This, his fifth album, recorded in 1971, was unknowingly to me the start of a lifelong obsession with John Martyn. Unknowingly because one night in 1973 John Peel played Glistening Glyndebourne, and I nearly fell off my chair, because it was the most stunningly original piece of music I had ever heard. I went out and bought Solid Air because it was his new album at the time, but I have always been very fond of this one because it’s still one of his best. Glistening Glyndebourne starts with gorgeous meandering piano, guitar and bass, but around 2 minutes in it breaks out into rhythmic percussion, electric guitar (Richard Thompson) and John’s astonishing plucked acoustic, just tearing at the strings, repeating echoing phrases backed up with driving drums and keys; it’s jazz really. No vocals, but then I just had to hear what else this guy could do. The guitar sound was reproduced live with the use of an echoplex, really a forerunner of the loopstation as used by Ed Sheeran and KT Tunstall, but John really pioneered it and his concerts at the time were mesmerising, proof of what one man and a guitar could achieve(see video interview at the end of the article, 16:30). Glyndebourne seems not to have been caught live, but Outside In on the Whistle Test is close, https://youtu.be/HDMWVr9k5R8 with the great Danny Thompson on double bass. You get a glimpse there of the strange contradiction of the guy – musically a romantic, in person an increasingly lairy drunk who made life difficult for those around him much of the time. Danny was a bad influence – together on tour they wreaked havoc across the country. Watch to the end for a classic bit of JM humour. The all time peak of their antics was when Danny got so annoyed with John that he nailed him, while passed out drunk, under a carpet in a hotel and left him to stew.
What stunned me after hearing the improvised Glyndebourne was the quality of the songs, starting with Go Easy, laid back electric folk, using musicians you could find on so many albums at the time. The title track is up there as one of his best songs, again using Thompson’s bass, with memorable lyrics: Bless the weather that brought you to me, curse the storm that takes you away. The acoustic guitar again stands out, an unmistakeable trademark. Sugar Lump is best glossed over, a bit of a filler, 12 bar blues, the one bum track, with a lyric probably written in the studio. Walk to the water has delicate steel drums and continues the feel of the first side, and Just now maintains the quality of songwriting, with some lovely piano from Ian Whiteman.
Head and Heart is another classic Martyn love song. Love me with your head and heart, love me from the place it starts. Look out for the guitar solo at 3:05, stunning, and could only be John Martyn, and renders the song uncoverable without it, especially with Thompson’s bass entwining with it towards the end. Let the good things come is another lovely tune featuring then wife Beverley on backing vocals. These songs all work so well together, keeping the captured mood, and you happily let it play out. Next is Back down the river :
Watching the simple things to help me grow along
Loving the notes you bring to help me sing my song
Rowing back down my river
Trying my best to be me
Rowing back down my river
Singing my songs to the sea
Glistening Glyndebourne follows and then the album ends with an effortless take on the old standard Singin’ in the rain, simplicity itself. Any tracks after this will be all the obligatory outtakes you get on remastered CDs, forget them. This was a breakthrough album in terms of production and consistent songwriting, and which is so close to a classic, John! but nevertheless there was better to come.