Top Fifty 9: John Martyn – Bless the Weather, 1971

[Originally posted April 2013]

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If I was only allowed one album out of all that I have and even all that are available from forever, it would be John Martyn’s Bless The Weather. And if similarly I was only allowed one song out of all those available in the infinite musical universe, it would be Head and Heart from this album.

This third solo album presents John at his sweetest – the sweetest songwriting, the sweetest vocal and the sweetest guitar playing, all as on opener Go Easy with its honeyed guitar chords and the youthful vocal register so different to the gruff slur and growl of John’s eventual vocal instrument. Second and title track Bless the Weather is of course a classic in the broadest sense but also in Martyn’s oeuvre, the distinctive slap guitar playing of John himself and then the accompaniment of great pal and genius double bass player Danny Thompson, a match made in whatever sonic heaven oversees such musical gifts bestowed on this aural world and where John now roars and jokes in a Scottish accent utterly incomprehensible and yet innately and cosmically endearing. The expressions of emotion in both these opening tracks reflect all of the happy hope and positive romanticism for life and love we all then had a right to wish for and now embrace  wherever it was achieved and still endures – whatever loss being tempered by the beautiful expression of that initial idealism. [Photo: John with Danny]

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Third track Sugar Lump reminds us that John was also a rocker and a rogue – the boogie rhythms, the punchy harmonica and the guitar licks presenting his other great musicality; the lyrics reflecting his naughtiness, his wicked charm [of course there’s a long blues tradition of lyrical innuendo aped here, but John was also hilariously obscene when performing, especially in his expletive-laden banter with Danny on stage]: Get down mama to my sugar cube/Get down mama, won’t you try to make it move, my sugar cube.

Tracks four and five, respectively Walk To The Water and Just Now, are further examples of the felicity Martyn had with prettiness in melody and sentiment at this time, the former graced with the surprise of steel drums, the latter the simplest and yet sweetest strummed guitar with piano accompaniment presenting a gorgeous song, reminiscent of a folk sound honed on his two previous albums with then wife Beverley. [Photo: John with Beverley]

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And then there is sixth Head and Heart, a song gently but profoundly honest in its expression of love where fear is so much a part of its declaration. The guitar work is again classic Martyn with the slap and pluck of the rhythm and then quick lead licks, Danny Thompson bending his notes and running them up and down in that magical partnership, and the lyrical poetry of lines like

Only got my fate
A bird above you
You know we all get scared from time to time

Love me with your head and heart
Love me from the very start
Love me with your head and heart
Love me like a child

Seventh is the plaintive beauty of Let The Good Things Come with Beverley echoing lines in the background, and eighth is another in the treasure chest of these sweetly crafted gems, the tender Back Down The River – guitar and vocal in the sweet symbiosis of this folk quintessence and time in Martyn’s career.

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Not really true – Island was shrewd and commercial enough to see the greater potential in John going solo; and it is technically his third solo album

The penultimate instrumental Glistening Glyndebourne introduces the jazz aura that would become an increasingly strong influence in Martyn’s writing and performance, but more importantly, it introduces the electro-acoustic cosmos of Martyn’s guitar world, here presented through the echoplex prism which electronically echoed and repeated and swirled the beautiful melodies and skills of John’s playing. As I have written elsewhere, it was at Essex University in Colchester where I first heard John playing with his echoplex, having gone to see and hear this acoustic folk god which Bless the Weather had introduced, when at some stage in the set and suddenly without warning John flicked a switch somewhere on a machine and in my and most other unsuspecting heads, and this psychedelic tsunami of echoing sound surged through the PA which, as they say, blew me away. If there was one musical experience that I could relive, it would be this special and extraordinary one which to this day amazes in its recalled surprise and joy.

The album closes on another surprise, John’s simple version of Singin’ In The Rain with all its folk jollity and skill in the guitar playing.

It must be obvious that even though I am not going to produce a chronology for my whole Top Fifty – whenever eventually finished – this album will definitely be at the top. It is there first and foremost for the music, but also for the memories of a time in my life where such perfection in that music and honest joy in its lyrical expressions encapsulated genuine content. The encapsulation also of full awe – no diminishing qualifier for this album!

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