Remember when cassette tape compilations quietly replaced love letters as the way to someone’s heart?
How convenient it was to let someone else do the talking for you – although with at least one side of a C90 being the very minimum you could get away with, it could take considerably longer to sort out the definitive collection of love songs than pouring your soppy heart out over a sheet of A4 or a Valentine’s card shoplifted from Woolworth’s.
Presumably things have changed. Ever newer technology and social media means there are millions of suitable songs just waiting for the touch of a button to download – or you can simply text “happy birthday/Christmas/anniversary” etc etc. Just don’t forget the “X” or a suitable emoji.
Rubbish isn’t it? Where’s the romance? Where’s the thought? Where’s the quick quote you wished you’d created? Where’s John Martyn singing: “And may you never lay your head down without a hand to hold. May you never make your bed out in the cold.”
There, that’s it. Enough said in less than two dozen words. He even provides alternative additions to suit all sexes.
Try: “You’re just like a great strong brother of mine,
You know that I love you true
And you never talk dirty behind my back
And I know that there’s those that do.”
Or flip and go for: “Well you’re just like a good close sister to me,
You know that I love you true
And you hold no blade to stab me in the back
And I know that there’s some that do.”
Obviously you can adjust the brother and sister for more of a personalised romantic gesture. But it’s pretty all encompassing by the time Martyn reaches out with: “Oh please won’t you, please won’t you bear it in mind
Love is a lesson to learn in our time.
And please won’t you, please won’t you
Bear it in mind for me.”
And for those of us who, like the unpredictable Martyn, live life a bit more on the edge, he even adds: “May you never lose your temper if you get in a bar room fight.
May you never lose your woman overnight.”
A love song for everyone then? Certainly a song about loyalty, love and passion but seemingly much inspired by an actual bar room fight he allegedly did get into and a woman he did actually lose (more or less) overnight. Well, the thought was there.
John Martyn (aka Iain David McGeachy OBE – 11 September 1948 – 29 January 2009), released 22 studio albums over a 40 year career and received frequent critical acclaim.
Mentored by Hamish Imlach, Martyn began his professional musical career when he was 17, playing a fusion 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 same year.
In 1973, he 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.
May You Never was track seven on the album. Originally released in November 1971 as a single in an early form. The song was re-recorded during the Solid Air sessions. The new version became something of a signature song for Martyn, as well as a staple of his live performances.
But it took some doing. When re-recording the song for Solid Air, he just couldn’t settle on a take that he was satisfied with. The night before producer John Wood was due to fly to New York to master the album, he was still waiting for the tape containing the tune.
“It was by then nearly midnight,” he recalled to Mojo magazine in April 2013. “So I said to him, For Christ’s sake, John, just go back down into the studio and play it again, and we’ll record it. And he did, and it’s great.”
Eric Clapton covered the song on his 1977 album Slowhand.
Martyn abused drugs and alcohol throughout his life. On the brink of major success he was derailed by his passion for musical exploration and by an appetite for excess that bordered on self-destruction. Martyn slid into alcoholism, his live performances punctuated by moments of incoherent drunkenness.
He died on 29 January 2009, in hospital in Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland, due to acute respiratory distress syndrome. He was survived by his partner, Teresa Walsh, and his children, Mhairi and Spencer McGeachy.
Following Martyn’s death, Rolling Stone lauded his “progressive folk invention and improvising sorcery.”
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.”
As Scottish poet, novelist and essayist James Hogg (aka The Ettrick Shepherd, 1770 – 1835) said in Good Night, An’ Joy Be Wi Ye A’ – a poem Martyn surely must have read or had read to him by his Glaswegian grandmother:
“Ye hae been kind as I was keen,
An’ followed where I led the way,
Till ilka poet’s lore we’ve seen
O this an’ many a former day.
If e’er I led your steps astray,
Forgi’e your minstrel ance for a’;
A tear fa’s wi’ his partin’ lay-
Good night, an’ joy be wi’ ye a’! “
|Folk Rock, Folk Jazz