Gone but not forgotten

Glisten Up

Glyndebourne is a majesterial stately home deep within the Home Counties, famous for staging regular opera events for the well-heeled of Englandshire. It also provided the inspiration for Glistening Glyndebourne, a locked-in and whacked-out spacey instrumental on John Martyn‘s 1971 Bless The Weather album.

John MartynGlistening Glyndebourne

The tendrils of jazz – Pharoah Sanders, mainly, but with a hint of Kind Of Blue-era Miles Davis creep around the opening chords like the free-flowing smoke from a Gitanes in a Parisienne jazz club. Eastern tinged piano scales and the dull woody thunk of Danny Thomson’s stand-up bass skirt around one another in search of a melody, neither taking the lead yet both unwilling to play second best. Just as you’re working out where the melody might come from, a richly-picked acoustic guitar tumbles from the fug; twisting, turning, looping, ech-ech-ech-ech-echoing into the ether, dense layers of rippling, waterfalling six string that sounds like nothing before it.

A jazzer at heart, John Martyn wanted to replicate the warm sustain that a horn has. A brief period learning the saxophone proved fruitless, but the Echoplex gave John the next best thing. Played with a wah-wah and filtered through his new box of tricks, he managed to create a sound that was as soulful as a horn section and as otherworldly as an Ornette Coleman solo.

Glistening Glyndebourne rises and falls, speeds up and slows down, grabs you by the ears and takes you with it on its six and a half minute journey. I’m a sucker for it. The squeak and scrape of new strings under lightning-fast fingers, the call and response in the bluesy, ricocheting riffs, the pulverising drum beat that carries it swiftly along. It makes for excellent late night music, with the lights low and a good malt in the bloodstream.

Almost half a century later it still sounds like the future. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the sound of The Edge cribbing notes in preparation for U2’s rise to world domination a decade and a half later. Listen closer still and you’ll hear Nick McCabe stumble upon the sound that’ll help define The Verve as trailblazing cosmic travellers in an era of clunking, meat and potatoes rock-by-numbers.

Martyn’s next album, Solid Air, would feature Echoplex on half the tracks, a sound that quickly became ubiquitous and signature, but on Bless the Weather, Martyn was still a doe-eyed acoustic folkie in search of the unknown. Glistening Glyndebourne is the sound of John Martyn simultaneously landing on his musical feet and taking off into the stratosphere. Joni Mitchell had the weird tunings. John Prine had the lyrics. John Martyn had the Echoplex.

4 thoughts on “Glisten Up”

  1. Yep, as always, yer spot on Mista Callsta. This was a superb pre cursor to his ‘style’ of early to mid 70’s (is it folk, is it jazz, is it easy listening ferchristsakes?) which would lead to his masterpiece (imo) of One World in the late 70’s. If anyone disagrees, I will fight you in the car park. When I was 16-20, I used to regularly go and see all the P*nk bands from Divisions 1-4, ie Clash – Lurkers, and would always come home at 1 AM in the morning and listen (on the headphones) to either John Martyn or Joni Mitchell (as a sort of comedown) and, again, imo ‘One World’ is up there in the Top 10 lists of whatever is being discussed this week. John Martyn, Yeah.

  2. I went to see Hamish Imlach at Falkirk Folk Club about 1980 and John Martyn (he was originally Hamish’s guitar tech and roadie back in the 60s) simply turned up and did a spot as well! Lovely pair of guys. Enjoyed their food, beer and smoke.
    On the back of that I then I went to see John Martyn himself at Ayr Pavilion later in 1980 or 81 (it was a lot of Echoplexy stuff). In late 1983 Mr Martyn walked back onto The Pavilion stage and sparked up a massive spliff. Once he had puffed for a bit, tuned his guitar and swore a few times… then he got started. Great night. He kept coming back to Ayr over the years. Good on him!
    This is kinda typical of the quality John Martyn brought to live performance.”Big Muff”. Waaay better than a digital sample pedal would do nowadays… Martyn was analogue…

    D string-related instrument failure related to weird open tuning, then a blissful rendering of “Solid Air” written for his pal Nick Drake.


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