John Martyn Live at Leeds: Deluxe Edition Review

Live. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

The magical concert plus previously unreleased rehearsal recordings.

Sid Smith 2010

Martyn fans have always had an abiding affection for this particular in-concert memento. Owners of the original vinyl release of 1975 always knew they were getting something rather special coming as it did from the man himself rather than his regular record label, Island. Inexplicably, the company felt a live album at that point in his career (circa Sunday’s Child) was unwise, and so left it to Martyn himself to mail it out to punters directly from his kitchen table.

Though it has been issued a couple of times since then, this expanded release is the first time we’ve got the unexpurgated concert plus tracks from the afternoon’s rehearsals. This was a magical period in Martyn’s career – and this is a magical concert, where he’s joined by free-jazz drummer John Stevens, a recuperating ex-Free guitarist Paul Kossoff for a few numbers, and Martyn’s old mucker, ex-Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson. Martyn and Thompson were always formidable team, and their astounding interplay makes an album like this very much a joint venture rather than a solo gig with hired hands in tow.

Amidst the between-song cockney geezer banter there are genuinely affecting moments where you glimpse the true bond that existed between the Thompson and Martyn. The music oozes with a camaraderie born from shared experience, and a deep respect that comes from understanding that they not only gave each other permission to fly, but that one of them would always be there to help the other land.

On I’d Rather Be the Devil you can hear Martyn yell with something that sounds like approval, but which might equally be surprise at how well they’re doing at this point. It follows an extensive echo-drenched free passage that traverses exotic soundworlds which might’ve been produced had Tangerine Dream hooked up with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, illustrating the eclectic ambitions hurtling though Martyn’s music.

Bonus tracks can sometimes leave you shrugging your shoulders – nice but hardly essential. However, the rehearsal take of May You Never not only knocks the socks off the live version, but gives the original studio rendition a run for its money as well. Astonishing.

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