The Road To Ruin by John And Beverley Martin


Every Friday, Peter and I go for a walk and two days ago, as well as bringing his adorable greyhound, Chippy, he brought his daughter’s whippet, Martha. Peter and I were talking at length about the new Billie Eilish album (which we both liked but probably won’t listen to again) while the dogs ran free in fields and woodland near Newick. To complete the perfect morning, we bought coffee and cake and sat, like the two old men that we are, on a park bench and discuss the way things are and our hopes for the future. What is the meaning of life and will Harry Kane sign for Manchester City. Important issues. On Friday, as always, Chippy ran free at top speed in and out of the woods and across the fields. Watching Chippy achieve a speed of around 30 mph is quite something to behold. As Peter and I trudged round the fields, Chippy, every now and again, made a brief appearance, mainly to get some of the delicious cheese that Peter has brought with him. At one point, Chippy disappeared, only to rush up and demand cheese, which he was given. We noticed that Martha was dutifully following us and staying close. In the excitement of seeing Chippy appear, it was easy to overlook Martha. The story of The Prodigal Son sprung to mind.

The parable of The Prodigal Son involves two sons. One is “prodigal” (a waster) and one is dutiful. The prodigal son leaves home, loses his money and returns home, fearing he will be rejected by his father but is, in fact, welcomed enthusiastically. The dutiful son feels overlooked but the father tells him that “you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours, but thy younger brother was lost and now he is found.” So Chippy was prodigal and Martha was dutiful. But did Martha complain? No, she just ate the cheese and carried on, as before. I wonder if Chippy felt slightly guilty?

I was reminded of this story when thinking about Saturday nights in days gone by. When I was living 60 miles from my parents in the Eighties and Nineties, I rarely visited them. I would phone, probably once a week, but visits home were restricted to three or four a year, possibly for 3 days at a time. While I was out on Saturday nights, being prodigal, my sister and her husband would, every Saturday night, visit my parents for three or four hours along with their children, my niece and nephew. There were very few occasions when they would miss seeing them and if they did, they were made to share the disappointment that my parents felt. Their visits were expected. Mine were not. When I visited my parents, I was made to feel special. I recently discussed this with my sister and I told her guilty I feel now and how much I appreciated he commitment. She, being the generous person that she is, told me not to feel at all guilty.

About ten years ago, my Aunt, who lives 90 miles away, told my sister and me that her neighbour had moved into a nursing home. We were both a little concerned because my Aunt and her neighbour had phoned each other every day to ensure that they were okay. From now on, would anyone check to see how she was? My Aunt (my Dad’s sister) never married, had no children and has no surviving brothers or sisters – she is now 103 years old. She lives by herself in a semi-detached house in North London. She has no help and she climbs the stairs to bed every night without assistance. My sister and I decided that we would take it in turns to give her a quick call every night at six o’clock. The phone calls have become more and more farcical. My Aunt is a bit deaf and often doesn’t hear the phone and when she does pick up, she can’t really hear what I am saying and so a proper conversation is out of the question. Most of my calls last for less than two minutes. Her new next-door neighbours have got into the habit of going in every day to check on how she is and they bring in a meal for her so, as far as I’m concerned, my calls are unnecessary. Since lockdown ended, my sister and I have been to see her twice – we went to visit her on her birthday a month ago and so I don’t feel that we are neglecting her. I have stopped phoning on my designated days and my sister has carried on phoning her. History is repeating itself. I am prodigalling away like Chippy while my sister is staying close like Martha. Oh dear.

I thought of all this yesterday, when I heard the song “Auntie Aviator” by John And Beverley Martin from their second and final album, “The Road To Ruin”. There’s not too many songs with the word “Auntie” in the title but listening to it has given me pause for thought about my inability or unwillingness to converse with my Aunt. I have had a chat with my sister on the phone and I have agreed that I will phone my Aunt once a week in future.

I heard “Auntie Aviator”, probably on the radio about 50 years ago and dismissed it at the time but, hearing it again, I think it’s magnificent. I have no idea what the lyrics are about although I have a feeling it may be a paean to drugs (“Auntie Aviator. Sooner than much later, we’ll be there, flying high above the clouds. Take a look and I’ll be everywhere.”) There are so many things to admire about the song. Beverley Martyn’s voice is soulful, John Martyn’s psychedelic guitar playing is great but the key instrument is the piano, played by Paul Harris. He played piano on Nick Drake’s first two albums as well as John Sebastian’s beautiful song “How Have You Been” from his first solo album. The piano solo on this track is superb and gives a jazz feel to the song.

Paul McCartney’s albums have been criticised for not having too many diverse styles of music which is ridiculous. Try listening to “Helter Skelter” followed by “Long Long Long“. A diverse set of songs makes for an interesting album. Not that I’m against a musically thematic album; The Besnard Lakes album is great because the style is consistent throughout but to call an album “confused” because the musical styles are diverse is crazy. “The Road To Ruin” has a diverse set of musical styles on it – some of the songs are rooted in jazz, some are typical of later period psychedelic-folk John Martyn (think “One World”) and other songs, especially those with Beverley Martyn are a little more mainstream 70s rock.

“Tree Green” is a wonderfully simple song with classic slurred singing from John Martyn and intricate complex guitar playing.

The title song, “The Road To Ruin” starts simply but develops into a magnificent improvised jam with outstanding saxophone playing from Dudu Pukwana, a South African musician who had been a member of a South African jazz sextet called The Blue Notes.

Whilst Joe Boyd had been an influential figure in getting John Martyn started in his musical career, he fell out with John Martyn around the time of the release of “The Road To Ruin” over the direction that his music should take. John Martyn had been exposed to new musical ideas by going to gigs in London and listening to other people’s record collections and so he wanted to move away from the simple folk of his first two albums. John Martyn released 22 studio albums but only two of these (“Stormbringer” and “The Road To Ruin”) were with his wife, Beverley. After releasing this album, he felt under pressure from Island, his record company, to make something more commercial by himself, without Beverley. She was consigned to stay at home, to look after their daughter and, sadly, to suffer physical abuse from John Martyn when his drinking became excessive. She lasted for another 10 years until she left him in 1979. His resulting album, “Grace And Danger” was possibly his best album but it seems terrible that Beverley Martyn had to suffer for John Martyn’s art.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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