John Martyn – Solid Air (1973)

Andy Currums

Executive Director; Former Artistic Director at Creative Youth, aged 34

Released in 1973, when John Martyn was just 24, Solid Air remains one of the defining albums from the British folk scene of the 60’s and 70’s. Not that Martyn liked being labelled a folk musician particularly, and for Solid Air – his sixth studio album of ultimately twenty offerings – he actively started pulling away from the revivalist crowd, rejecting the notion of folk tradition, defying expectations, and implementing musical inspirations from a wide span. The result is a beautiful, layered, complex, and compelling listen which prophetically plays out much like Martyn’s own life would – flitting delicately on a knife edge that threatens beauty or aggression at any moment. All grace and danger. 

I remember clearly the first time I heard Solid Air in its entirety – on my own in the office of my student job, where I had to sit and man the phones until 10pm after the other (read: grown-up) staff had already clocked off. My Dad had been a fan of John Martyn, not that I ever paid much mind, and in that dull, fluorescent lit, lonely office, I thought I should give it a try – out of some sort of parental obligation maybe. I Googled “John Martyn most famous album”, put on Solid Air, and within the first few bars of the title track – with that deep, mournful guitar and undulating bass line against Martyn’s sinuous vocal style – I was unfalteringly in love. It curled around me like a fern in the spring. I listened to the whole album, start to finish, three times in a row. 

Solid Air contains what is undoubtedly Martyn’s most famous song, May You Never – a heartfelt ode to fraternal loyalty (though Martyn never much cared for the song himself). But like all great albums, Solid Air is best enjoyed in full. Somehow eclectic and holistic at once, and running at a tight 35 minutes, Solid Air is an album that does not outstay its welcome, but will remain with you long after the stylus lifts. 

Kingston link:

John Martyn was a regular on the Kingston Folk Barge, first playing there on 13/4/1967

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