn’s songs are about wanting to go home, to leave the world behind (“Over The ‘An there’s disdain for this world (“Waiting for the cities to crumble”) and a longing for purer, unadulterated vision. Unaccompanied, he comes as near as he con to slipping the bonds of earth. “May You Never” is the only exception, an anthemic slice of Cat Stevens folk. That apart, his performance is typified by ‘Solid Air”, a murmuring, inarticulate incantation, set to an aquatint of unresolved chords, plucked and slackened strings.
This music doesn’t take you anywhere, it just meanders, doubles back on itself, dissolves further and further into its own eddies. In today’s newly permissive, more progressive climate, it’s not surprising that tonight he pulls in a fair number of people who probably can’t remember 1973. Catch him later on the tour, if you can.