Thursday, January 29, 2009

Folkobit: John Martyn

John Martyn died earlier today. His official website carries a brief confirmation:

John Martyn 11th September 1948 - 29th January 2009

With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning.

A fuller obituary will follow later today; thanks to Mike E for the news.

Although often thought of as a Scottish artist through-and-through, Martyn was born in Surrey in 1948; his Scottish upbringing was a by-product of his parent's divorce (at a time when divorce was still uncommon in the United Kingdom). Although Glasgow would always feel like home for him, Iain McGeachy as he was then known knew that it was a place where only the tough would survive:
"You went out and kicked a few heads or you where looked on as a pansy."

Both his parents had a musical background - they'd met when they were working as light opera singers - and so it was perhaps unsurprising that Martyn would follow them into music. Learning the guitar in his teens, Martyn soon became a regular on the folk scene.

In 1967, Martyn released his first album. London Conversation was notable not merely for being in mono; it was also the first record by a white artist on Island Records.

John married Beverley Kutner in 1969. The pair had come together when Martyn had been invited to perform backing guitar for Kutner; they formed first a musical partnership, and then a life one. Or, at least, a decade-long partnership - their marital breakdown formed the basis for John's 1980 album Grace And Danger. Chris Blackwell believed the album to be so personal he held it back from release for a year.

Shortly after, Martyn moved from Island to Warners. It was here that he would enjoy some of his most sustained success. The albums Glorious Fool and Well Kept Secret made the top 30, the latter despite Martyn puncturing his lung during the recording process.

In 1983, Martyn married again - Annie Furlong - and returned to Island Records, adding some synths to his sound for Sapphire. Spells followed with Permanent Records and Go! Discs, while Martyn explored unlikely collaborations. He provided music for dance companies, movies and even managed to score an unlikely dance hit with a collaboration with Sister Bliss.

He was awarded an OBE in this year's New Year Honours list but has died before collecting it. John Martyn was 60 years old.