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Singer/songwriter/guitarist John Martyn was born Iain David McGeachy on September 11, 1948, in New Malden, Surrey, and raised in Glasgow by his grandmother. He began his innovative and expansive career at the age of 17 with a style influenced by American blues artists such as Robert Johnson and Skip James, the traditional music of his homeland, and the eclectic folk of Davey Graham (Graham remained an influence and idol of Martyn's throughout his career). With the aid of his mentor, traditional singer Hamish Imlach, Martyn began to make a name for himself and eventually moved to London, where he became a fixture at Cousins, the center for the local folk scene that spawned the likes of Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell, and Al Stewart. Soon after, he caught the attention of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who made him the first white solo act to join the roster of his reggae-based label. The subsequent album, London Conversation (February 1968), only hinted at what was to come in Martyn's career. Although it contained touches of blues along with Martyn's rhythmic playing and distinctive voice, it was for the most part a fairly straightforward British folk record. With his follow-up later that same year, the Al Stewart-produced The Tumbler, Martyn began to slowly test other waters, employing backup musicians such as jazz reedman Harold McNair, to flesh out his sound. His voice also started to take on a jazzier quality as he began to experiment musically.
While on the road, Martyn continued to experiment with his sound, adding various effects to his electrified acoustic. One such effect, the Echoplex, allowed him to play off of the tape loops of his own guitar, enveloping himself in his own playing while continuing to play leads over the swelling sound. This would become an integral part of his recordings and stage performances in the coming years. He also met Beverley Kutner, a singer from Coventry who later became his wife and musical partner. The duo released two records in 1970, Stormbringer and The Road to Ruin, the former recorded in Woodstock, N.Y. with American musicians including members of the Band. For one track on their second album, John and Bev hired Pentangle double bassist Danny Thompson, who remained a constant in John's career throughout the better part of the '70s, on-stage and in the studio. John planned his third solo album when Beverley retired to take care of the couple's children, although there was supposedly pressure from Island for him to record on his own.
The next couple of years saw Martyn continuing to expand on his unique blend of folk music, drawing on folk, blues, rock, and jazz as well as music from the Middle East, South America, and Jamaica. His voice continued to transform with each album while his playing became more aggressive, yet without losing its gentler side. Bless the Weather (1971) and Solid Air (1973) which helped form the foundation of Martyn's fan base, featured some of his most mature and enduring songs: "Solid Air," written for close friend Nick Drake, "May You Never" (recorded by Eric Clapton), and "Head and Heart" (recorded by America). By the time of 1973's Inside Out, Martyn's use of the Echoplex had taken on a life of its own while his vocals became more of an instrument: deeper and bluesier, with words slithering into one another, barely decipherable.
During this period, Martyn's well-publicized bouts with alcoholism came to the forefront and began to affect his career somewhat. He became an erratic and at times self-destructive performer. He might perform an evening of electronic guitar experiments for a crowd of folkies or a set of traditional, acoustic ballads when playing to a rock audience. His shows would also range from the odd night of falling over drunk to sheer brilliance, as captured on the independently released Live at Leeds (1975).
Following Sunday's Child (1974), the live record, and a 1977 best-of collection, Martyn, for the most part, abandoned his acoustic guitar on record for a sort of rock, world, and jazz fusion. Although his style was moving away from its folk roots, his songs retained the passion and structure of his best early work. Grace and Danger (1980), his first release since 1977's One World, painfully and honestly depicted the crumbling of John and Beverley's marriage in some of his most powerful material in years. It also seemed to garner interest in Martyn's sagging career. With this new momentum and the help of friend Phil Collins, Martyn signed to WEA, where he recorded two records, Glorious Fool (1981) and Well Kept Secret (1982). Glorious Fool, a superb effort, produced by Collins and featuring Eric Clapton on guitar and Collins on drums, piano, and vocals, looked to be his best shot at mainstream success, but failed to extend his cult status. Martyn released his second independent live record, the magnificent Philentropy, before returning to Island Records for two studio releases, a live album and a 12" single which featured a version of Bob Dylan's "Tight Connection to My Heart." He was dropped by the label in 1988.
Continuing to battle his alcoholism, Martyn resumed his career in 1990 with The Apprentice and 1992's Cooltide. He also released an album of his classic songs re-recorded with an all-star cast featuring Phil Collins, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, and Levon Helm of the Band, as well as various compilations and live recordings. After a four-year layoff, Martyn issued And, an album with strong jazz, trip-hop, and funk overtones, followed in 1998 by The Church with One Bell, a collection of diverse covers. In 1999 he also released a live double album which documented a classic concert at London's Shaw Theatre in 1990 entitled Dirty, Down & Live.
