It’s nearly fifty years ago since Beverley Martyn made her recording debut. This was as a member of The Levee Breakers. They were a jug band which featured Mac McGann, Johnny Joyce and Beverley. Their debut single was Babe, I’m Leaving You, which they released on Parlophone in 1965. Beverley was just sixteen and already, The Levee Breakers were a regular fixture on the folk circuit. Beverley Martyn seemed destined for a great things. However, since 1965, Beverley has only released two solo albums. 

Beverley’s sophomore album, The Phoenix and The Turtle, was recently released by Les Cousins’ label. The Phoenix and The Turtle was released thirteen years after Beverley’s debut solo album No Frills. It was released after Beverley took a lengthy break from music to bring up her family. However, thirty years earlier, it looked as if Beverley Martyn was destined for commercial success and critical acclaim.

A year after The Levee Breakers released their debut single,  Beverley’s solo career began in 1966. She signed to the newly formed Deram Records. Deram was a new imprint of Decca Records. It’s raison d’être was to showcase stereo. The pop and rock music Deram would release would feature more space. This would allow record buyers to hear the difference between mono and stereo. So, for executives at Deram, it was important they chose Deram’s first single fitted the vision they had for their new label. The single choses was Beverley Martyn’s  debut single Happy New Year. It featured Beverley and what would be regarded as an all-star band,

Accompanying Beverley were future members of Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page. Then there was Nicky Hopkins who’d collaborate with The Beatles and Rolling Stones. Drummer Andy White was best known as having played the drums on The Beatles’ Love Me Do. He’d forge a career as one of the top session musicians. Each of these musicians featured on Beverley Martyn’s debut single. 

Released as Beverley, Happy New Year wasn’t the commercial success many people envisaged. Worst was to come. Picking Up The Sunshine, Beverley’s sophomore album was recorded, but not released. However, Beverley’s luck was changing.

It was during this period, Beverley met Bert Jansch. He taught Beverley how to play guitar and encouraged Beverley to write her own songs. Meanwhile, Beverley was relying on other people to write songs for her. Donavon wrote her third single Museum. Denny Cordell who’d produce Joe Cocker, The Move, Procul Harum and The Moody Blues produced Museum. Sadly, Museum wasn’t a commercial success. So, Beverley moved to New York with another stalwart of the folk scene Paul Simon.

Paul Simon was a regular on the British folk scene. He’d arrived a few years earlier. Back then, he was an up-and-coming folk singer. Now  with Art Garfunkel, he was about to record Bookends. This was Simon and Garfunkel’s fourth album. Recorded in New York, Beverley wrote Fakin’ It. She also sings a line in the song. Things were looking up for Beverley. Especially when she appeared at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Music Festival. However, two years later, Beverley would meet the man she recorded two critically acclaimed albums with.

This was John Martyn, who was already an established name of the British folk circuit. He’d already released two solo albums, 1967s London Conversation and 1968s The Tumbler. Beverley and John would release two albums in 1970. Stormbringer was released in February 1970, with Beverley penning four tracks and John six. Recording of Stormbringer took place in Woodstock, with Joe Boyd producing Stormbringer. Upon its release, Stormbringer wasn’t the success Island Records had hoped for. Despite this, John and Beverley entered the studio again.

This time it was in London. That’s where The Road To Ruin, the followup to Stormbringer, was recorded. It was released in November 1970, and it features one of Beverley’s finest songs, Primrose Hill. It’s a song about what Beverely calls the “joys of domesticity.”  Apart from Primrose Hill, Beverley  cowrote three songs with John for The Road To Ruin. Sadly, on the release of The Road To Ruin, the album failed commercially. That proved to be the end of John and Beverley’s collaboration.

Island Records decided that with John and Beverley’s two albums failing commercially, it would be best to market John as a solo artist. Right through until John Martyn was recording Grace and Danger in 1980, Beverley divided her time between spending time with her family and working on John’s solo albums.That came to an end in 1980. John and Beverley were divorced when John was recording Grace and Danger, which features a cathartic outpouring of emotion from John. After their divorce in 1980, Beverley took a break from music, concentrating on her family.

