Tuesday, 8 September 2015

"London Conversation" by JOHN MARTYN (2005 Universal/Island Expanded CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...





"...My Young Love Said To Me..." 

At the sprightly age of 18 – the young Scottish Folk Troubadour Ian David McGeachy signed to the roster of Chris Blackwell's eclectic and brilliant Island Records and became the first white artist to do so. Remodelling his new surname on a Martin Acoustic Guitar (changing the 'i' to a 'y') and just one month after his 19th birthday – his debut album "London Conversation" was released in Mono in October 1967 to a rapidly changing musical landscape.

Recorded at the Pye Studios in London and criminally forgotten now - it reputedly cost a paltry £157 to make - and thus began a love affair with that brilliant record label and his public that lasted into the late 1980s and beyond. In fact I've always felt that his music in the 90s and 00s was even more brilliant than his revered 60ts and 70ts output (his loss in January 2009 was a bitter blow to many music lovers). John Martyn's Folky debut LP has always been notoriously difficult to find on original vinyl (let alone repress) - so its CD reissue here under the 'Island Remasters' label-imprint is both welcome and beautifully done. Here are the chimney-pot chitchats and wee bonnie ballads...

UK released November 2005 – "London Conversation" by JOHN MARTYN on Universal/Island Remasters IMCD 319 (Barcode 602498307335) is an Expanded CD Remaster (one added bonus track) and plays out as follows (42:04 minutes):

1. Fairy Tale Lullaby
2. Sandy Grey
3. London Conversation
4. Ballad Of An Elderly Woman
5. Cocain
6. Run Honey Run
7. Back To Stay [Side 2]
8. Rolling Home
9. Who's Grown Up Now
10. Golden Girl
11. This Time
12. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
Tracks 1 to 12 are his debut studio album "London Conversation" – released October 1967 in the UK on Island ILP 952 (Mono only). Theo Johnson produced the album (it received no US release).

BONUS TRACK:
13. She Moved Through The Fair – Previously Unreleased Session Outtake

The 12-page booklet has new liner notes from JOHN HILLARBY – a man who has kept the JM light lit for decades now. There's a two page photo spread of the rear sleeve with John sat between chimney pots playing his Acoustic Guitar and looking 'so' young. It’s sad to think that Hillarby mentions the Traditional 'Cocain' and the Bob Dylan cover of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" as 'remaining favourites with him' because of course when he wrote the liner notes in September 2005 – John Martyn was still with us (living in Ireland). Compiled by Mark Powell of Esoteric Recordings fame – the big news is a fabulous Remaster by PASCHAL BYRNE (Tape Research by Zoe Roberts) that really brings out the Folk beauty and purity of the recording. With just an Acoustic Guitar and his Voice for the bulk of the tracks – "London Conversation" is a long way away from 1973's trippy "Solid Air" or 1977's gorgeous "One World" with its echoplex guitars and space Folk-Rock soundscapes – but I find its Folky simplicity 'beautiful' to the nth degree. These are sweet and lovely melodies – and even at 19 – his voice was so expressive and Soulful.

It opens with the impossibly pretty "Fairy Tale Lullaby" – the acoustic guitar sweet and warm – as it is on "Sandy Grey" – a love song written in anger about Nick Drake by Robin Frederick (mistakenly credited to JM on the LP). "London Conversation" is another gorgeous transfer – no hiss – just air and his voice as the strings rattle. "Ballad Of An Elderly Woman" and "Run Honey Run" have great stories to each – "...Well I wish I could think of some cliché to mouth to make our parting scene less sad..." Side 2 opens with "Back To Stay" – a sweet rolling JM ballad that reminds me of "May You Never". His Sitar playing on "Rolling Home" is impressive (the only track to feature the instrument) while one of the album's hidden nuggets is "Who's Grown Up Now". Both it and "Golden Girl" are JM originals - yet they sound old – like they’ve always been with us. And while the Dylan cover is inevitable (and rather tastefully done too) – what blows me away is the gorgeous and Previously Unreleased session outtake "She Moves Through The Fair" – a Traditional that stretches back centuries. The lyrics have always moved me – "...it will not be long love...till our wedding day..." Simple Minds turned it into "Belfast Child" on their superb 1989 album "Street Fighting Years".

In the last few years - the album has seen renewed interest. July 2014 saw a reissue on heavyweight 180grams vinyl of the LP using the Paschal Byrne remaster - while 18 April 2015 saw "Cocain" b/w "London Conversation" issued as Record Store Day 45 in the UK on Island 472-010-2.

"London Conversation" is forgotten now and he would follow it with "The Tumbler" in December 1968 – another Folk album affair – but this time with some Blues and his own songwriting magic on stuff "Fly On Home" (which is actually very Nick Drake with Harold McNair’s flute additions).

Sometimes things are beautiful precisely because an artist keeps it simple – song, voice and guitar - no clutter. John Martyn was always capable of moving the masses and even as a naïve lad of 19 living in a London flat living on Tea and Toast to survive - I'm sure that's what Chris Blackwell saw and heard when he signed someone so young. Talent, talent, talent - and a huge Celtic soul. I miss him...

This review and hundreds like it are part of my full-fitted e-Book (over 1850 pages) called 
"COOL 1960s MUSIC" - it part of the SOUNDS GOOD: Exceptional CD Remasters" Series

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