I’d Marry That Voice: Part 7 – John Martyn

When one thinks about marriage, it is easy to get caught up in a daydream about pretty frocks and horse-drawn carriages and elaborate table decorations, forgetting that in thirty years’ time you will still require a loving companion to hold your hair back as you hurl into a toilet bowl. There are many voices that could be trusted to excel as party-centric co-hosts in a marquee reception; Snoop Dogg, for example, would certainly dress up nice, or perhaps Beth Ditto (although you may not want to invite any relatives of a particularly sensitive disposition).

If you and your chosen voice are in for the long haul however, it is those long winter nights spent curled up on the hire purchase settee that you can’t really afford, when you come to rely upon them the most. You need your voice to be loving, comforting, soothing, and yet remain able to conjure some rock’n’roll good times out of nothing but half a bottle of leftover cherry brandy and Pictionary. Considering the current, shocking divorce statistics in the UK, for long-term happiness one must choose John Martyn.

Emerging at the end of the Sixties as a key player in the London folk scene, Martyn’s fluid guitar style was immediately notable to a generation accustomed to the genre’s trad classics, but it was his distinctive slurred vocal style that really set Martyn apart. Often compared to the sound of a tenor saxophone, his unintelligible singing is his calling card, though I was first introduced to him via the crystal clear sentiment of May You Never.

This song, apart from being as close to a “hit” as Martyn has ever come, communicates a raw power by way of a gently expressive half-whisper. A truly staggering vocal performance, this is his hot water bottle moment; the song that will always make me feel loved and secure, thin and debt-free. May You Never is, of course, complemented by the vast back catalogue of growly drunken grooving that documents the career and the alcoholism of this awesome talent. Clutches, in particular, is less than two minutes of the funkiest bluesy folk I have ever heard, and is everything that the final hour of a raucous house party should be; euphoric, lazy, loved up, and absolutely hammered.

More recently, a covers album has revealed a latecomer to his list of seminal recordings, with Portishead’s Glory Box receiving the rootsy murmuring treatment. In the final moments, when he sings “# reeeeason… #,” you may as well just pour me into a bucket.

If it’s alright with you, I’ll imagine the curly-haired, fresh face of 1973 Martyn, rather than the quite literally legless shadow that is now hanging onto his Jack Daniels with a stronger grip than his health. But I know that May You Never will be sound-tracking my own triumphs, heartbreaks and hangovers for many years yet.

words: Megan Vaughan