John Martyn Live In Concert Review
John Martyn's quirky and original brand of bluesy-folky-rock has resulted in an excellent body of work over the past 35 years. However, my personal preference for his more recent songwriting means that this concert, recorded in 1984, is not really to my taste. Having said that, the quality of the music is fairly high and the performance is good so it's a shame that the quality of the video recording is so poor.
The concert lasts about an hour and contains 9 songs of varying quality. The opener "I Don't Wanna Know" is a good blues ballad with Martyn's haunting voice on top form - although along with some of the other songs, the influence of Phil Collins' album "Face Value" is all too obvious. Martyn worked with Collins on several albums in the early eighties and the sound of many of these songs comes straight from those. We also get the obligatory guitar solo in the middle, highlighting Martyn's trademark use of the echoplex. "Lookin' On" is a rather non-descript rock song, followed by "Sweet Little Mystery", the best track on the disc. An achingly gorgeous love song, it is beautifully performed with Martyn's vocals acting as a nice contrast to the poignant melody. More rock with "Root Love" = an average song with a killer riff - and then a nice smoky number called "Could've Been Me" that burns slowly until the memorable chorus. The unfortunately named "Big Muff" reminded me of eighties Eric Clapton (not a good thing) and "John Wayne" is a song you either like or loathe - it's certainly unusual, and Martyn's decidedly, er, intoxicated performance of it here is quite an experience. "One World" is another slow-burning ballad with some good synthesiser effects and, finally, "Sapphire" has a nice introduction but mumbled lyrics and a muddy arrangement.
There isn't much visual excitement here. Martyn is a charismatic fellow but he and his band are not what you'd call image-conscious. This is a refreshing change but it does result in a rather non-visual experience considering it's been kept for posterity on video. The crowd are all frightfully well behaved, perhaps because the interior of the Camden Palace Theatre resembles a carpet warehouse. There are one or two amusing moments, notably when Martyn pauses his swigging of Heineken to light up a spliff and a member of the audience shouts "Pass it this way". The lighting is as unattractive as on the recent Steve Harley disc I reviewed, all blue filters and dry ice although, thankfully, there is no pink on display this time.
This is one of the better efforts from Classic Pictures Entertainment. It's not especially good but it isn't all that bad either and considering the material they are working from it deserves a tolerant reception.
The excess of dry ice means that a thorough clean up of the material would be needed for it to look remotely good. This hasn't been undertaken unfortunately so the image is riddled with artifacting. It's also disarmingly soft and lacking in detail. However, there isn't too much grain and it's generally an improvement on VHS. The concert was shot on video which doesn't help matters much and is presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio.
The sound is pretty basic 2 channel stereo. It's acceptable but a little lacking in dynamic range. Some songs sound better than others but it's not a particularly impressive track. I think the PCM track on the Steve Harley concert was generally better than this one.
The extras are limited to a fairly detailed biography and a discography (without record labels or numbers). There is an animated menu which takes a while to appear and is more irksome than attractive. There is a choice of a static menu as well. There are 9 chapter stops corresponding to the track listing.
You also get a CD of the concert on the flip side of the DVD. I rather like this feature, and the CD has been played quite a few times more than the DVD.
Incidentally, although the cover features John Martyn as he looks now, the concert is considerably older and consequently contains no recent material.
I can't say this was particularly impressive by current DVD standards but it isn't all that bad. I have listened to the CD more than I watched the DVD but it's nice to have the choice. Hardly a must-buy, but not a total disgrace either.