Gig review

John Martyn

There are some things in life that are simply unmissable: that first breath of a new born child; darkness thrown over the land by an eclipse; the new Kasabian album (ahem); or your monthly edition of ‘`Is This Music?’. Not mentioned in that array of memorable and astonishing moments is a Glaswegian folk hero performing tracks from his most incredible, seminal album Solid Air. Released in 1973, Martyn’s self-proclaimed ‘ode to Nick Drake’ sees the glorious raconteur voice his love, hate and enthusiasm for everything from ‘`sweet old Mary Jane’ (‘Over The Hill’) to bar brawls (‘May You Never’) to sneaking off with his best mates girl, only to have him snatch her back again (‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’). Tonight, the stories once again come alive.

Armed with a group of masterful musicians, Martyn is, well, pissed (in fact he’s completely out the game, but I think everyone’s just glad he’s made it this far). Not that it really matters. Still his husky Southern American country drawl crusts and slides through four new tracks before slicking nonchalantly through a selection of crowd favourites from Solid Air. ‘Over the Hill’ sees the acoustic guitar’s first outing of the night and, combined with the unmistakable simplicity of the mandolin, is remarkable. With a little coaxing from the crowd and the help of his backing group, Martyn almost manages to capture how his live shows must have once been. ‘May You Never’ may well not be the ballad it once was, but is still utterly sublime. Lyrics like ‘may you never lay your head down, without a hand to hold” are as touching and stirring as they were three decades ago. Even his most bluesy and funky tracks keep some of their grit. Martyn may mumble his way through ‘The Easy Blues’, but after an acoustic/piano frenzy it’s not only Big John that needs to catch his breath and awkwardly wipe his brow. Tonight though is all about the album title track. Leaving it unsurprisingly late in the set, ‘Solid Air’ is as close as we get to dreaming that perhaps, we’re back in the 70s and Martyn is once again 25 years old. At last his astonishing lyrics are audible, his guitar playing precise and everything for five minutes is quite frankly, perfect. Mr. Drake would have been proud.