John Martyn – The Apprentice (3CD/DVD) Cherry Red Records
There are many John Martyn fans who refrain from venturing beyond 1980’s Grace and Danger. Martyn is of course most well-known for his late-60s and 70s output, notably Solid Air (1973) and One World (1977), but there’s a vast catalogue of excellent music to explore through the 80s and onwards.
One such highlight is The Apprentice, which has been given the deluxe treatment courtesy of Cherry Red Records. Originally recorded in 1987 only to be rejected by his then-label Island Records, this remastered version is Martyn’s re-recording for Permanent Records, which saw the light of day in 1990. Quite why Island took such a dislike to the original album remains somewhat unclear (you can find this version on the lavish box set from 2013, The Island Years), and the song arrangements on his second attempt at recording this body of work sound considerably different.
This is John Martyn in full soul mode, a style that defined his output post-Grace and Danger. The production is gloss-pop, awash with glistening synthesisers, amped with saxophone noodling, and swimming in swathes of reverb. It’s not hard to understand why lovers of his folk troubadour years find this hard to swallow, as it’s worlds apart, yet excellent in its own right – if you’re into this sort of thing. Surely nobody can deny that his unique vocal style is made for this realm.
The Apprentice is a solid record from start to finish and competes with 1984’s Sapphire as the finest from this period in Martyn’s oeuvre. ‘Deny This Love’ is an insatiably catchy funk rock number and a clear highlight, ‘The River’ (not to be confused with his song of the same name from 1968) shows Martyn can still sing the blues, while ‘Income Town’ also stands out as another catchy, driving soft-rock anthem.
This four-disc set treats fans to a long-awaited reissue and remaster of Martyn’s concert at The Shaw Theatre, London, from 1990. Not only is the two-disc audio presented here, but we get the video too – featuring Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour on several songs. This live document is essential for fans of the era and proves that tunes from Martyn’s mid-career records don’t feel out of place when nestled among his 70s staples. Close your eyes and lose yourself in the set-closing performance of ‘One World’… Martyn’s breathtaking, emotive vocals and Gilmour’s trademark minimalist soloing are worth the price of the box alone.
Dan Aston | Now Spinning Magazine