Sunday, 14 June 2015

“The Island Years” by JOHN MARTYN (2013 Universal 17CD/1DVD Box Set) - A Review Of The 2013 Box Set by Mark Barry...

[featuring both the "Stormbringer!" and "The Road To Ruin" LPs from 1970]

"...If You Want To Ride A Rainbow...Come With Me…"

There's a huge amount of stuff on this behemoth - so let's get to the details first: "The Island Years" is a limited edition 17-CD/1DVD LP-Sized Box Set UK issued Monday 30 September 2013 on Universal/Island Records 374 228-8 (Barcode 602537422881) and breaks down as follows:

The first 12" x 12" tri-gatefold sleeve contains:
Disc 1 (74:39 minutes): Tracks 1 to 12 are his debut album "London Conversation" issued October 1967 on Island ILP 952 in MONO ONLY. Tracks 13 to 24 are his 2nd studio album "The Tumbler" issued December 1968 on Island ILP 9091 in MONO and ILPS 9091 in STEREO (the Stereo mix is used here - the Mono Mix is still unavailable on CD). There are no bonus tracks on Disc 1.

Disc 2 (64:43 minutes): Tracks 1 to 10 are his 3rd studio album "Stormbringer!" issued February 1970 on Island ILPS 9113 in STEREO ONLY and credited to JOHN and BEVERLEY MARTYN. Tracks 11 to 17 are bonus tracks with 11, 12 and 13 being PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Live At The BBC Recordings (with Beverley Martin).

Disc 3 (48:31 minutes): Tracks 1 to 9 are his 4th studio album "The Road To Ruin" issued November 1970 on Island ILPS 9133 and credited to JOHN and BEVERLEY MARTYN. Tracks 10 to 12 are bonuses, 10 and 11 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED BBC Recordings.

Disc 4 (77:33 minutes): Tracks 1 to 10 are his 5th studio album "Bless The Weather" issued November 1971 on Island ILPS 9167. Tracks 11 to 18 are bonuses, PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED ALTERNATE TAKES.

Disc 5 (58:03 minutes): Tracks 1 to 11 are called "Live At The Hanging Lamp 1972" - a PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED concert taped at "The Hanging Lamp" in Richmond, London, 8 May 1972.

Disc 6 (73:38 minutes): Tracks 1 to 9 are his 6th studio album "Solid Air" issued February 1973 on Island ILPS 9226. Tracks 10 to 18 are ALTERNATE TAKES PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED on CD.

Disc 7 (68:08 minutes): Tracks 1 to 10 are his 7th studio album "Inside Out" issued in October 1973 on Island ILPS 9253. Tracks 11 to 16 are Bonus Tracks. Tracks 11 to 14 are ALTERNATE TAKES PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED on CD, while 15 and 16 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED.

Disc 8 (76:12 minutes): Tracks 1 to 6 are his 1st live album "Live At Leeds" issued in September 1975 on Island ILPS 9343 (10,000 copies only). Tracks 7 to 11 are bonuses live tracks from 1986. Tracks 7, 8 and 9 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED (recorded at Glastonbury Festival), 10 is PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED while 11 is PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED on CD (both recorded at The London Palladium).

Disc 9 (68:36 minutes): Tracks 1 to 11 are his 8th studio album "Sunday's Child" issued January 1975 on Island ILPS 9296. Tracks 12 to 17 are bonuses. Tracks 12, 13 and 14 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED ALTERNATE TAKES, Track 15 is an Alternate Take, Track 16 is PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED and Track 17 is PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED on CD.

The second 12" x 12" gatefold sleeve contains:
Disc 10 (67:41 minutes): Tracks 1 to 10 are "Live At The Town Hall, Sydney, Australia" - all tracks were recorded 11 August 1977 and are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED.

Disc 11 (73:35 minutes): Tracks 1 to 8 are his 9th studio album "One World" issued November 1977 on Island ILPS 9492. Tracks 9 to 14 are bonuses, all PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED ALTERNATE TAKES.

Disc 12 (66:55 minutes): Tracks 1 to 11 are "One World 2nd Disc". Tracks 1 to 10 are all PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED ALTERNATE TAKES of the "One World" album. Track 11 is "Anna" - an Australian-Only 7" single on Island Records from 1981.

Disc 13 (75:48 minutes): Tracks 1 to 9 are his 10th studio album "Grace And Danger" issued October 1980 on Island ILPS 9560. Tracks 10 to 15 are bonuses. Track 10 is PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED while 11 to 15 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED ALTERNATE TAKES.

Disc 14 (75:48 minutes): Tracks 1 to 14 are "Grace And Danger 2nd Disc". 3 and 8 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED, 1, 2, 4 and 5 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED ON CD ALTERNATE TAKES while 6 and 14 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED ON CD.

Disc 15 (72:56 minutes): Tracks 1 to 10 are his 13th studio album "Sapphire" issued November 1984 on Island ILPS 9779. Tracks 11 to 17 are bonuses. Track 11 is PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED while Tracks 12 to 17 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED ALTERNATE TAKES.

Disc 16 (74:58 minutes): Tracks 1 to 9 are his 14th studio album "Piece By Piece" issued February 1986 on Island ILPS 9807. Track 10 "Tight Connection (To My Heart)" was one of the bonus tracks on the original CD of the album (a Bob Dylan cover) and also featured on the world's first CD single "Angeline" released in February 1986. Tracks 11 to 18 are bonuses. Tracks 11 and 15 are Advertisements for the album while 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 and 18 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED ALTERNATE TAKES.

