This classic live album – half of which was in fact recorded at a London performance on the same tour - and not in fact live in Leeds at all – was originally sold by John Martyn from his house in Hastings. (The vinyl curiosity was duly despatched to fans who sent him three quid in advance.) Long before these much-vaunted DIY days, the Scottish musical entrepreneur was doing it for himself, exasperated already by record companies.
What it is in fact is a repackaged version of 'Live at Leeds', expanded to two discs, with outtakes and alternate versions etc. Recorded during a 1975 UK tour, the work features the great bluesy jazz warbler and guitarist in the company of the brilliant double bassist Danny Thompson, and percussionist John Stevens.
On the previously unreleased second CD, ex- Free guitarist Paul Kossoff does some axe work (those days he drank crème de menthe from the bottle, harmless enough presumably in comparison to his usual Chattertonian indulgences.) Sadly, Paul Kossoff would die just a year after this tour, at a mere 25 years of age, from the effects of a heroin overdose on a flight from LA to New York. Martyn was prompted to write a song about the ill-fated musician after his passing called 'Dead on Arrival.' Not one of his best songs.
Anyway, to the matter in hand. The original live album is, as expected, the best of the two discs, being a mesmerising display of jazzy dialogue, particularly between Thompson and Martyn at their most fluid and free-form. 'Solid Air' and 'May You Never', two of John's best-known songs from the period are in there, 'Solid Air, which was written for Martyn's dear friend Nick Drake,' being particularly ethereal and lovely.
Also to be heard is quite a deal of laddish banter that you may well feel you can well do without. Martyn's garbled imitation of the opening bars of Ravel's 'Bolero' is the butt of a ribald quip, not actually worth repeating. But they were young men, having a particularly wild time before and after gigs, as much as working. So that's okay. Thompson has lived to tell the tale essentially, still standing.
The wonderful thing to know about the Thompson and Martyn relationship was that they never discussed music, as Danny revealed some years ago in a BBC Radio interview. They just did it together, with an instinctive empathy for what each could do. Blurring the lines in a cloud of risk -and perhaps a cloud of unknowing too - but keeping it mostly on track. They came to the Gaiety theatre in Dublin in 1987 and gave a fine performance, in rather incongruent circumstances - better surely in a smoky club. Importanmtly, however, the concert was recorded by RTÉ television and shown again at the time of Martyn's passing two and-a-half years ago.
Soon in these pages we will feature a review of Martyn's recently-released 'Heaven and Earth', his nine-track posthumous, final work. Is it a more vital, integral record? Some may find it so, being a proper studio exercise, treated with great empathy and fussed meticulously over by engineers Jim Tullio and Gary Pollitt after Martyn's passing. However, it is somehow odd to find oneself using the word 'vital,' given that during the recording of 'Heaven and Earth', 'the man himself was soon to board the great tour bus for the sky. This he finally did on January 29, 2009.