By the nineties, Beverley’s family had grownup. So, she made her comeback. This began with Beverley supporting Loudon Wainwright III. Then in 2001, Beverley made released her long awaited debut album No Frills. Over the next few years, Beverley worked with some of the biggest names in music. This includes Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Levon Helm of The Band, Richard Thompson, Dave Pegg and Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention and British folk guitarist Davy Graham. Then in 2004, a new generation were introduced to Beverley Martin’s music. 

Fatboy Slim sampled Primrose Hill from John and Beverley Martin’s 1970 album Stormbringer. It featured on North West Three, a track from his Palookaville album. This introduced Beverley to another generation of music. For many musicians, they’d have rushed out a new album. Not Beverley. That isn’t her style. Her followup to 1998s No Frills, The Phoenix and the Turtle was only released recently. 

Beverley describes The Phoenix and the Turtle “as a very personal album.” It features songs that she’s written throughout her fifty year career. This includes the first song she wrote, Sweet Joy. Reckless Jane is a song Beverley and Nick Drakes started to write. Sadly, they never finished it. Belatedly, Beverley has finished the song. When The Levee Breaks and Going To Germany are songs Beverley used to sing with her first group The Levee Breakers. Women And Malt Whiskey is a song based on Beverley’s late and legendary husband John Martyn. Along with Potter’s Blues, Nighttime, Mountain Top and Jesse James, these nine tracks became The Phoenix and The Turtle, Beverley Martyn’s sophomore album, which was recorded in Wales and California.

Most of The Phoenix and the Turtle was recorded at Les Cousins Studios in Wales, with guitarist and producer Mark Pavey. He played acoustic guitar and piano. The rhythm section features bassist Matt Malley, ex-Counting Crows drummer Victor Bisetti and guitarist Michael Watts. Matt and Victor recorded their parts Malleyable Music Studios, California.Other artists who played on The Phoenix and the Turtle included Michael Lease, who played Hammond organ on Levee Breaks. John Hwyel Morris played piano on Reckless Jane and Owain Roberts arranged the strings. Beverley added her unmistakable vocals. Once The Phoenix and the Turtle which I’ll tell about, was completed, it was released on 21st April 2014. Is The Phoenix and the Turtle a return to form from Beverely Martyn?

Reckless Jane opens The Phoenix and the Turtle. Straight away, beauty meets melancholia. Just the lushest of strings, thoughtful piano and a picked acoustic guitar combine. The guitar reminds me of Nick Drake. Beverley’s vocal is tender and wistful. Her lyrics have a cinematic quality. She brings the lyrics to life. So much so, that the scenes unfold before your eyes. Carefree describes Reckless Jane. She’s you and her life seems one adventure. Beverley sings from experience, hence her melancholy vocal. This combination of beauty, melancholia and cinematic lyrics is a potent one.

Just a strummed guitar opens Potter’s Blues. It sets the scene for Beverley’s feisty, frustrated vocal. As the rhythm section provides the heartbeat and guitars chime, Beverley’s vocal is wistful and emotive. It’s as if she’s longing to turn back the clock and right the wrongs of yesteryear. The longer the track progresses, the better it gets. However, at the three minute mark, a blues harmonica would’ve proved the perfect way to close the track. This would make a great track, even better.

Going to Germany was a song The Levee Breakers sang. It sees Beverley deliver a powerful, punchy vocal. She combines folk, blues and rock. Behind her, a weeping country-tinged guitar, Hammond organ and rhythm section combine. They take care never to overpower Beverley’s vocal, which is at the heart of the song’s success.

Sweet Joy was the first song Beverley ever wrote. You wouldn’t know. It’s a very beautiful song. The arrangement is understated arrangement and Beverley’s vocal soul-baring. An acoustic guitar is strummed, while an electric guitar chimes and weeps. A cymbal crashes and shimmers, adding an element of drama. It doesn’t overpower Beverley’s captivating and breathtakingly beautiful vocal.

Like other songs on The Phoenix and the Turtle, space is left in the arrangement to Nighttime. This is the case with Beverley’s vocal. The space is the equivalent of a dramatic pause. Her heartbroken vocal oozes emotion and hurt. Later, it becomes angry, frustrated and needy. By then, the rocky arrangement has taken a dramatic twist. Drums pound, strings sweep, a bass buzzes and guitars help drive the arrangement along. This provides the perfect accompaniment to Beverley’s needy, emotive vocal.

