Solid Air

‘I idolise Drake, yet I cannot think of him without thinking of John Martyn, and vice versa, even though their individual styles were very different’.                                                             Mike Fornatale, Shindig Magazine, 1 November 2013 http://www.johnmartyn.com/

As a script reader for the Theatre Royal, Plymouth one of the most intensely satisfying moments is when you see a performance of a play realised on stage that you suggested for performance. The process, starting on my lap with a notepad and a cup of tea and then the journey it takes to get it produced, can be very precarious. Of the readers Solid Air could have been given to could have been someone who may not have seen the same possibilities or who didn’t have a particular interest in the subject matter. The process of reading a play is always subjective, except, despite whether the subject matter is something you are familiar with or have a liking for, the main matter is whether the writing is good enough; whether the dialogue comes off the page and transports you somewhere and you can visualise it onstage.

I first heard the music of John Martyn when I was at drama school, I was completely taken in by his turn of phrase and his voice that sounded like it hadn’t had a nights sleep in quite some time. Solid Air takes place on a night in 1973 where Martyn quite literally ‘plays’ all night. Hired to play at an Oxford student ball he brings along his friend Nick Drake, who he has written the song Solid Air for. Drake, according to Martyn, had had a nervous breakdown and the song was/is Martyn’s response.

When I first left drama school I worked at the old Leeds Playhouse and working behind the bar was a guy who talked about seeing Martyn at Leeds University; a gig which became a legendary ‘live’ album. That barman was Marc Almond, who not long after became a huge musician himself – did that ‘Live at Leeds’ gig inspire him?

This play speaks to a generation today just as much as mine who saw Martyn first hand, I saw him for *free* outside the old G.L.C building on the South bank. Many singer songwriters today (including Paul Weller, Keane & Beck,) are influenced by the music of John Martyn and Nick Drake, who has achieved cult status. Drake died a year later in 1974 (with an overdose of antidepressants; it is not known whether it was an accident or suicide) and it was after this that his music became fully recognised. Solid Air brings to life that relationship, that breakdown and that unfulfillment in a series of four scenes each bookended with live playing of Martyn’s songs, which only make one want to go back and hear them all again. It is also a great marketing tool for Drake’s songs, none of which we hear, but screams out that we should.

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