Martyn recorded a surprise studio comeback effort called Glasgow Walker at the turn of the century that was very well received, and had his entire Island catalog remastered and reissued -- two of his albums, One World, and Grace and Danger, were given the Universal "deluxe" treatment with bonus discs. In 2003, a cyst burst in Martyn's leg due to septicemia brought on by diabetes. The end result was an amputation, but he continued to tour the world with the same tireless energy and restlessness, performing with his band from a wheelchair. Martyn, shrugged it all off, typified by this infamous quote: " "I've been mugged in New York and luckily I fought my way out of it. I've been shot a couple of times as well but I just lay down and pretended to be dead."
In 2007 two DVDs appeared, a Live at the BBC set recorded in the 1970s, and Voiceprint's The Man Upstairs documentary. 2008 saw Martyn's name surface once more with some real regularity due to a flurry of activity by the man and his touring schedule, but also because of new releases. His One World label issued a pair of catalogued live dates, the best of these being Simmer Dim , and, in December, Universal/Island released a four-disc retrospective box entitled Ain't No Saint. In January, 2009 Martyn was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) -- an irony since he was the most rebellious of Scotsmen. Martyn's health, however, was in real decline as a result of a lifetime of substance abuse issues; in the early morning hours of January 29, 2009, he passed away at the age of 60 after a third bout with pneumonia.
With his characteristic backslap acoustic guitar playing, his effects-driven experimental journeys, or his catalog of excellent songs, as well as his jazz-inflected singing style, John Martyn will remain an important and influential figure in both British folk and rock.
John Martyn, OBE (11 September 1948 – 29 January 2009) (born Iain David McGeachy) was a British singer-songwriter and guitarist. Over a 40 year career he released 21 studio albums, working with artists such as Eric Clapton and David Gilmour. He has been described by The Times as "an electrifying guitarist and singer whose music blurred the boundaries between folk, jazz, rock and blues".
Early life 
Martyn was born in Beechcroft Avenue, New Malden, Surrey, England to an English mother and a Scottish father. Martyn's parents, both opera singers, divorced when he was five and he spent his childhood alternating between Scotland and England. Much of this was spent in the care of his grandmother, as well as on his mother's houseboat. He attended Shawlands Academy in Glasgow. At school Martyn, or McGeachy as he was known, was a keen rugby player. On leaving school he attended Art College in Glasgow; leaving to pursue his musical aspirations.
Late 1960s and collaborations with Beverley Martyn 
Mentored by Hamish Imlach, Martyn began his professional musical career when he was 17, playing a blend of blues and folk resulting in a distinctive style which made him a key figure in the British folk scene during the mid-1960s. He signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records in 1967 and released his first album, London Conversation, the following year.
This first album was soon followed by The Tumbler, which was moving towards jazz. By 1970 Martyn had developed a wholly original and idiosyncratic sound: acoustic guitar run through a fuzzbox, phase shifter and Echoplex. This sound was first apparent on Stormbringer! in 1970, which was written and performed by both John and Beverley Martyn, his then wife, who had previously recorded solo as Beverley Kutner and had worked with artists such as Nick Drake and Jimmy Page. Her second album with Martyn was The Road to Ruin, also released in 1970. Island Records felt that it would be more successful to market Martyn as a solo act and this was how subsequent albums were produced, although Beverley Martyn continued to make appearances as a background singer as well as continuing as a solo artist herself.
In 1973, Martyn released one of the defining British albums of the 1970s, Solid Air, the title song a tribute to the singer-songwriter Nick Drake, a close friend and label-mate, who died in 1974 from an overdose of antidepressants. In 2009 a double CD Deluxe edition of Solid Air, compiled, with John Martyn's blessing, by John Hillarby from the official John Martyn website and with sleeve notes by Record Collector's Daryl Easlea, was released featuring unreleased songs and out-takes. On Solid Air, as with the one that preceded it, Bless the Weather, Martyn collaborated with jazz bassist Danny Thompson, with whom he proceeded to have a musical partnership which continued until his death. He also developed a new, slurred vocal style, the timbre of which resembled a tenor saxophone.
Following the commercial success of Solid Air, Martyn quickly recorded and released the experimental Inside Out, an album with emphasis placed on feel and improvisation rather than song structure. In 1974, he followed this with Sunday's Child. In September 1975 he released a live album, Live at Leeds—Martyn had been unable to convince Island to release the record, and resorted to selling individually signed copies by mail from home. Live at Leeds features Danny Thompson and drummer John Stevens. In 2010 Universal Music released a 2CD Deluxe version of Live at Leeds researched and compiled by John Hillarby. Whilst researching the release Hillarby discovered that not all of the songs on the original album were from the Leeds concert. After releasing Live at Leeds, Martyn took a sabbatical, including a visit to Jamaica, spending time with famous reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry.
In 1977, he released One World, which led some commentators to describe Martyn as the "Father of Trip-Hop". It included tracks such as "Small Hours" and "Big Muff", a collaboration with Lee "Scratch" Perry. One World was recorded outside; the microphones picked up ambient sounds, such as geese from a nearby lake. In 1978 he played guitar on album Harmony of the Spheres by Neil Ardley.