Levee Breaks is another track from Beverley’s days with The Levee Breakers sang. She delivers a vocal powerhouse where blues and rock combine. Mostly, the arrangement is understated. That’s apart from when blistering guitars resonate into the distance. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Beverley’s vocal. She’s like a British equivalent of Bonnie Riatt. As the song closes, the arrangement erupts. Searing guitars and Hammond organ combine as the arrangement reaches a bluesy, rock-tinged crescendo.

Beverley wrote Women and Malt Whisky about her late husband John Martyn, and other men she met in the folk scene. It’s a poignant song about fearless, hard living men. They drank, caroused and womanised, but never feared the consequences. Essentially, they were the original live fast die young generation. Especially given the line: “if I don’t be there by morning, don’t you grieve.” Later, a despairing Beverley sings “Women and Malt Whisky will lead you to your grave.” Poignant and full of pathos, this is one of Beverley’s best songs on The Phoenix and the Turtle.

The guitar that opens Mountain Top briefly, reminds me of John Martyn on Solid Air, one of John’s classic albums. It resonates, and is the perfect accompaniment to Beverley’s vocal. Her vocal is tender and wistful as she delivers some of her finest lyrics. Like other tracks, they’ve a cinematic quality. Beverley takes on the role of storyteller. She sings about a woman struggling to come to terms with the ageing process. There’s a poignancy and sadness to the lyrics. Beverley breathes life, meaning and emotion into her lyrics, resulting in poignant and powerful song full of pathos.

Jesse James closes The Phoenix and the Turtle. It’s a track with a strong country influence. Beverley’s vocal has a mid-Atlantic sound. She’s accompanied by chiming and strummed guitars, plus drums played with brushes. This results in an authentic country sound. The arrangement is understated, allowing Beverley’s vocal to take centre-stage as she demonstrates another side to her music.

Although nearly fifty years have passed since Beverley released her debut single in 1966, she’s hardly been prolific. Quite the opposite. Beverley had only released one album before The Phoenix and the Turtle. That was no frills. Released in 2001, The Phoenix and the Turtle surpasses the quality of No Frills. Just like a fine wine, Beverley Martin has improved with age. 

Beverley is nearly sixty-nine and next year, marks her debut with The Levee Breakers. She then enjoyed a brief solo career and released two classic albums with John Martyn, Stormbringer and The Road To Ruin. These two albums feature two of legends of the British folk scene. Sadly, they weren’t a commercial success and that was the last we heard from John and Beverley. Who knows, maybe if they’d been given time, they’d have fulfilled their potential? Sadly that wasn’t the case. John returned to his solo career and released several classic albums. Beverley divided her time between her family and working on John’s solo albums. Then when her family grew up, Beverley made a comeback. 

Sadly, Beverley was in now hurry to return to the recording studio. No Frills followed in 2001 and then nothing. That was until earlier this year. Rumours started circulating that Beverley Martyn was about to release a new album. Many people dared not believe. Some did and were rewarded with The Phoenix and the Turtle.

Recently released on Les Cousins’ label, The Phoenix and the Turtle, which was sees a return to form from Beverley Martyn. Featuring nine songs penned by Beverley, The Phoenix and the Turtle is truly a flawless and timeless album. It’s been a longtime coming, but The Phoenix and the Turtle has been worth the wait. However, The Phoenix and the Turtle is a reminder of what we’ve been missing for far too long.

Beverley Martyn is an artist who could and should’ve enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim. However, Beverley has been a stranger too long. She’s only released two albums since her solo career began in 1966. That’s not enough to do her talent justice. With her talent as a singer and songwriter, Beverley Martyn should be a huge star. Maybe, after the commercial failure of her her earlier solo material and the her collaborations with John Martyn, Beverley was reluctant to record any more albums. After all, it must be soul destroying for an artist who doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. Who can blame them for turning their back on their solo career? That’s what Beverley did.

Thankfully, she’s made a belated comeback with The Phoenix and the Turtle. On The Phoenix and the Turtle Beverley combines folk, country, blues and rock on The Phoenix and the Turtle. The nine songs are variously beautiful, poignant and wistful. Heartbreak and hurt sits side-by-side pathos and melancholia. Beverley’s lyrics have a cinematic quality and each of the songs to life. As a result, The Phoenix and the Turtle is like a series of musical journeys, where Beverley takes on the role of narrator. You’re captivated and spellbound by what’s the finest album of Beverley’s solo career, The Phoenix and the Turtle.



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