Iain David McGeachy OBE (11 September 1948 – 29 January 2009), known professionally as John Martyn, was a British singer-songwriter and guitarist. Over a 40-year career, he released 22 studio albums, and received frequent critical acclaim. The Times described him as “an electrifying guitarist and singer whose music blurred the boundaries between folk, jazz, rock and blues”.
Martyn began his career at age 17 as a key member of the British folk music scene, drawing inspiration from American blues and English traditional music, and signed with Island Records. By the 1970s he had begun incorporating jazz and rock into his sound on albums such as Solid Air (1973) and One World (1977), as well as experimenting with guitar effects and tape delay machines such as Echoplex. He struggled with substance abuse and domestic problems throughout the 1970s and 1980s, though continued to release albums while collaborating with figures such as Phil Collins and Lee “Scratch” Perry. He remained active until his death in 2009.
Solid Air is the fourth studio album by British folk singer-songwriter John Martyn, released in February 1973 by Island Records.
The album was recorded over eight days and features instrumental contributions by bassist Danny Thompson and members of Fairport Convention. “Solid Air”, the title track, was dedicated to a friend of Martyn’s, Nick Drake, who would die of an antidepressant overdose 18 months after the album was released. Martyn said of the track “It was done for a friend of mine, and it was done right with very clear motives, and I’m very pleased with it, for varying reasons. It has got a very simple message, but you’ll have to work that one out for yourself.” The album features an avant-garde cover of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman,” here retitled “I’d Rather Be the Devil” and performed with heavy use of Martyn’s Echoplex tape delay effect.
“May You Never” became something of a signature song for Martyn, becoming a staple of his live performances. Released in November 1971 as a single in an early form, the song was re-recorded during the Solid Air sessions. Eric Clapton covered “May You Never” on his 1977 album Slowhand. When Martyn was presented with a lifetime achievement award by Phil Collins (a collaborator of Martyn’s) at the 2008 BBC Folk Awards, In 2006, Martyn performed the album live in its entirety as part of the All Tomorrow’s Parties-curated Don’t Look Back series and subsequently toured the UK.
A remastered CD was issued by Universal Records in October 2000. This CD was packaged in a card slipcase, and featured a remastered version of the original album with the addition of a live version of “I’d Rather Be The Devil”. Solid Air was given a further remastering and repackaging when a double CD reissue curated by John Hillarby was released in 2009, and which included several alternate studio and live versions.
The album cover is an example of schlieren photography demonstrating the ‘solid’ nature of air.
Solid Air was rated as the 67th Greatest British Album Ever by the British music magazine Q, and was also included in their list of Best Chill-Out Albums Of All Time. The album is included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery. It was voted number 826 in Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums 3rd Edition (2000). (by wikipedia)
Solid Air is one of the defining moments in British folk, in the same league as Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief, Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights, and Michael Chapman’s Rainmaker. Martyn stepped out of his comfort zone to record and produce it, including not only jazz and blues but rock and plenty of sound effects, and featuring Rhodes piano on some of its tracks, dismaying some fans while winning a ton more for its genre-blurring presentation. A number of its cuts — such as the title track (written for Martyn’s friend, Nick Drake), “Over the Hill,” “I’d Rather Be the Devil,” and “May You Never” — remained staples in his live sets until the end of his life. (by by Thom Jurek)
Neemoi “Speedy” Acquaye (percussion)
John “Rabbit” Bundrick (keyboards, clavinet)
John Martyn (guitar, vocals, keyboards on 09.)
Dave Mattacks (drums)
Dave Pegg (bass)
Danny Thompson (bass)
Tristan Fry (vibraphone on 01.)
Tony Coe (saxophone on 01. + 06.)
Sue Draheim (violin on 02.)
Simon Nicol (autoharp on 02.)
Richard Thompson (mandolin on 02.)
01. Solid Air (Martyn) 5.47
02. Over The Hill (Martyn) 2.51
03. Don’t Want To Know (Martyn) 3.02
04. I’d Rather Be The Devil (James) 6.19
05. Go Down Easy (Martyn) 3.36
06. Dreams By The Sea (Martyn) 3.18
07. May You Never (Martyn) 3.43
08. The Man In The Station (Martyn) 2.55
09. The Easy Blues (Martyn) 3.22
John Martyn (11 September 1948 – 29 January 2009)