Yesterday the OH suggested we have an evening out watching a tribute band.
I don’t normally go to watch bands. I went to see the Beatles in the early Sixties and knew immediately that no experience could improve on that. The gods were leaning out of Olympus and listening; there was certainly something more in the Sunderland Empire than the audience and the musicians. David Attenborough gave a radio talk in which he proposed that human male singing behaviour to attract females is akin to similar behaviour in other species, notably birds. You can see the truth of this in numerous recorded concerts by boy bands; the boy singer warbles and the females respond.
Every now and then something extra occurs: music.
Following the Beatles and their remarkable capacity for writing money, there was an upsurge in showmanship by some bands who could produce music, especially when assisted by technology and, to be fair, an awful lot who couldn’t under any circumstances but did the gig anyway.
But there were one or two who eschewed the bells and whistles and a very few singer-songwriters who only needed a guitar, a microphone and a chair to make magic.
Such a person was John Martyn, who was actually called David McGeachy but chose the name of a guitar for his stage name. He left the planet in 2009, sadly but not before leaving a fantastic musical legacy, much of which was just him and a guitar because that’s all he needed.
If you have never heard the music of John Martyn I suggest you listen online. He could not only make his guitar sing, he could do it himself and wrote most of it too. I think perhaps lack of showmanship did him a disservice in the Sixties and Seventies because, despite several major hits, he was always niche; his music enjoyed by people who were not ‘fans’ as much as people who liked proper music played by the man who wrote it, properly.
So, after an afternoon of kiln watching, when the OH suggested a bit of band watching at the theatre of the local university, I was quite keen to go.
The John Martyn Project is the name of the group, all independent singer songwriters who have come together just because they like the music. This in itself is interesting because most of them weren’t born when John was at his most active.
The audience were, though.
It was time travel. Never have I been in an auditorium with quite so many of my contemporaries. I was not the only one with a seventies hairstyle, though some had given up the hair completely and quite a few were sporting that interesting long-grey-ponytail-from-three follicles look. I had difficulty negotiating all the steps because I had had a knee pack up on me on Wednesday. There was a smattering of sticks, a tidal wave of comfy shoes and a few having an evening out in highish heels, mainly waving away assistance to do one step at a time.
After the intermission, in which the OH purchased a tee-shirt, for leaving in a drawer, the band got a little experimental and the audience played on phones and sent emails until the expected songs returned.
It was very good entertainment, they could certainly play the instruments and we found the car park more readily, returning, than we found the theatre setting out on the huge campus.
Good music transcends fashion, but you knew that already and are reminded of it every time you are played Vivaldi in a phone queue.
The John Martyn Project are worth a couple of hours if they surface near you, you can find out where with your search engine. The music of John Martyn is worth listening to, too.
May you never go much longer without these songs to hold.