Small Hours: Who suffered most, John Martyn’s partners or his children?

Book review: Graeme Thomson’s unsettling biography paints a picture of a damaged man

 John Martyn performing in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2007.  Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

John Martyn performing in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2007. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

At a John Martyn gig, recalls UK singer-songwriter Ralph McTell, an audience member shouts at the singer, “Lighten up, John, take it easy”. Martyn’s belligerent reply? “It’s not my f**king job to take it easy!”

After reading Graeme Thomson’s comprehensive, thoughtful and often unsettling biography of the man, there is little wonder the singer rarely, if ever, reached a place of contentment. This is a person, writes Thomson, who “displayed classic patterns of coercive behaviour – controlling, manipulative, mercurial. Quick to emotional and sometimes physical violence when drunk, drugged or simply enraged, he fostered paranoia and panic even when he was being nice”.

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