John Martyn

Bless the Weather(Island 1971)

As I garner more rings around my stump, it becomes more difficult to find myself immersed in those magical moments where you sit dumbfounded by the genius of an album throughout your maiden voyage in its presence. Thankfully, the advent of the internet has unlocked new universes of sounds and genres my teenage mind couldn’t have even imagined when I pined away for unattainable love in my bedroom and idolized Morrissey as if he was the bee’s knees. However, I possess a near photographic memory of the first time I rushed home to my hovel to hear such classics as the Holy Modal Rounders’ Have Moicy, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless or Fairport Covention’s Unhalfbricking and just oozed and melted into the moment as if it were a landmark in my life imbued with a near ecstatic, religious fervor for what was just imprinted upon my very soul. These moments are rare and magical and I hope they pass before my eyes when I shed this mortal coil.

I discovered John Martyn via an article in the Wire where I was drawn to his quote  “For a while I had the reputation of a real bad boy: this man was going to punch you out, shoot you or fuck you. I deliberately cultivated it, because it kept people away from me. I want people away from me, basically… Obviously one loses one’s innocence as one gets older; it becomes more difficult to speak. But I think innocence really is permanent.” The combination of sensitivity, difficult behavior, self-destructive tendencies and eloquence inspired me to order Bless the Weather from the local record store chain in my podunk college town and thought nothing of it until it arrived weeks later. I was fresh out of college and living in self-imposed poverty as a line cook at the kind of Italian joint where they’d passive aggressively place a handle of whiskey out for the staff after we survived an onslaught of meal tickets as if they wanted to exterminate us like a coven of cockroaches. Who cared? I was passing time until an escape to Savannah, Georgia came to fruition. It was a light-hearted time where friends were plentiful, excess was welcomed and the moment was all that mattered for now. Anyhow, the call eventually came and I walked a crooked mile to retrieve my album and I sat down in a tattered living room littered with pretentious tomes, soiled dishes and mountains of music and placed the cd into the tray as my roommates gathered around this figurative campfire of detritus and the opening strains of John Martyn’s “Go Easy” washed over us and made us feel new again then tossed us onto the rocks below with one of the most haunting, battered sentiments our uncalloused ears had yet heard in our young lives.

Looking at me you never find out what a working man’s about
Raving all night, sleeping away the day
Something to ask
Something to say
Something to keep the pain away
Something I’d like to see if it’s alright.

Life, go easy on me
Love, don’t pass me by.

Spending my time, making it shine, gotta throw away the rest
Look at the ways to vent and amaze my mind
Something I need
Something I plead for
Something I have to say
Something to keep me safe while I’m away.

Life, go easy on me
Love, don’t pass me by
Life, go easy on me
Love, don’t pass me by.

One way for me, one way for you, one way for all of us
To get back home, do whatever we want to do
Nothing to tell you
Nothing to show
Nothing that you don’t know
Something to play
Something to say for now.

Life, go easy on me
Love, don’t pass me by
Life, go easy on me
Love, don’t pass me by
Love, don’t pass me by

It was one of those inconceivable instances where the music matched the unfair expectations I had built up in my mind. “Go Easy” plastered a seemingly endless grin on our faces as we simultaneously basked in the beauty of the song while being rendered dumbstruck by the eloquence of how he painted a tragic, romantic and troubled worldview in a simple song. It was a transcendent prayer to the faceless gods above to allow him enough moments of joy to keep trudging along in a life where he alternated between suffering and inspiration. He hopes for more of the latter while accepting that his personal flaws invited a horde of the former. It’s submissive and defiant all at once which kind of sums up his existence at that moment in his life.

The ironic thing about the gush of hyperbole that precedes this sentence is that the rest of the album fails to match the heights of its life affirming introduction. Don’t get me wrong. Bless the Weather is one of my favorite albums, but is not perfect by any means. However, I would tout this as one of the best half albums ever recorded. It doesn’t hurt that the second song on the album “Bless the Weather” nearly captures the same conflicted sentiments of its predecessor.

Time after time I held it just to watch it die
Line after line I loved it just to watch it cry
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you away
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you home
Wave after wave I washed it just to watch it turn
Day after day I cooled it just to watch it burn
Pain after pain I stood it just to see how it feels
Rain after rain I stood it just to make it real
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the day you go away
Bless the weather that brought you to me
Curse the storm that takes you away

It’s yet another ode to embracing the warm glow of love and a wallowing in the inevitable decay of it due to his own failings and flaws. Martyn was never quite so proud and powerful, yet so frail and pummeled by life as on this album and these two tracks are so alive, yet injured and torn that they break your heart while inspiring you because he comes across as a prizefighter who never goes down in sheer spite of those who jab at his soul.

