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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Bloomsbury Theatre, London - Saturday April 2nd, 2005 - by Nick Morgan
Martins 4
From left to right: Martin Taylor, Martin Simpson, Martin Carthy and Juan Martin

I’ve never been too sure about the numbers thing when it comes to names. I mean, I remember from my philosophy classes that names signify something (Thomas Hobbes unless I’m much mistaken), but what about numbers? Dave Clark Five, Alabama Three, Temperance Seven, Three Mustaphas Three, Gang of Four, Brora 30, Birmingham Six, 7 Eleven, Three Dog Night, Colt 45 – I’m sure the list is almost endless. But what do all these numbers really mean? And if you add them up then what do you get?
In the case of Martins 4 then the answer has to be a convenient handle for a random collection of four very accomplished guitarists, each with their own distinctive styles and audiences. The question has to be asked, “Why bring them together”? If you were a whisky blender you might baulk at throwing together a powerful and temperamental Islay (Juan Martin) with a feisty islander (Martin Carthy), a sublime Speyside (Martin Taylor) and a fourth malt that didn’t quite know what it was (Martin Simpson) in equal proportions. Yet the result is certainly, as a good blend should be, more than the sum of its parts, whether by accident or good fortune.

Martin CarthyMartin Carthy
  The audience, though not quite in the same league of bonkersdom as on my last visit here (Procul Harum and the Palers) seems at first sight equally random, bearded folkies, swarthy Spaniards and a few cool jazzheads, with an age span from around 12 to late seventies. My impression was that the majority were at the gig to hear particular Martins, which is what they were served first, and not the Martinial confection that was brought to the table in the second half. If they shared my scepticism as to the ingredients then I’m sure that by the end, like me, they were persuaded that sometimes a seemingly random mix can be just as good as a well tried recipe.
So Martin Carthy MBE, father of the English folk-guitar, kicked off with three tunes and a badly buggered guitar cable. He gave us a wonderful song collected from Kentish songsmith Len Smith, and his famous rendition of the Harry Lime Theme, which apparently, according to Martin Taylor MBE (who followed), is the music that he (Taylor) wants played at his funeral. Lets hope he doesn’t die soon.  Laid back and loose, Taylor was simply awesome, one of those guitarists who makes it sound as if there are at least three people playing (shades of Bill Frisell).. We got Nora Jones’ ‘I don’t know why’, ‘One day’, a tune written for Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival, and ‘Rum Beach’, when with the addition of a dampener under his bridge he transformed his guitar into a Caribbean steel band.  
Martin TaylorMartin Taylor
Juan MartinJuan Martin
  No less versatile was Englebert Humperdink look-alike Juan Martin (pronounced Hwan Marteeeen) who used his short spot to rumba and fandango his way through an exemplary Flamenco primer, with a particular emphasis on the Moorish roots of his music. If anything Martin Simpson seemed the most rootless of the four – a beautifully played mixture of blues slide guitar and traditional folk, from a musical setting of Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘On Raglan Road’ to an Americanised tribute to the Gibson Super 400 (no Serge, not a motorbike, it’s a guitar) – but altogether something of a curate’s egg.
When the four Martins came together for Martins 4 one might have wondered what for, after such impressive individual sets. However they knocked out six tunes, mostly from their current (and so-far only) eponymous album with great humour and aplomb, giving equal space for each of their diverse talents. Amidst the endless tuning (that’s what guitarists do when they get together) and ‘Smoke on the water’ riffs (no Serge, not a plug for that other Islay whisky – by the way – do they pay royalties to Deep Purple for that ad?) Martin’s ‘La Pasion De lamento’, Martin’s version of ‘Glass of water’, Martin’s ‘Heather down the Moor’, and Martin’s original composition ‘Barrack Street Stroll’ were probably the highlights.  
Martin SimpsonMartin Simpson
As we left Jon said (Martin wasn’t with us) that we should all go and see Martin Taylor the first chance we get – I would commend you all to do the same. In the meantime you can by the CD, and of course try and get hold of the 2003 DVD, Guitar Nights. But hang on – this isn’t by the Martins 4, it’s the Four Martins! Names, numbers, confused? I sure am. - Nick Morgan (top concert photo by Kate)

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