John Martyn: Best Of The Island Years

Digest of 2013’s The Island Years featuring best outtakes and rarities of that collection.

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For longtime Martyn fans who were loath to stump up the £160 required to get hold of the unreleased material on the definitive box set The Island Years, here is a 4-CD alternative, whose 56 tracks are chosen from the various outtakes, unreleased songs and live recordings contained in the original set, chosen by leading Martynologist John Hillarby.

Chronologically arranged, it takes you through from Martyn’s fey, precocious early years, his glorious Echoplex-drenched era (including fledgling examples such as Glistening Glyndebourne) to the likes of Lifeline, among his last recordings for the label as he entered his barnacled twilight years.

Martyn was a singular figure, an ocean unto himself in his embrace of a customised ‘dub-folk’; on record he was thankfully a character apart from his often-unpleasant offstage personality. It’s not just completists who will want to hear his mocking tower of wah-wah Black Man At Your Shoulder, or his unutterably beautiful take on traditional folk song Spencer The Rover for the TV show Sight & Sound.

Including material from Live At Leeds, great as it is, might gall any self-respecting Martyn aficionados, who will surely have this already. A formidable alternative journey along the great man’s byways nonetheless./o:p

David Stubbs

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.