Volker and John Martyn

03 February, 2023

Volker and John Martyn

An extract from Ian Clayton's Bringing It All Back Home: the story of visiting John Martyn with his friend Völker Bredebusch.

I first meet Völker one evening in a bar called The Optimum. He is guest harp blower with a blues band that Jörge Petersmann has got together called Black Cat Bone. Völker is Jürgen’s younger brother. He is about my age, similar height and built like a brick shithouse. He has some right shoulders on him, through years of training to be in the German butterfly swimming team. If only Germany hadn’t withdrawn from the Moscow Olympics in 1980 he might have built a career as a swimmer. Völker took up joinery and music promotion. He has organised tours in Europe for artists who he’s a fan of, Eddi Reader being one, but mainly his hero John Martyn. Völker is a walking encyclopaedia of English folk rock, blues, jazz and Bob Dylan. At the last count I think he had over four hundred John Martyn live bootlegs on tape. Völker grew up in that peculiarly German 1970s tradition of political activism, street theatre and impromptu gig organising.

In his beer-drinking heyday Völker was unstoppable, the most drunken sessions I have ever been on have been with Völker. Once in Poland we drank so much vodka that it took us three days to come round. Völker drives a big black Dodge van. Inside it is decorated with beer mats from Tetley’s and Sam Smith’s. On a trip to Sam Smith’s brewery we drank eight pints in one hour in the hospitality bar and then he ordered another round for good measure when we got into the Angel and White Horse, the brewery tap. Völker is such a regular visitor to Featherstone that he and his wife Michaela make it their base. Northern England is their favourite holiday destination.

On one trip Völker decides that we should go and visit John Martyn; at that time he was living in Roberton in an old church with one bell. Later John Martyn will name one of the best of his latter day albums The Church with One Bell. We arrive outside his house in Roberton in the Scottish borders in the black Dodge. John’s tough looking henchman Archie is there to greet us. ‘Ullo Völker.’ He pronounces the ‘V’ like a guttural Scottish ‘V’ rather than the softer ‘F’ as in ‘folk’ the way the Germans do. It is two o’clock in the afternoon and John hasn’t got up yet. We sit in the kitchen round a big table drinking tea. John stirs and lumbers down the staircase like a bear, one with a sore head. He opens the fridge door, takes out a bottle of vodka and has a huge swig. I’ve seen people do that with milk or mineral water, but never vodka. He sits at the table, eyes me up and down and then says, ‘Are ye staying for a few days then, Völker?’ The hard ‘V’ sound again.

‘No, we want to go up to Edinburgh to see Alan.’

‘Fuck him! Stay here and we’ll have a party. Who’s your friend?’

Völker introduces me. ‘This is Ian from Yorkshire.’

John goes into a stream of consciousness monologue in a very passable Yorkshire accent that stereotypes the type of Yorkshireman that I try not to be. ‘Giz a fuckin’ curry Abdul and make it snappy. By gum I could eat a scabby fuckin’ donkey. Bring us plenty o’ them chapattis we’ it. By, fuck my old boots. Turned out nice again. Can y’hear me, Mother? Eeeh! By gum.’

I don’t know what to say. So I laugh.

‘By fuckin’ hell Abdul look sharp wi’ that curry!’

In 1976 I bought John Martyn’s One World album from Celia’s record shop in Castleford. I thought at the time and still do that it’s a beautiful record. Even the title ‘One World’ is lovely and twenty-odd years in front of its time. Now I’m sitting round his kitchen table and he’s taking the piss out of me. Later in the day we end up in a pub in the next village. We down a few halves with chasers. John continues with his ‘Fuckin’ curry Abdul’ monologue and at one point kicks me on the shin. I go to hit him back and get pulled up by henchman Archie who says, ‘I would nae do that, son.’ Back in the Dodge on the road to Edinburgh Völker says, ‘John can be like that sometimes.’ I still buy John Martyn records. I even have a special section on my record shelves for them. His version of the Portishead song ‘Glory Box’ was on repeat on my CD player for many weeks.

Related Products

Bringing It All Back Home

Bringing It All Back Home

Ian Clayton

Shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley Prize When you hear a certain song, where does it take you? What is the secret that connects music to our lives? Heart warming, moving and laugh out loud funny, Bringing It All Back Home is the truest book you will ever read about music and the things that really matter. Author Ian Clayton listens to music as a kid to e..

Read More