I’d been looking forward to Beverley Martyn’s gig at Bush Hall in west London, not only for the chance to hear her performing songs from her new album, The Phoenix and the Turtle, but also because it was a rare opportunity to catch a live appearance by a great artist whose influence on the British folk music scene of the 1960s and early 1970s has too often been overlooked – and the evening didn’t disappoint.
The spirit of seminal venues such as Les Cousins was conjured up by support band Three Pilgrims, who set the atmosphere with a well-chosen setlist containing a good handful of folk and blues standards, including some mesmerising playing from Paul Wassif on a couple of Bert Jansch tunes (900 Miles and Needle Of Death).
Following a brief introduction by Jazz FM’s David Freeman – another veteran from the heyday of the folk revival days – Beverley and her band took to the stage and for the next 90 minutes held the capacity crowd in rapt attention as she took us on a journey through four decades of musical history.
The majority of the set was drawn from The Phoenix and the Turtle with the live arrangements sounding every bit as crisp and clear as the recorded versions, with the high-ceilinged Victorian splendour of the venue allowing plenty of acoustic space for Beverley’s voice to fill the audience’s heads and hearts. Highlights included a powerful cover of Levee Breaks featuring some virtuoso guitar pyrotechnics from Michael Watts. Women & Malt Whisky – dedicated to the late John Martyn – was particularly poignant, while a thunderous string bass solo by Rex Horan (on loan from the Neil Cowley Trio) at the end of a joyous Going to Germany shook the rafters. By the time an extended version of the gorgeously ethereal Reckless Jane (Beverley’s 1974 collaboration with Nick Drake) drew to its close, the band were firing on all cylinders and the audience were with them every inch of the way.
With Beverley removing her jacket and guitarist Mark Pavey strapping on a rather fine-sounding Martin acoustic guitar as Rex Horan picked up an electric bass, it was clear the band meant business and, as the crowd mentally buckled up, the band slipped into overdrive for the second part of the set, which was drawn largely from Beverley’s early back catalogue. Sweet Honesty (from Stormbringer!, Beverley’s 1970 collaboration with former husband John) hit a solid groove, taking it a million miles from the original, to Beverley’s evident delight as she whooped and ad-libbed her way through the coda, while Primrose Hill (from The Road To Ruin), gave drummer Evan Jenkins – also on loan from the Neil Cowley Trio – a chance to shine as he laid down a funky samba groove.
The best was yet to come, however: an absolutely electrifying version of I Don’t Want to Know (About Evil) held the audience spellbound for its extended vocal coda with Beverley’s almost mantric repetition of the line “Tell me what you know about love”, before the entire band let rip with a storming version of Auntie Aviator to bring the proceedings to an emphatic and satisfying close.
It’s to Beverley’s credit and a measure of her creativity and maturity that she’s been able to reignite a lifetime’s professional career and, in the process, return to the live stage in a way that is both inspiring and uplifting. We are witnessing a rare phenomenon, the reinvention of a folk legend: truly this woman is a musical phoenix rising from the ashes and it’s to be hoped there will be many more chances to see her shine in the future.
Review by: Helen Gregory
01 Jesse James
02 Potter’s Blues
03 Going to Germany
04 Sweet Joy
06 Levee Breaks
07 Women & Malt Whisky
08 On A Mountain Top
09 Reckless Jane
10 Tomorrow Time
11 Give Me A Ring
12 The Ocean
13 Primrose Hill
14 Sweet Honesty
15 I Don’t Want To Know (About Evil)
16 Auntie Aviator