MOJO CAN ANNOUNCE exclusively that a treasure-trove of unheard material will accompany the full Island Records oeuvre of folk maverick John Martyn, to be unleashed in an 18-disc box set in September. Aural highlights include several songs unreleased in any form – including Love In Your Life from 1984, Lifeline from 1987 and a cover of High Heel Sneakers from the Grace And Danger sessions – plus two full unreleased live shows, one from The Hanging Lamp, Richmond, May 8, 1972, with Martyn in his Bless The Weather/Solid Air pomp, and one from Sydney, Australia in 1977.
Martyn’s singular approach to songwriting and guitar playing – not to mention his swashbuckling lifestyle – meant that he rarely played a song the same way twice and, with alternate takes fleshing out many of the already-classic Island albums, multiple treats are in store.
Fascinatingly, these include the original 1987 mixes of The Apprentice album, the recordings that prompted the Island label to drop Martyn in 1988 [he put out his own version of the LP in 1990]. For the first time fans will be able to judge for themselves whether it was Island or Martyn who had lost the plot.
Martyn’s legend has loomed large since his death in 2009, since when he has been hailed not just as a folk innovator, but a sui generis musical force majeure.
“The soundscape aspect was the thing that did it for me,” Verve guitarist and Martyn collaborator Nick McCabe told your writer not long after John’s death, “the textural work and his use of effects. A lot of guitarists talk about their ‘craft’ and it's all about the guitar really – there's a lot of blinkerage involved – whereas John’s sights were further flung and he talked about imitating the saxophone. He was a Debussy fan as well, and when I discovered that it made a lot of sense to me.
“[I love] the story about Sunday's Child . According to Danny Thompson they wrote and recorded it live, in the studio in three days. That wilful kind of ‘avoiding structure’ is what makes the listening experience. Knowing that things can take a left turn at any moment makes you listen to it more keenly. For me that open-endedness makes for better music.”
The Island Years consists of 17 audio CDs housed in two gatefold-LP-sized holders and one DVD in a gatefold wallet. A 120-page hardcover book features rare and previously unseen photographs, and there’s reproduction memorabilia including an Island Records press folder containing A4 press release, A5 flyers and a reproduction of one of Martyn’s hand-written setlists. It emerges on September 30.