In a packed Mackintosh Church, six 30-somethings (possibly) mount the stage and launch into an almost ethereal a capella chorus displaying solid harmonies and letting the audience know immediately that this is no John Martyn copycat band. The chorus then morphs into a short version of ‘Couldn’t Love You More’ and we’re off.
The evening comprises songs from the earliest album ‘London Conversation’ (a beautiful, almost wistful ‘Fairytale Lullaby’ sung by Blythe Pepino whose voice lends itself perfectly to many of the later songs in the show) and onwards through the folk legend’s back catalogue – and while the songs are mainly their interpretations of Martyn’s songs some do stick pretty close to the original versions.
The JMP are a versatile group of musicians with regular swapping of instruments and lead vocals so their sound is always varied and some interesting harmonies add to the mix. They chat about their previous visit to Scotland (Cumbernauld!) and how they came together in 2019. They also stress, that while they are fans of his music, they have no illusions about the type of person Martyn may have been.
The first set finishes with three songs run together – Pete Josef sings ‘Spencer The Rover’ with Kit Hawes patiently waiting beside him with a silent electric guitar. As soon as the last note of ‘Spencer’ has rung out, Kit begins the haunting and unmistakeable guitar intro to ‘Small Hours’ which, although his vocal is very different to Martyn’s, is one of the most faithful-to-the-original tracks of the night. Towards the end of ‘Small Hours’, John Blakely sets up a pulse-like rhythm on the drums and the song segues into ‘One World’.
The second set kicks off with a four-part harmony ‘May You Never’ which gets the already enthusiastic audience going and some not-quite-in-time clapping breaks out, though this is mercifully short lived. There are more songs from ‘Bless The Weather’, ‘Solid Air’ and the early ‘Sunday’s Child’ and a couple of his less well-known tracks. Their set finishes with a rousing ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’ which brings everyone to their feet in appreciation.
However, the sextet are not getting off that lightly, and they return for an encore – ‘Over The Hill’ – which they perform acoustically, standing on the floor in front of the stage. After the use of various electronic effects, especially in the second set, this serves as a reminder that here we have six very talented musicians and it’s no surprise that it provokes a second standing ovation.