Album Review: The Island Years [Box Set] by John Martyn
Fantastic, Based on 4 Critics
Record Collector - 100 Based on rating 5/5
It’s more than a little ironic that this sumptuous box celebrating Martyn’s lengthy tenure at Island should include the first official appearance of the album that brought about the end of his relationship with the company. The Apprentice was delivered in 1987, but label boss Chris Blackwell vetoed its release, feeling it wasn’t the right step for Martyn’s career at the time. After 20 years of being left to his own devices, indicative of the label’s admirably hands-off policy that allowed contemporaries such as Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson and Nick Drake to map their own creative paths, Martyn saw the unexpected and unwanted interference as a signal to move on, so opted not to renew his Island contract.
There are few comprehensive, elaborately packaged box sets that actually warrant the price they command, but this 18-disc set by the late songwriter and guitarist John Martyn is one of them. The 17 audio discs contain every album he cut for the label, from his first solo recordings to his duet albums with first wife, Beverly, and all the steps in between until 1987's original version of The Apprentice, which sees first light here. (Chris Blackwell, Island's label boss, refused to release the album, claiming it wasn't the proper direction for him.
John Martyn was an inventive, erratic genius, a one-time folk hero who became influenced by everything from funk to reggae to pop. This extensive 18-disc set covers his glory years with Island Records, and includes all his studio albums from 1967-1987, but it is notable for its wealth of previously unreleased material, including the original recording of The Apprentice, an album that Island scrapped. It includes a pleasantly funky treatment of The River, along with some forgettable pop balladry.
Nailing a co-musician under a hotel room carpet after a hard night’s carousing. Playing spellbinding shows after intake of intoxicants that would send lesser mortals to A&E. The John Martyn story is made up of ample quantities of the unholy trinity – boozing, brawling and bad behaviour – that music media love to elevate to the level of a Legend.