Christ, this is hard. Hard because this is- mostly- soul music. Hard because this is good. Hard because it hints at, winks at something majestic. Hard because just a bit too much is good, not quite enough is great.
Whisky music, beer music, wine music. If you’ve come across Lucinda before, you’ll know which one this album is. She says she wrote it at her kitchen table in California but you can’t really imagine her sitting at a kitchen table. Or in California. On beds in musty, stained mid-West motel rooms, on stools in deep blue Southern bars, in beat-up Chevys in the dusty Badlands, bottle in hand, yeah, you can imagine that: sitting there, broodingly, waiting, lost but still emotionally predatory. And you can imagine her- yeah- struggling to her feet, beaten and bloodied but on the move again, off on the endless search, guitar-on-back, lusting, yearning . . .
John Martyn’s opera-singing parents once did a show with Roy Rogers and Trigger.
Solid Air was first released in 1973. It’s a gloriously self-contained, wondrously warm and smoky blend of blues, folk, jazz, pop, hope and fear.
There are those – many – who claim JM’s a genius, one of the very greatest British artists.
He had a below-knee amputation in 2003.
Basingstoke was the fifth of ten UK/Ireland dates this year showcasing the original album in its entirety.
We had a dog (some would say a music-lover) that pissed on all our old vinyl albums. The only one that doesn’t still reek, faintly, of urine is . . . Solid Air.
It all starts slowly, painfully. A man wheels Him on. He sits there, guitar in hands, smiling: benign, strong, seemingly sure of his place, sure of His muse. He’s fat and OK with it. The pall of inevitability, of mortality, staining the night drifts over a band who- clearly- love Him and love what they do. He starts singing with an old-man reediness – you can’t help but think of Johnny Cash. Sadness and ease. The years have overwhelmed the ancient slurred brown blues depth-grunt of the past, the impeccable sax/bass/mandolin/drums/keyboards seem to be propping Him up, our memories – the memories of this politest, this intensest, crowd EVER- are propping us up.
Arctic Monkeys this ain’t.
And then things quicken and blur and time distorts. Christ, now He’s mumbling something that sounds like ‘Bohemian bollocks’ and He’s pretty much incomprehensible and now He’s singing again and the voice isn’t another, perfectly-balanced, scorching instrument any more, it’s drowned, it’s suffocated and which one’s this and this must be the first one, Solid Air itself – heart-tearing hymn to, plea to, Nick Drake – and the sax whirls around and the song ends and He smiles and mumbles something and it’s funny – some people are laughing, anyway – and He’s onto the next one, those once-flying fretting fingers so much less agile, less fluid, rigid digits – it’s all – everything – less agile, less fluid, more rigid – and Christ (again) I wish I hadn’t had that last Southern Comfort and Christ I wish He hadn’t had all those Southern Comforts during all those black days and nights and is this where we’re all going to end, drunk and retreading past glories and then and then and then … there’s a moment, then another moment, of astonishing communion between young(ish) pup musicians and Him and us and we realise why the thing was such an astonishing, magical, magisterial album – this is pure, genreless, unique, you just know He always had to work with Lee Perry and you forgive Him working with Phil Collins and suddenly He’s on to Over The Hill – sweet, poppy, always makes me want to cry, even/especially tonight – and a conversation of this afternoon rears up, so many people seem never to have heard of this man and it’s wrong, wrong, Don’t Want To Know and it’s jazz now, no it’s blues, it’s Scotland, it’s England, it’s everywhere and I’d Rather Be The Devil and He’s smiling still and joking and it’s May You Never, most hurt, most compassionate song ever sung and you have visions of the old man as a young man looking at this, bewildered but loving and appreciating the soul and spirit, even as the pain gets too much, and now it’s Go Down Easy and Dreams By The Sea and it’s sex and romance, is that what this is, these are?, bewildering, formless, it’s Uneasy Blues, what year is this, what planet, the Man In The Station is leaving, He’s finished. Finished.
No encore. The man wheels Him off again.