Small Hours: The Long Night of John Martyn

Anmeldt av Jens Nepper
(Omnibus Press, 2020)

Karakter: 5.5/6

graemethomson.jpgAuthor Graeme Thomson has written a number of superb works on such renowned artists as Phil Lynott, Elvis Costello, and George Harrison, but “Small Hours: The Long Night of John Martyn” may just be the best and most noteworthy literary piece of his yet.

Chronicling the troubled life and times of the unbelievably talented British folk/jazz/blues/rock guitarist/singer/songwriter John Martyn and the artistic legacy as well as the trail of destruction and havoc that said musician left in his wake, Thomson expertly guides us through Martyn’s personal highs and low as well as the musical triumphs and exquisitely crafted records that meant (and still mean) so much to us. This intimate portrait of a broken soul who harbored more deep-seated grief and anger than most of us touches on all aspects of the man’s hugely interesting life; the violent outbursts and excessive drinking, the drugs and troubled friendships, the failed marriages and ugly divorces, and so on and so forth. Everything is presented and discussed in a delightfully balanced manner and it never feels as if anything is neglected or glossed over, which is testament to Thomson’s almost uncanny knack for revealing so many aspects of Martyn’s life while never losing focus of just how many sides there were to John’s character. He was gifted with a divine talent and an ability to compose melancholy and touching songs that stood in stark contrast to his at-times disastrous behavior. He would often turn into a raging monster either a home or on the road, and his wives and kids were frightened of him, but did he ever truly articulate a sense of regret or guilt? Did that manifest itself in his music and lyrics? “Small Hours” contains numerous interviews with those who knew him best and covers life at home, the painstaking recording sessions, the grueling tours, the substance abuse, the financial ruin, and the medical problems that would plague him in his later years.    

There is a splendid flow to Thomson’s book, and this is as well-composed and remarkably written as some of Martyn’s pivotal records are. The language is rich and evocative, the author displays a fantastic eye for detail, and the entire thing comes across as a candid, honest, and wildly compelling account of a musical pioneer who seemed unfamiliar with the words “compromise” and “middle ground” both in private and public.

“Small Hours” ranges from heartbreaking to uplifting and pretty much everything in between the two. Martyn was a brilliant musician who was both respected and feared by many of those that knew him, but this finely crafted piece of literature, which is thought-provoking and insightful as well as gripping and emotionally charged, does a marvelous job of untangling the complex web that is John Martyn. It is perfectly critical of both the man’s actions and his artistic output and it is a stunningly written example of what constitutes a near-flawless biography.


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