Happy as a man could naturally be

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John Martyn, one of England’s greatest songwriters, has died at the age of 60.

I was seriously saddened yesterday to hear of the death of John Martyn, one of our greatest lyricists, a fabulous guitarist, and with that weird voice that had its own built-in echo.

I only got to see Martyn live once, and he was rubbish, LOL. He was going through a God-bothering phase, and wouldn’t have a live drummer either, so his legendary ability to improvise was severely curtailed by his use of a drum machine. 

But the albums – oh heavens, it’s a trip through my most formative college years. The first I heard was Solid Air, courtesy of a dancer friend Buzz. It was a cassette tape, the sound rather crappy and wobbly. But it is part of that student life, curled together on the sofa in the dark, smoking joints and listening to words like "you curl around me, like a fern in the spring. Lie down here, let me sing the things you bring and we can go down easy…"

Grace and Danger followed, and Glorious Fool and Well-Kept Secret, each one a journey of discovery. 

A year later, my boyfriend and I borrowed Long-Haired Pete’s LP of Road to Ruin and taped it from Marjan’s record player onto an equally rubbish cassette tape. It was the only copy I had for many years, but finally replaced it on CD only last year, delighted to hear again Tree Green, New Day and Parcels, all of which sit in the car, instantly taking me back 25 years. It remains my favourite album, for all its youthful raw edges and Beverley Martin’s out-of-tune voice.

Martyn was apparently hell to live with. A terrible drunk and a drugs user, he lost a leg to his habit and was probably lucky to live to be 60. He was unrecognisable at the end, when he was drinking four bottles of Scotch a night. But his friends seem to have cut him an immense amount of slack because of his sheer talent. 

His fate was perhaps that of all super-sensitive people who need narcotics to dull the edge of life, but without the booze perhaps he never would have written at all. 

And every day’s just a joy to hold

The needle’s new, but the patterns are old

How do you make a game like that?

How do you make it real? 


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