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Beverley Martyn

The Phoenix & the Turtle
Les Cousins / Proper

It’s a survivor’s voice, this. A survivor of life’s ups and downs and emotional stresses, some doubtless eased by the passage of time and others likely indelible…

Let’s put this in context – the very first ‘folk’ show I went to was at a pretty spooky church crypt here in Richmond in England and not far from the River Thames. It was a dark night and as an electric rock fan I had succumbed to the allure of taking a dark haired girl I had met on a bus and found dazzling. The girl, not the bus. In fact, I only went for the date aspect. I will admit. The act was a charisma-soaked Canadian character called Patrick Sky and quite a writer. BUT I was actually entranced by a mumbling tousle-haired player opening the show and singing of strange weather, ghosts and (?) jellyrolls..whatever they were. He seemed to know, he hissed out the words and hammered out hard bluesy guitar figures. Magical……fast forward to a duo – this time John Martyn AND Beverley Martyn. Their voices – at a festival – worked well together but they were no grinning Peter Paul & Mary outfit. There seemed to be tension, mostly harnessed into the music, but not all and not quite..

What happened after is pretty well known.  The marriage disintegrated, Beverley Martyn was for quite a while on the scene but not…

December 2013 – London’s Royal Festival Hall. I am there to see the tribute show to the late great Bert Jansch and the lineup is staggering, taking in Ralph McTell, Pentangle, Donovan Leitch, Robert Plant, Bernard Butler…and the best part of the show is a saturnine and measured tread through Memphis Minnie’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’, all sullen emphatic vocal and clanging electric guitars. It is stunning and when an ‘own’ gig at Bush Hall is announced, we book tickets without hesitation

So this album is her first in fourteen years and DOES include the MM song, hooray !  The ex bass man from Counting Crows and the ex drummer from Los Lobos contribute, as does guitar man and producer Mark Pavey. Martyn describes the sound as ‘ very Transatlantic’

‘Reckless Jane’ is a BM collaboration with long-departed legend Nick Drake..the voice is hesitant but strong in its own way, the electric guitar counterpoint edging in over beatific strings and acoustic guitars ; ‘Potters Blues’ is a close cousin to ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ in melody but concerns the late acerbic playwright Dennis Potter, a fascinating man I have been reading about in Roy Hudd’s autobiography.

The steady lope of ‘Going To Germany’ has a spirited vocal and pleasing guitar arrangement ; ‘Sweet Joy’ shows an almost hymnal atmosphere..seems it was Beverley’s very first composition. Heavy amp tremolo worthy of Buffalo Springfield haunts ‘Mountain Top’ and puts me in mind of a subdued Melanie, if there could be such a thing. ‘Jesse James’ the closer has a sprightly roll to it.

This record drips feel and sincerity, the careworn voice made for telling tales, the guitar-based arrangements really appropriate and colourful. No clutter, no gimmicks and all up close and personal

Pete Sargeant

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