Johnny & Mart
This was a song that Martin and I wrote and recorded – I think – in 2010.
My first memories of the song are of being in Mart’s room, and him playing me a long, haunting, captivating guitar introduction in a minor key. It bloomed into a poppy, major key rather jolly number, and at that point I think he had entitled it Punkd. It was the long introduction that had grabbed my attention. Mart asked me to take the recording away and think about where it could go.
I remember listening to the long introduction over and over again on my way to work for days afterwards, slowly piecing together a few words and a melody. Martin and I had been talking about how we both felt exhausted by the world: the barrage of advertising; the absence of art and inspiration; the anodyne nature of popular culture. We were both experiencing an urge to retreat inwards, and the lyrics reflect the conversations we had been having about this. They were intended as a call-to-arms, imploring one another to challenge the world; a reminder that we’re “never alone.” The lyrics felt more poignant after Martin died, taking on a strangely prophetic feeling.
We had both been listening to Seth Lakeman about that time, which is where the earthy, folksy lyrics take inspiration from. Similarly, we wanted to re-create some of how Elbow’s Guy Garvey sings really close to the microphone. I think my love of Jeff Buckley is in there too, and I think you can hear some Jonny Greenwood in Martin’s guitars.
Martin and I met to finish the song off when he came down to London for a weekend. I had written a chorus which flowed out of the introduction and we lost the major key section, which didn’t fit anymore. We worked on it for a while at my flat, and got the extra guitars done quickly. Martin was (secretly) staying at his sister’s flat in West Hampstead, and we recorded the vocals there. Mart was really unwell with a sickness bug. He was laid out in bed, and occasionally murmuring instructions at me. It was the only time I was allowed to operate the laptop! I think when I recorded the vocal I was trying not to wake him.
One of the reasons this song has stayed special to me is that a year or so after Martin died, I got the chance to perform this song with some amazing musicians in Lancaster when his dad chose the song for a folk group evening. Most of the songs we recorded with Martin during his final few years are very tough to re-create live, with the complex drums, vocals, and multiple guitar tracks. So singing this one with a folk arrangement – double bass, violin, and Jon Gjylaci on guitar – was a privilege.
The song was played at Martin’s funeral, and it is a poignant and tender song that I was very proud to have written and recorded with him.
Johnny Clark (2016)