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Folk blues legend Martyn (60) dies


John Martyn pictured at his home in Kilkenny in 2003

John Martyn pictured at his home in Kilkenny in 2003

John Martyn pictured at his home in Kilkenny in 2003

John Martyn, the folk blues singer whose extraordinary voice and virtuoso musicianship beguiled a generation by speaking directly from the dark pit of his soul, died yesterday at the age of 60.

A message on his website read simply: "With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss, we must announce that John died this morning."

The cause of death is not known.

Regarded as a musical innovator and famed for fusing folk and jazz styles, English-born Martyn had lived in Co Kilkenny for the last number of years. Best known for his 1973 masterpiece 'Solid Air', the title track of which was written for his friend, the late Nick Drake, Martyn's songs spoke of loneliness and love, always wrapped up in the most beautiful of musical accompaniments.

Alongside his incredible guitar playing, Martyn's voice oozed naked emotion and his work was always highly autobiographical. Able to command the services of the world's top musicians, and having played alongside Richard Thompson, Dave Gilmour and Eric Clapton, Martyn counted Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix as friends.

Among those to pay tribute yesterday were former Genesis drummer Phil Collins, who said Martyn was a truly original songwriter and performer. "He was uncompromising, which made him infuriating to some people, but he was unique and we'll never see the likes of him again," said Collins.

Martyn, a heavy drinker in his younger days, suffered from diabetes and, in 2003, had a leg amputated below the knee as the result of a burst cyst.

He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Returning to the stage after the operation, he said: "I promised them I wouldn't get legless before the gig."

Despite the sensitivity of his songs, he was regarded as difficult and prickly. In a recent interview, he said: "If I could control myself more, I think the music would be much less interesting. I'd probably be a great deal richer but I'd have had far less fun."

He was a regular performer at Dublin's Vicar Street and more recently performed at the venue in November last year.

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