John Martyn, the groundbreaking singer-songwriter who performed at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, in one of his last live performances died today at the age of 60. His website JohnMartyn.com broke the news with a simple message: “With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning.” The cause of his death was not revealed.
John Martyn, who received an OBE in the last new years honours list, will be remembered as a pioneering British musician. Fusing jazz, blues and soul with traditional folk, he was one of the first guitarists to experiment with electronic effects. Over a 40- year career, he produced 22 studio albums and a series of collaborations with artists such as Dave Gilmour, Phil Collins and Eric Clapton.
His last tour was billed the Grace and Danger tour after the 1980 album. Although Solid Air is considered his most complete, Grace and Danger is the album when he is most nakedly on display. When interviewed, the singer-songwriter had consistently spoken of his reluctance to dwell on the past, so to see Grace and Danger played in entirety was an emotional experience for musician and audience alike.
“Some people write diaries,” he has said in the past, “I write records.”
The album explores with honesty and insight the divorce with his first wife Beverley Kutner, his subsequent attempts at reconciliation and the drugs and booze that dogged his life on and off stage. It is as diverse as it is affecting, as he seems to employ a different genre of music for each feeling he wishes to convey.
At times, John Martyn could appear unhinged and withered by a life of drinking. But when a guitar lay in his hands, his swirling, ethereal style and soft, immersive vocals have an emotional resonance that few of his contemporaries could dream of. He will be remembered as a timeless musician who combined relentless innovation with universal appeal. It was an honour to see his mesmerizing last performance in Cardiff.