Glasgow Royal Concert Hall was completely sold out on 27th January for this unique event, a concert curated by legendary double bassist and composer Danny Thompson to mark the tenth anniversary of the passing of his great friend and collaborator John Martyn with a celebration of the man and his towering musical legacy. Thompson, who proved to be a genial and entertaining host, had hand-picked a wide range of talented musicians and guest singers, some established and some up-and-coming, who, in his considered view, would be able to do full justice to a selection of Martyn’s finest songs and channel some of the great man’s spirit. Aside from Danny Thompson himself, the guest musicians included Foster Paterson (piano), Alan Thomson (bass guitar) and Arran Ahmun (drums and percussion) (who all played in John Martyn’s band in the 80s and 90s) and a fifteen-piece string section led by renowned violinist and arranger, Greg Lawson. Introduced warmly by Danny Thompson, each of the eight guest vocalists took it in turns to interpret their favourite John Martyn songs, occasionally duetting or harmonising in trios.

American bluesman Eric Bibb contributed suitably trippy takes on Solid Air and One World, the former featuring phenomenal double bass from Danny Thompson and both embellished by shimmering strings. English alt-folk singer-songwriter Katie Spencer impressed with a rousing version of John The Baptist. Accompanied solely by Danny Thompson’s majestic bass lines and with vocal phrasing and guitar work uncannily reminiscent of Martyn himself, British folk/Americana artist John Smith drew admiring gasps from the audience with his ruggedly soulful covers of Walk To The Water and Go Down Easy.

The banter flowed freely between songs, as Danny Thompson reeled off a number of hilarious and, at times, touching anecdotes involving John Martyn, which provided some fascinating insights, including Martyn’s prowess as a fisherman and his generosity towards those less fortunate than himself. Not surprisingly, this was an emotionally-charged occasion, heightened by the tributes and excellent music, and further enhanced by the screens high above the stage displaying a succession of images of John Martyn at various points in his life.

Although admitting to some nerves, English indie folk singer-songwriter Lucy Rose enhanced her reputation no end with one of the performances of the night, a breathtakingly beautiful take on Martyn’s iconic Couldn’t Love You More. A well-publicised John Martyn aficionado, Edinburgh-born singer-songwriter Ross Wilson (a.k.a. Blue Rose Code) showed that Martyn’s musical spirit lives on in Scottish music, as he delighted the audience with stunning performances of the graceful Fine Lines (carried along by sumptuous strings), the atmospheric Bless The Weather and, later, a particularly spirited and passionate delivery of Make No Mistake. Representation from Martyn’s spiritual home of Glasgow came in the form of the irrepressible Eddi Reader, who treated us to a delicate reading of Certain Surprise (with a gorgeous string arrangement), an elegant take on Fairy Tale Lullaby (reputed to have been written when Martyn was just sixteen) and a high energy romp through the joyous and uplifting Dancing.

27.01.2019 – Grace & Danger @ GRCH for Celtic Connections. Photographer: Gaelle Beri

London-based musician Rory Butler was another who captured the essence of John Martyn’s music, with his impressive cover of You Can Discover and, even more so, with his breathtaking guitar work on the spiralling instrumental A Day At The Sea. The Modfather himself, Paul Weller, nailed the moody Don’t Want To Know, firing off some scorching guitar licks, and pulled out a lovely duet with Lucy Rose on Sweet Little Mystery.

Everyone took to the stage to perform the final song, a rapturous and slightly chaotic rendition of May You Never, perhaps John Martyn’s best-loved song, with the audience singing along joyously. Following a lengthy and well-deserved standing ovation, a magical evening of music came to a fitting end with vintage footage of John Martyn performing a beautifully bruised cover of Over The Rainbow, as performers and audience alike looked up at the screens in awe.

This was a wonderful tribute to John Martyn and his glorious music, and the love for the man was palpable in the hall. Indeed, Danny Thompson, who had stolen our hearts with his warmth, wit and incomparable double bass skills, was convinced that his ‘curly-haired boy’ was there with us…

Photos courtesy of Gaelle Beri.

For more on the Celtic Connections 2019 click here.