6 Album Sunday
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6 Album Sunday

The Simmer Dim by John Martyn

The Simmer Dim is both great and poor. In the first place the playing and the repertoire is superb making it potentially one of John Martyn’s greatest live albums, however secondly it loses a significant number of brownie points on account of the poor sound which is of barely bootleg quality.

First the songs. The Simmer Dim (the name refers to the summer twilight in the most northerly part of Great Britain) captures Martyn playing 80 minutes worth of his greatest songs in one coherent solo setting thus meeting a gap in the market I’m not aware is fulfilled by any other official releases.

We are treated to five tracks from the One World album, some on straight acoustic guitar like wonderful versions of Couldn’t Love You More and Certain Surprise, and some guitar effected including Big Muff (dedicated to Margaret Thatcher), Dealer and a One World which segues into an edited version of Small Hours (aka Anna in this version). And of course centrepiece is a masterful 18 minute Outside In where Martyn coaxes soaring melodies from his guitar while grappling with echoplexed rhythms that threaten to run away with themselves.

The performance is book-ended by Over The Hill and May You Never with Martyn slapping his guitar strings and bending the notes with more percussive vigour than the studio versions. Indeed Martyn’s acoustic guitar playing is a revelation peaking for Seven Black Roses a traditional finger picking tune harking back to his The Tumbler album.

Leave it at that and you’d have, with all the One World songs, an album probably greater than Live At Leeds or On Air its closest comparisons.

However the recording. I’m all for intimacy and rawness but this is too visceral to pass muster as an official recording. Taken from a one off gig at the tiny Lerwick Folk Club in the Shetland Islands in August 1980 the recording captures not only Martyn on stage but also every other noise in the intimate room, even a baby crying (which is quite amusing to be fair)!

Martyn is indeed on form in song and between song sharing light hearted and witty banter throughout albeit much of it is inaudible. The man seemed to have this slightly schizophrenic personality where he could appear a bit of a drunken yob whilst speaking — making silly noises, putting on mocking accents and berating his band members (Live At Leeds sported a parental awareness sticker on later releases) — yet effortlessly switched into beautiful playing and singing. Here he sounds like he’s enjoying himself lapping up the close adoration and the general pub like ambience lends an extraordinary warmth to the proceedings.

Not for the fainthearted but The Simmer Dim is a fascinating insight for the keen fan.

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