There are other highlights like “Just Now” which champions transience as a way of life where friends shift and shuffle like a deck of cards and happiness is a state of mind if you can just get your mind right amidst the distractions of life. Judging from its title “Let the Good Things Come” should be joyous, but Martyn delivers a meditation on the paths taken and those ignored and wishes his trajectory could have been steeper and his valleys not so deep. “Head and Heart” is an acceptance of his imperfections and a ballad devoted to anyone who will embrace him as he is. It is a devotion to a love that is logical, yet elemental and passionate. I’ve found it in my life and pray he had as well during the course of his life. Hell, I even love his take on “Singing in the Rain”, but there are a few missteps that relegate it to the middle ground of most John Martyn fans, but its highs outweigh its lows by such a large margin. Ultimately, Bless the Weather is just as flawed and inspirational as the man who recorded it.

Strapping Fieldhands-Discus

September 8, 2008

Strapping Fieldhands

Discus LP (Omphalos 1994)

There is something magical and special about this album and its place and time in my life. If you haven’t picked up my very unsubtle and non-existent hints, I grew up in Philadelphia and had the pleasure of spending much of my youth shopping at the Philadelphia Record Exchange, which is still manned by members of the Strapping Fieldhands. Now this is totally irrelevant to both mine and your enjoyment of this somewhat forgotten gem, but this store shaped much of my musical taste and served as an inspiration, source of advice and a place where I was mocked for buying a Steely Dan box set. Anyhow, it was a place to meander and get turned onto to the Majora and Siltbreeze labels while tempering my love of bad indie-rock with some hoary old psych chestnuts. In short, 3rd Street Jazz and Rock and Record Exchange sated my music addiction with proteins and monounsaturated fats instead of the empty calories to be found in the competing genres which could’ve stolen my attention. God, this was meant to be a simple salute and now it some meandering dedication, but thank you fellows.

Let us get back to the music.  After a couple singles on Siltbreeze, the band recorded their debut, which remains sadly out of print and unavailable to those that may latch onto their ramshackle love of loner psych, skiffle, untuned balladry and perfectly concocted pop melodies played off the cuff. I may be totally wrong, but Discus always seemed like a bunch of music aficionados tapping into the best of Peter Hamill, Incredible String Band, Lonnie Donegan and early Holy Modal Rounders in the context of what Guided By Voices were doing in the early 90s.

Until the day I die, I will always be sucker for the opening track “Boo Hoo Hoo” which says little beyond the chorus and invitations to engage in carnal passions in a Scottish glade. It is so simple, but a perfectly imperfect ditty about an illicit weekend rendezvous and the consequences with a lazy regard for the consequences. Almost three minutes into the track, there is a such a sloppy, but uplifting guitar riff that always plasters a grin on my face.

I could never figure out all of the lyrics to “When I Came” but it always engendered these melancholy feelings due to the ramshackle rise and fall of the instrumentation mixed with the endlessly hopeful chorus. It seemed like a feel good song strangled by an inability to decide which mood to embrace.

Polished isn’t a term I would use for any Strapping Fieldhands album or single, but there is something about the smudges and smears that endeared Discus to me. There is a sad heart that beats beneath the sloppiness, myriad of influences and happy-go-lucky exterior that kind of grabbed me and never let go years later.

Holy Modal Rounders

Live in 1965 Bootleg

I was privy to a conversation between two gentlemen discussing the best fishing holes in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Personally, my misspent youth was spent at Penn Treaty Park catching Fishtown eels and bashing them against rocks for kicks. Before you groan, I now realize the evil nature of this activity, but the Delaware River most likely rendered them toxic waste. But I digress, they then began to discuss the pure joy to be found with a joint, a fishing pole and their favorite albums to listen to while fishing. The one gent argues for Agnostic Front which inspired the other to emphatically state that the Cro-Mags’ Age of Quarrel was the best album of all-time. Personally, New York hardcore is about as appealing as a hardy rash, but I do like some of it. What in the hell does this have to do with a Holy Modal Rounders’ bootleg? Well, nothing, but it got me thinking about albums that inspire such banter. If I had to pick one album that I’d rant about for hours, it would be the Holy Modal Rounders’ Have Moicy.

Since this bootleg is from 1965, this is a wholly different beast than the Michael Hurley infused edition that recorded the best country album this side of George Jones. However, Peter Stampfel leads the band at this point as they deliver a mix of comedy, pathos and psychedelic country that embodies all that was great about the 60s assimilation of country, blues and bluegrass. Much of it draws from their first two albums and it sort of reminds me of the Fugs at points, but is so much better than their sophomoric insanity. There’s even a version of “Indian War Whoop” on here and their utter joy and postivity bleeds into each song and results in an uplifting experience. I prefer Have Moicy by a mile, but this bootleg captures pure optimism in song.

Oh yeah, I saw the Fabulous Diamonds tonight. They were absolutely entrancing. The record doesn’t do them justice. Their recorded material reminds me of a droning Young Marble Giants, but they were a mix of Cluster, ESG and Mo Tucker in a live setting. Funky in a brain damaging sort of way. Pick up their album on Siltbreeze if you get a chance.


Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart (1972)

There is much love within my heart for the Incredible String Band and their meandering hippie opuses about minotaurs and good ol’ cousin caterpillar. I remember the first time my punk ass saw the cover of The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter and snickering at the commune of foppish souls in technicolor coats and beaded necklaces, but once my viewpoint was forever altered once I actually heard it years later. My narrow mindedness isn’t much of a surprise since I once thought oversized t-shirts, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and malt liquor were enjoyable, so I wasn’t exactly ahead of the curve.

Clive Palmer was an integral part of the first Incredible String Band record which was a more straighforward affair that sort of reminds me of an Appalachian via English skiffle-folk version of the Holy Modal Rounders’ first two lps. Yeah, it isn’t an entirely accurate description, but it’ll do for now. Clive left the band before they expanded and explored more abstract, experimental territory. In the meantime, he joined the Famous Jug Band and recorded a solo effort entitled Banjoland, but these outlets were lesser lights. At the urging of Ralph McTell, he formed COB. or Clive’s Original Band, and recorded two of the best English folk/psych albums of all-time. First came 1970s Spirit of Love, then came their grand finale Moyshe McStiff.

Supposedly a song cycle about Crusades, Moyshe McStiff’s title and cover image evoke a mystical quality that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Incredible String Band cover. In fact, the music is eerily reminiscent of their 60s recordings as the band’s invention of a dulcimer/sitar hybrid, the dulcitar, echoes the woozy, mystical vibes of ISB’s most stoned moments. Biblical themes abound as COB references Judah, Solomon, Martha and Mary as the band delves into spiritual quests and the meaning of love. It is such an earnest, sincere album that would seem ridiculous if it wasn’t so gorgeous.

The centerpiece of the album is “Let It Be You” which may be one of the most tender, but simple love songs I’ve heard. It is a celebration of the power of song to immortalize true love as well as a tender sentiment. It is a testament to power of words as well as the ephemeral quality of our affections. It is full of dedication and uncertainty just like those first exhilarating months of a new relationship.

To put it it down right, to make it true

if my songs were people, this could be you

but if i lose it, or just confuse it

lets make it summer, lets make it you

and when i’m longing let it be you

and when im giving let it be you

i woke this morning and without warning

someone was near me and it was you

Michael Hurley


I told you all about him this evening, but here is a bootleg of his show the next night. I also meant to include an embarrassing story about myself that is directly liked to Mr. Hurley’s wiles and charms. I knew that I needed to remain clean as a whistle before a physical to confirm my employment. I don’t smoke the magical fruit much at all, but I occasionally partake in a few nibbles. I remained loyal and faithful for months and had arranged an appointment at the doctor’s office where my mother worked as a secretary.

However, friends alerted me to the fact that Michael Hurley was playing in town. I insisted on resisting the urge beforehand and declined all requests for illicit activity. Hurley was absolutely amazing that star-crossed evening as he belted out “Tea Song” among other all-tinme favorites. It was one of the few times where an artists literally could have asked me to serve as an indentured servant and I sould have wholeheartedly followed along with the farce.

The ugly part came when I was a few malts to the wind and a friend somehow talked me into peeing into a tupperware container and smoking while my personal items lay on my sink. A good time was had by all. The next morning was a different story as I realized that I must hide a tupperware container of cold urine in my pants, pour it into a vial and hope no one notices its lukewarm qualities. Thankfully, it all went swimmingly and I am still gainfully employed until the very day.

Michael Hurley

June 8, 2008

Michael Hurley


I discovered the genius of this man in the most unlikely of places–a Spin Magazine Guide to Alternative Music. I was bored as hell in Western Pa one humid afternoon and rallied my friends to visit the newfangled borders that had just opened near Greensburg. I didn’t plan on purchasing the Holy Modal Rounders’ Have Moicy described in the book, but once I saw the cover packed with insolent wolves, thrown beer bottles and a lonely leopard sipping a beer in a disheveled corner, I knew I had to heed the recommendations of the godawful rag.

Have Moicy isn’t a Michael Hurley album, but he painted the artwork of rowdy animals and sang many opf my favorite tracks on what quickly became one of my favorite records of all time. I’ll post this one later, but this is a bootleg of Michael Hurley during the Have Moicy! days.

How do I describe one of America’s unsung creative gems? Although he recorded for Smithsonian Folkways before the eve of psychedelia and the hippie way of life, Hurley was down with the cause before it even had a name. Songs about werewolves, marijuana, fellatio and disappearing hamburgers populate his fantastic world of characters and far-flung locales. In addition, he possesses one of the most individual voices in the past 30 years. There is something about Snock that makes you appreciate the bittersweet occurrences and oddball excursions we all become a part of during our fleeting time on this planet.