Saturday, 23 June 2012

A hold on my heart: Glorious Fool (1981) - John Martyn

I am always surprised that so few people know who John Martyn is, but then again I stumbled on him quite by accident. I was 16, in the now defunct Tower Records purchasing some albums on one of their price busting but ludicrous record deals (it was something like five for £30.00, madness!) and to make up the five I took a gamble on an album cover I thought tasteful, without really paying attention to the artist. I was also intrigued as my uncle is call John Martyn and I thought that this could have been a distant relation. The album was Grace and Danger and whilst this John Martyn was sadly not part of my family I was blown away by this incredibly somber and heartfelt album. Soon after I read more about him and bought his other ‘classics’ Solid Air and One World - both great albums in their own rite but not a scratch on Grace and Danger.

By the time I went to university Martyn had become a bit of an artistic stick to beat my more indie friends with who thought I was only about Phil Collins and Don Henley. I was surprised they were not familiar with him and they were surprised when they took a listen that I wasn’t all 80s synth and drum machines. As I listened to the booze soaked cuts like ‘Hurt in your heart’ and ‘Some people are crazy’ I thought that this couldn’t be topped... until I purchased Glorious Fool.

There are not many remakes that I can say that I truly enjoy but Martyn’s harmonic driven re-interpretation of his own ‘I couldn’t love you more’ is a masterpiece with lush building instrumentation, a haunting solo by Eric Clapton and some fantastic fretless bass work. This theme carries through a very atmospheric and subdued album which echoes but builds fantastically on Grace and Danger, the preceding album.

Okay, i will admit that it is produced by one of Martyn’s friends and long time collaborators, Phil Collins, but this is one of his most sympathetic productions which really emphasises the geniuses of Martyn and brings his versatile style and technique to the fore. This is no more apparent when you listen to the stark and incredibly bleak ‘Hearts and Keys’ (a personal favourite) which sounds almost other-worldly. Other standouts include the romantic ‘Hold on my heart’ and the frantic, conga lead ‘Didn’t do that’.

This is a very introspective but very powerful album which find Martyn - oft accused of lack of clarity - with his voice at its very best, credit should go to Collins for this who supplies some very good backing vocal to augment the artists idiosyncratic timbre and pitch.