There are a few music genres that I don’t really care for. Rap Music leaves me cold, perhaps because I am not a black teenager from East L.A. Country and Western (with a few notable exceptions) has little attraction for me, as I don’t look too good in a cowboy hat, and I have never lived in a ‘Trailer Park’. Folk Music was something that I also didn’t really get into in my youth. There was a blurring on occasion, with the ‘protest’ songs of Joan Baez and others, but real Folk, especially English Folk, always made me feel awkward, and a little embarrassed on behalf of the performers. Then there was the problem of definition. Was genuine Folk Music always acoustic, and did it have to have traditional roots? Was Bob Dylan a Folk singer? He certainly sounded like some of them, and looked the part too, but I liked a lot of his songs.
In the late 1960’s, and well into the 1970’s. the British groups Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span, and Fairport Convention began to bring Folk into the mainstream, and on to the pop charts. They were marketed as Folk groups, and often sounded like they were. But there was a difference. In 1968, I had bought the Fairport Convention single ‘Meet On The Ledge’, knowing nothing about the group. I just liked the song. Folk was changing, it was growing up, and though it still had its traditions and ancient songs, it was finally being recognised in its own right.
In 1973, I heard a record by the guitarist and singer John Martyn. He had come from roots in Folk Music, then blended a jazzy feel, with the lyrics slightly slurred, and the acoustic guitar played through electronic equipment, that altered the tone. This was unique, nobody else even came close, and Martyn achieved huge success with the album, which was called ‘Solid Air’. This one record changed a lot about what I had previously considered to be musical genres, and even now, holds a great importance in my CD collection. Ten tracks (if you got the bonus one), every song a delight, and almost impossible to say if it was Folk, Jazz, or whatever. This was talent for all to see and enjoy, without need of classification.
John Martyn enjoyed a successful career, and a loyal following, until his untimely death, in 2009. Here is a clip of the album version of ‘Solid air’. If it appeals, I would urge you to listen to the whole album. A real classic.