One World: John Martyn, Inside Out

may you never lay your head down

without a hand to hold
All of us — if we’re human beings and not superficial ciphers just passing through this plane in avoidance of anything lasting or real — have music that is special to us. This is the stuff that speaks directly behind the mask to help substantiate who we’ve been, who we are, and who we’ll be. Everyone’s is different and provides windows into specific emotional states that run the gamut of expression for each of us inside ourselves as we look out from within at the world we inhabit externally. There are times in our lives — times of great intensity, good and bad — in which we call upon the inner jukebox with which humans come factory-ready to turn up these sounds and let them wash over and through us once again, if only to mediate unfamiliar and often terrifying experience with a template we know we can count on to smooth our edges and that gives us a friendly, warming context in which to put an often cold, confusing and distant world. Whether it’s the most mind-squashing 119-decibel heavy metal or the most lilting and passionate Chopin Étude doesn’t matter… that we feel as we do when it plays does.
Everybody, I’d imagine — or most people anyway, the Koch Brothers notwithstanding — has this mechanism in them and yours truly here is no exception whatsoever. Even though I only found this man late in his life (he passed, sadly, in 2009), the places his music takes me and the riveting, totally honest expressions found therein have sustained me in some dark, dark moments indeed. Of all the songwriters I have ever heard (hint: I’ve heard a few), this is the guy that does it for me time and again, for whatever reason. It sounds foolish and juvenile but without his songs I don’t know that I’d have made it this far… he has meant and will always mean that much to me… perhaps more as I get older and the truths on display in his words only gain more resonance.

bless the weather that brought you to me
curse the storm that takes you away
So when Island issued the inevitable exhaustive career-spanning tremendo-box last month (John Martyn “The Island Years” — 17 CDs, a DVD and a big book… surprised they didn’t include a lock of the guy’s hair), claiming to be his complete output for Chris Blackwell’s infamous label, my eyeballs essentially exploded. Of course, the thing isn’t the complete Island works — these things almost never are and if they wanted such a thing, they should have looked harder! — but it’s a damn fine representation of exactly who this most extraordinary man was. As I always like to do, I delved into the archives and pulled out a disc’s worth of stuff the compilers of the set left off… just to make things a bit more complete. In true sun-in-Scorpio fashion, I also added a disc’s worth of highlights of the box set… I hope the ongoing Mercury Retrograde didn’t make me forget anything essential, but when you’re smushed on painkillers after extensive oral surgery and still way less than 100%, it’ll all just have to do.

John Martyn
Ways to Cry
1967-1978
FLAC format

CD1: Would You Believe Me?
highlights from “The Island Years” box, 1967-77

01 Go Out And Get It
02 Don’t Want To Know
03 Parcels
04 Root Love
05 Solid Air
06 Fly On Home
07 Anna
08 Ain’t No Saint
09 Dreams By The Sea
10 Back Down The River
11 Over The Hill
12 John The Baptist
13 Dancing (Alternate take #2)
14 Ways To Cry
15 Woodstock
16 Go Down Easy
17 Stormbringer!
18 Give Us A Ring
19 London Conversation
20 Smiling Stranger (UK album mix)
21 Singin’ In The Rain
22 The Man In The Station
23 Would You Believe Me?

Total time: 1:18:42

CD2: Certain Surprise
(live & outtakes, 1971-78)

01 Certain Surprise (live Regents Park, summer 1978)
02 Couldn’t Love You More (live Regents Park, summer 1978)
03 One World (live Regents Park, summer 1978)
04 Dealer (live Regents Park, summer 1978)
05 Small Hours (live Regents Park, summer 1978)
06 One Day Without You (live Germany 1978)
07 Big Muff (live Germany 1978)
08 Black Man At Your Shoulder (original mix 1977)
 09 Ellie Rhee (original take 1975)
10 You Can Discover (BBC 1975)
11 Spencer The Rover (BBC 1975)
12 Head And Heart (1971 band version – EN edit)
13 Bless The Weather (BBC 1971)
14 I’d Rather Be The Devil (live version 1975)
15 In The Evening (Solid Air outtake 1973)
16 Eibhli Ghail Chiuin Ni Chearbhail (BBC 1973)
17 May You Never (single version 1972)

Total time: 1:19:22

there’s one more circle I’m dying to try
there’s a place in my head that’s asking “Why?”
there’s a piece of my heart that’s trying to blind me
there’s a baby in that woman that’s waiting to cry
but it’s all right
we’re catching the next train home
I hope this post causes you to make a full investigation into the music of Sir John, and you’ll take what I have supplied here as a taster for the man’s broader output over a 40+ year career of legendary musicking. I hope it moves you like it’s moved me, too. At any rate, light one up, put Johnny Too Bad here on the box and see what you think… or to put it more saliently, sense what you feel. 

Enjoy 🙂  -Josh
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