Disc 17 (69:12 minutes): Tracks 1 to 12 are The Previously Unreleased Island Mix of the album "The Apprentice" (later remixed and issued by Permanent Records in 1991). Tracks 13 to 16 are bonuses. Track 13 was recorded at the Island 25th Birthday Party in 1987 while Tracks 14 to 16 are live recordings from the Town & Country Club in 1988.

Fans will know that November 2005 saw 8 of his Island albums reissued and expanded onto CD with superb Paschal Byrne remasters. There are also double-disc DELUXE EDITIONS of 4 other Island albums before and after 2005 - "Solid Air", "Live At Leeds", "One World" and "Grace And Danger". Across all 12 reissues there's a whopping 83 previously unreleased bonus tracks. The point is that only a fraction of those are included on this box set as the pre-release blurb clearly states - replaced instead with 100 previously unreleased recordings - including a further 19 on CD for the first time. So I wouldn't ditch those old reissues just yet especially not the staggeringly good "Solid Air" DE (which I reviewed way back).

The albums "Sapphire" (1984) and "Piece By Piece" (1986) receive remasters for the first time and the "The Apprentice" is the 1988 unheard "Island" mix that was rejected by the label and ended his contract with them. The studio albums "Glorious Fool" (1981) and "Best Kept Secret" (1982) were on WEA so they're not included in this set.

The 33-track DVD includes previously unseen BBC footage from the 1970s and 1980s ("Old Grey Whistle Test" and "Sight And Sound" shows) including the complete "The Foundations" concert from 1986 on DVD for the first time (the DVD is ALL REGIONS so no worries for foreign purchases).

Mixing and mastering was done by JARED HAWKES at Universal Mastering with further work carried out by Paschal Byrne and Ben Wise at Audio Archiving (both studios in London). Right from the get go the sound is gloriously clear - very, very clean and never showy (the opening lyric from London Conversation's "Fairy Tale Lullaby" titles this review). Soundwise what is also delightful are the Outtakes from the "Bless The Weather" period and onwards. Mostly recorded in Sound Techniques Studios in Chelsea, they don't just sound fabulous, they're sonically intimate in ways some of the finished album cuts aren't. Many I suspect are earlier takes to the finished version so the band is finding its way. But that only adds an amazing atmosphere to them - like you're eavesdropping on history. Even the glossy 80's stuff sounds fuller - especially the hugely underrated "Piece By Piece" album. It doesn't sound to me like any compression has been applied - and if it has - it's minimal. These are warm remasters - clear and full - but not for loudness sake. The exclusive bootleg tape that is Disc 5 (kindly donated by Graham Hinde) is full of wobbles and people shuffling - not the greatest and for me the first real clunker on here. The dreadfully overproduced mix of "The Apprentice" is slick for sure - but strangely soulless for such a soulful man. But not surprisingly the Alternate Takes from his two meisterworks "Solid Air" and "One World" are thrilling to hear - especially in such spot-on sound quality.

It arrives in an outer plain cardboard box, but within is a shaped foam wrap-around which fully protects the shrink-wrapped heavyweight hard-card set and is a very nice touch. The TWO LP-sized sleeves which feature artwork by IAN MUNDAY (one is a three-way-gatefold, the other just a gatefold) that contain the CDs are very cleverly laid out (the DVD is in a separate smaller card sleeve). Each flap has die-cut card inserts, but because of its 12" size there's plenty of wiggle-room to get them in and out - so you don't get that awful scratch-your-disc every time you remove it from too-tightly packed presentation. The CDs themselves are colour-coded - the first 3 featuring the famous PINK Island label - the early 70's with the PINK-RIM label - then the late 70s, early 80s, mid 80s and so on - all labels appropriate to their time frame - a nice attention to detail. There's a poster and promo material reprints that are nice if not a little fiddly. The price is good too. However, its initial retail purchase of £160 is bound to rise as it sells out and word gets round as to just how good this set really is (rather like the Sandy Denny box that preceded it) - so buy it now before extortion sets in.

As you can imagine, the 120-Page Hardback Book called "The John Martyn Album" (done up like a family photo-album complete with mock chord at the front) is the bomb - just gorgeous. It features full page colour plates of each album sleeve (front and rear) with in-studio photos for each period, master tape boxes, the rare "Anna" 7" single from Australia, in-concert flyers, press adverts and huge amounts of written work by keeper-of-the-flame JOHN HILLARBY. The text also discusses his superb albums after Island on Permanent and Go! Discs (like "Cooltide" and "Glasgow Walker") right up to 2004's "On The Cobbles". In the final pages there are tributes from Bob Harris of The Old Grey Whistle Test, Eddi Reader the singer and Mark Cooper of the BBC. The box is dedicated to his loved ones (named) and there's a particularly lovely set of family snapshots at the very beginning that extend for pages - they feature him and his parents as a nipper in Scotland in the 1940's right up to his last days in Ireland in the 2000s with his own partner and children - its revelatory, fun and poignant.

The mono mix of "The Tumbler" is still AWOL and for such an extensive project its extraordinary that there's no discography (not even album catalogue numbers or release dates beneath any of the entries). But apart from those paltry niggles - this box set is a feast for the eyes and crucially for the ears. Some may baulk at the cost - don't. It's been a long time since I spent this amount of money on any music project - but when you think about the sheer volume of quality on here and how much more other less-worthy packages cost - then "The Island Years" is cheap at twice the price. I know I'll be dipping into this baby for years.

Like Ronnie Lane, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, John Peel and other hugely wonderful influences in our musical youth and adulthood - Iain David McGeachy is beloved for a reason and sorely missed to this day. Well done to the team behind this set who have so beautifully remembered him.

Partner Teresa Walsh and daughter Mharai McGeachy collected his OBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace on 27 March 2009 - John Martyn deserved no less.

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