Bit of a preamble first. As a 17 year-old in Stockton-on-Tees, Saturdays were taken up by walking down the High Street. Clad in RAF greatcoat , with an LP under your arm . (But not me, no record player!). But the no 1 record on the High Street in early 69 was ‘Tons of Sobs’, and a year later, John and Beverley Martyn’s ‘Stormbringer!’ was well in view. In 1975 I got the chance to see JM, and a special guest! £1.75 a ticket springs to mind.
So, as it is close to the 40th anniversary of Mr Martyn’s legendary gig at Leeds, I thought I would do a brief review, and at the same time, completely trash a common misconception. Not the erroneous date (October 1975), which is on my One World cd copy…that has been shown to be bollocks. Not even the revelation on the newer Deluxe double cd, which reveals that seemingly not all the original tracks on the lp were from Leeds.
No, the killer ‘problem’ is that every sleeve note, review and comment seems to indicate that Mr Martyn played on the same stage as The Who did 5 years earlier. He didn’t! Any one who tells you they saw the gig, and it was in the Refectory ( a la The Who), is…’confused’ at best. John Martyn played in the much smaller Riley Smith Hall, at the other end of the building. I know, because I definitely WAS THERE! The comment that he played to a ‘packed house’ is just not accurate. Firstly, a ‘packed house ‘ in the Refectory would be the best part of 2000 people. No chance. It wasn’t even packed in the Riley Smith Hall (capacity about 300), closer to 100 than the 10,000 who bought the lp and no doubt said they were there!
I can remember where I was sitting…yes, we all sat down on the floor in those days. I can remember John Martyn’s patter being pretty rude and eventually just tedious. I can remember his summoning on Kossoff, and he stood a few yards to JM’s left. (Les Paul back in favour, new haircut?). I can remember about 10 blokes immediately rush forward to form a cluster in front of him to watch him play. His playing, of course, had lost that wonderful fluidity, and was pretty indicative of his Back Street Crawler days. I reckon the reason why all these cd re-issues don’t mention it was the smaller hall is because there probably isn’t hardly anyone of the 100 or so crowd that actually bought the lp and the reviewers/ sleeve note writers didn’t know any different. There are probably about 100,000 who reckoned they saw The Who ‘Live at Leeds’!
But, the cd itself. If you have never heard John Martyn, but heard OF him, ‘Live at Leeds’ is as good a starting place as any. If you are expecting some Scottish folksinger, you will either be very disappointed or very pleased. It’s probably the nearest I possess to ‘jazz’ ( plus Steely Dan), and is nigh on impossible to even begin to describe. ‘Hypnotic’, ‘mesmerising’, ‘ethereal’ there are not many adjectives that do him justice. Remember, his Echoplex machine was back in the 70s, you just have to realise it was one man doing all this. (Plus bass and drums). Strangely, the copy I have could almost be a Danny Thompson solo disc, he is so high in the mix.
Because there are so many versions, you can pick up a cd copy pretty cheap at Amazon or Ebay. I haven’t heard the Deluxe issue, but risk a few quid of your Christmas money on one of the single cds.
Apologies to spoiling a lot of people’s ‘I saw John Martyn at Leeds University…’ story!
And if anyone tells you he bought a ‘John Martyn Live at Leeds’ T-shirt at the gig…!!