In Ja­maica, Mar­tyn scratched an itch with trip-hop clas­sic

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

We have be­come so de­sen­si­tized to the an­tics of Brit­ney/Amy/Pete et al that we could be for­given for think­ing that mu­sic to­day is one long crack co­caine ses­sion, in­ter­rupted only by the in­con­ve­nience of hav­ing to release a record or stage a show. Yet, if you truly like your rock stars be­hav­ing badly, you still have to travel back to the good old bad old days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when de­bauch­ery was al­lowed to flour­ish without the pry­ing cam­era eyes of mo­bile phones and YouTube ma­ni­acs.

One of the best sto­ries from those days con­cerns Is­land la­bel boss Chris Black­well and one of his more cu­ri­ous mu­si­cal pair­ings. With Is­land, Black­well had as­sem­bled a crack ros­ter of reg­gae and dub mu­si­cians. But his true mu­si­cal love was jazz, and he adored the work of John Mar­tyn.

Quickly sign­ing Mar­tyn to his im­print, Black­well had the idea of get­ting this folk-jazz singer­song­writer to col­lab­o­rate with the renowned dub pro­ducer Lee “Scratch” Perry. At the time, to put it mildly, John Mar­tyn liked a drink and “Scratch” Perry was no stranger to drugs.

Nearly two decades af­ter Black­well sent Mar­tyn to work with Perry in Ja­maica, he still shud­dered at the mem­o­ries.

“I think putting Mar­tyn to­gether with ‘Scratch’ Perry was one of the most ir­re­spon­si­ble things I have ever done,” he says. “There are lots of sto­ries there. I wouldn’t know where to be­gin. Up un­til quite re­cently, in cer­tain Ja­maican record­ing stu­dios the very men­tion of

John Mar­tyn’s name would scare staff and lo­cals.” The ses­sions led to the release of per­haps Mar­tyn’s most un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated al­bum, One World (1977). This weirdly ex­per­i­men­tal work is to­day cred­ited as be­ing the first “trip-hop” al­bum.

Mar­tyn is still best known still for the al­bums Solid Air (1973) and Grace and Dan­ger (1980). The for­mer’s ti­tle track was a trib­ute to Mar­tyn’s friend Nick Drake, and is one of the best-ever fu­sions of jazz and folk. On Grace and Dan­ger, the songs all re­flect his re­cent di­vorce from singer Bev­erly Kut­ner. The al­bum was al­most never re­leased be­cause Black­well found it too de­press­ing. It took a num­ber of in­creas­ingly des­per­ate pleas from Mar­tyn to get it into the shops.

You’ll get the chance to re­fa­mil­iarise your­self with One World and the rest of Mar­tyn’s stun­ning oeu­vre over the next few months, when a whole bunch of re­mas­tered al­bums and pre­vi­ously un­heard ma­te­rial is re­leased.

Next week sees the release of an en­thralling John Mar­tyn box set. Archly ti­tled Ain’t No Saint, the two CDs of live ma­te­rial are but a pre­cur­sor to what the fans re­ally want: two CDs of pre­vi­ously un­re­leased and demo work.

When it comes to th­ese box set pack­ages, the term “pre­vi­ously un­re­leased” is usu­ally a code for “if th­ese tracks had been any good they would have been re­leased ear­lier but they’re not so we’re just stick­ing them on here in case some de­luded fans are taken in”. How­ever, in this case there are some real trea­sures, in­clud­ing an early jam ver­sion of Solid Air and Black Man at Your Shoul­der, which was the first song Mar­tyn recorded af­ter his pi­caresque jour­ney in Ja­maica.

Ac­cord­ing to the peo­ple at Is­land/Uni­ver­sal, who spent yonks go­ing through all the old reel-to-reel record­ings, John Mar­tyn fans re­ally know their stuff and won’t be fobbed off by any old thrown-to­gether com­pi­la­tion. They also say that the Mar­tyn back cat­a­logue are very steady sell­ers.

Mean­while, a brand new Mar­tyn stu­dio al­bum, Will­ing to Work, will be re­leased at the end of Oc­to­ber, with an Ir­ish/UK tour to fol­low. bboyd@ir­ish-times.ie

Songs of grace and dan­ger: folk­jazzman John Mar­tyn is get­ting the deluxe boxed-set treat­ment

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