1980s and marriage breakup 
Martyn's marriage broke down at the end of the 1970s and "John hit the self destruct button" (although other biographers, including The Times obituary writer, attribute the break-up of his marriage to his already being addicted to drink and drugs). Out of this period, described by Martyn as "a very dark period in my life", came the album Grace and Danger. Released in October 1980, the album had been held up for a year by Chris Blackwell. He was a close friend of John and Beverley, and found the album too openly disturbing to release. Only after intense and sustained pressure from Martyn did Blackwell agree to release the album. Commenting on that period, Martyn said, "I was in a dreadful emotional state over that record. I was hardly in control of my own actions. The reason they finally released it was because I freaked: Please get it out! I don't give a damn about how sad it makes you feel—it's what I'm about: the direct communication of emotion. Grace and Danger was very cathartic, and it really hurt."
In the late 1980s Martyn cited Grace and Danger as his favourite album, and said that it was "probably the most specific piece of autobiography I've written. Some people keep diaries, I make records." The album has since become one of his highest-regarded, prompting a deluxe double-disc issue in 2007, containing the original album remastered.
Phil Collins played drums and sang backing vocals on Grace and Danger and subsequently played drums on and produced Martyn's next album, Glorious Fool, in 1981.
Martyn left Island records in 1981, and recorded Glorious Fool and Well Kept Secret for WEA achieving his first Top 30 album. Martyn released a live album, Philentropy, in 1983.
Returning to Island records, Martyn recorded Sapphire (1984), Piece by Piece (1986) and the live Foundations (1987) before leaving the label in 1988.
1990s and 2000s 
Martyn released The Apprentice in 1990 and Cooltide in 1991 for Permanent Records, and then rerecorded many of his "classic" songs for No Little Boy (1993). The similar 1992 release Couldn't Love You More was unauthorised by and disowned by Martyn. Material from these recordings and his two Permanent albums has been recycled on many releases. Permanent Records also released a live 2-CD set called "Live" in 1994.
And (1996) came out on Go!Discs and saw Martyn draw heavily on hip-hop textures, a direction which saw more complete expression on 2000s Glasgow Walker ; The Church with One Bell (1998) is a covers album taking in material from Portishead and Ben Harper.
In 2001 Martyn appeared on the track Deliver Me by Faithless keyboard player and DJ Sister Bliss.
In July 2006 the documentary Johnny Too Bad was screened by the BBC. The programme documented the period surrounding the operation to amputate Martyn's right leg below the knee (the result of a burst cyst) and the writing and recording of On the Cobbles (2004), an album described by Peter Marsh on the BBC Music website as "the strongest, most consistent set he's come up with in years." Much of Cobbles was a revisiting of his acoustic-based sound. Martyn's last concerts were in November 2008 reprising Grace and Danger.
In collaboration with his keyboard player Spenser Cozens, Martyn wrote and performed the score for Strangebrew (Robert Wallace 2007) winning the Fortean Times Award at the London Short Film Festival in the same year. The film concept being a strong influence of the album design of Martyn's Heaven and Earth (2011).
On 4 February 2008, Martyn received the lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. The award was presented by his friend Phil Collins. The BBC website says of Martyn, "his heartfelt performances have either suggested or fully demonstrated an idiosyncratic genius." Eric Clapton was quoted as saying that Martyn was, "so far ahead of everything, it's almost inconceivable." Martyn performed "Over the Hill" and "May You Never" at the ceremony, with John Paul Jones accompanying on mandolin.
To mark Martyn's 60th birthday, Island released a 4CD boxed set, Ain't No Saint on 1 September 2008. The set includes unreleased studio material and rare live recordings.
Martyn was appointed OBE in the 2009 New Year Honours.
The OBE was presented posthumously to Martyn's daughter (Mhairi McGeachy) and his partner (Teresa Walsh) in 2009.
Martyn died on 29 January 2009, in hospital in Ireland, due to double pneumonia. His death was announced by John Hillarby on his official website "With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning."
Phil Collins paid tribute, saying: "John's passing is terribly, terribly sad. I had worked with and known him since the late 1970s and he was a great friend. He was uncompromising, which made him infuriating to some people, but he was unique and we'll never see the likes of him again. I loved him dearly and will miss him very much." English rock band Keane included a dedication to Martyn at their Glasgow concert that evening. On 31 January 2009, Liverpool-based folk-singer/guitarist John Smith, who had previously supported Martyn on tour, performed "Spencer The Rover", from Martyn's Sunday's Child album, at The Bluecoat in Liverpool, announcing the song "For John".
Paying tribute to Martyn, BBC Radio 2's folk presenter Mike Harding said: "John Martyn was a true original, one of the giants of the folk scene. He could write and sing classics like 'May You Never' and 'Fairy Tale Lullaby' like nobody else, and he could sing traditional songs like Spencer The Rover in a way that made them seem new minted." Harding introduced an hour-long tribute to Martyn in his Radio 2 programme on 25 February 2009.
A tribute album entitled Johnny Boy Would Love This was released on 15 August 2011, comprising cover versions of his songs by various artists.