Matt McGinn on John Martyn

Matt McGinn has already released one of the best albums of 2020 in Lessons Of War. The County Down native is a master wordsmith who has crafted brilliant, narrative songs.

One of Matt McGinn’s biggest influences is the legendary John Martyn. Here, he tells us why he loves the music of John Martyn.

Image result for john martyn
John Martyn

I really don’t know what it is about John Martyn. If I could put my finger on what exactly it is that makes him and his music so special, I would bottle it up and dab it under my oxters when the need arose!

We did a tribute concert to him recently for Belfast Culture Night and it was amazing to see men and women, young and old, packing into the place to hear myself and a few other artists bringing an interpretation of some of his works to the stage. The fact that we were probably getting no where near close to John’s own delivery mattered none to the audience.

They relished at an opportunity to be close to his spirit, and feel the company of like minded Martyn lovers if only for a few hours. Tears were shed and stories shared. It was a lovely moment that reminded me of how unique, underrated and misunderstood this man was. 

It all clicked within hearing John for the first time. At the age of 11 I started playing the acoustic guitar, a tank of an Eko that belonged to my father. I lusted for an electric though and got one for Christmas the following year. From my tiny 15 watt amp I tried to get as much power and dirt as possible to try and rival the sounds of Hendrix and Clapton; musicians I adored.

My Uncle Neil had a great record collection that I constantly rifled through, and a lovely old Technics sound system that sounded incredible. One day he stopped me from putting going through my usual routine of putting on The Who, followed by Hendrix and AC/DC. He took a record from its sleeve, put it on the turntable, carefully chose a particular song and turned it up. It was ‘May You Never’.

All of the power I had searched for in distortion and fuzz was blown apart by an acoustic guitar. I literally felt my brain melting, how one man, one voice and a guitar could have everything you could possibly need in a song. I was instantly hooked, and I think it was the day I fell out of love with the electric guitar. 

‘May you Never’ is always going to one of my favourite songs of all time, so for this I’ll pick out one I love for so many different reasons. ‘Small Hours’ from One World. In the present day were we have so many plugins and virtual instruments at the drop of a hat, the ingenuity of one man with a guitar, a volume and delay pedal is just incredible. It’s a song that just takes me to a different place. I get lost in it every time I hear it.

It is so perfect, the first time I heard it I remember having a massive lump in my throat, it almost brought me to tears. And as iconic as the cover for Solid Air is, I love One World’s even more. It kind of reflects how I feel about Small Hours, as in “I have no idea how they did that”.

As far as my favourite John Martyn lyric, I reckon it’s every verse in ‘Couldn’t Love You More’…

If you kissed the sun right out of the sky for me
If you told me all the lies I might deserve
If you lay right down and you died for me
I could not love you more.

If you gave me everything I’d never ask of you
If you showed me all the ways you have to cry
If you lay all night in the rain for me
I could not love you more.

If you loved me til my eyes could no more shine for you
If you walked beside me all the long way home
If you wasted all of your time on me
Couldn’t love you more

Every now and again something happens in life that turns your world upside-down, and you never look at it the same way again. My top three world flippers were having my first child, having my second and third child…and hearing John Martyn for the first time.

Many thanks to Matt for taking the time to be a special guest writer for us. It is always a pleasure to hear of people’s influences and what they mean to them.

You can view Matt’s latest video from Lessons Of War here. It has an air of John Martyn about it.

Matt McGinn’s upcoming tour dates are here:

  • 7th April – Whelan’s Upstairs, Dublin
  • 3rd May – Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Belfast
  • 19th May – The Harrison, London
  • 21st  May – The Old Stables, Cricklade, Bristol
  • 23rd May in The Palace, Longridge
  • 24th May in The Place Theatre, Bedford

Matt McGinn: Official Website / Facebook / Twitter

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