An Irishman's Diary
I saw Martyn many times in the decades since that concert in Trinity. I saw him play alone and with his band. I saw him in the Olympia, in the Purty Loft, and in Vicar Street. Mostly he was great. Once or twice he was useless, usually as a result of booze.
Once I saw him play in the Olympia and then the next morning, when I was in the airport for some reason, he was there, alone, in a long black leather coat, a sort of patchwork duffle bag on his back, his long hair tied back, silver earrings in his ears. He must have been stopped at every customs point he ever came to.
Anyway, the thought that struck me that evening in the kitchen was that here was one of those people I considered were ahead of me on the trail of life, sending messages back down the line as to how matters were unfolding – and now he was dead.
The last time I saw Martyn was in Vicar Street, not long before he died. He was in a wheelchair, having had part of his right leg amputated when a burst cyst led to septicaemia. I hadn’t seen him for some time and I was shocked when I saw how large he’d grown. He was wheeled out on to the stage and when he started playing you could see how his girth impeded his efforts to play his guitar, how his fingers and wrists were swollen and apparently stiff. His voice sounded as if it was being drowned by its owner’s flesh.
At one point I was down in the loo and I heard a man from England tell of how he’d travelled over to see him, as he thought it would most likely be Martyn’s last ever gig. The night wore on and Martyn’s vocal cords and joints seemed to warm up. The distinctive old magic began to build in the room.
As I recall it, most or all of the songs that night were from his 1980 album, Grace and Danger, where he sang about the break-up of his first marriage. You can tell from the songs it wasn’t a happy or easy break-up. The songs have titles such as Hurt in Your Heart, Baby Please Come Home, Our Love.
Half way through the concert he put his guitar down, something I’d never seen him do before. He let his arms hang limp, put his head back and he sang his songs as best he could. Songs of love and regret. Pleas for forgiveness. A final, beautiful, adieu.