Tag Archives: Sweet Little Mystery – The Songs Of John Martyn

Sweet Little Mystery – The Songs Of John Martyn


Coronet Theatre

Sweet Little Mystery

Sweet Little Mystery – The Songs Of John Martyn

The Coronet Theatre

Reviewed – 29th October 2019



“If a voice was perceived in colour, Sarah’s would be red. Red velvet. Red wine. The colour of fire, passion, anger, danger. And love.”


John Martyn was just sixty years old when his life tragically came to an end ten years ago. A key figure, not just in the world of folk, his musical style crossed boundaries crossing over into jazz and experimental rock, even becoming one of the forerunners of ‘trip hop’ that emerged in the 1990s. A friend and collaborator with the likes of Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Nick Drake his influences were widespread and can still be heard today. Peerless and passionate, he bucked trends and fearlessly followed his own path, and heart. “It’s no battle to get up there and sing whatever’s in your head at the time, but it’s a whole other scene to lay your heart on people” he said back in 1973. But his heart ultimately couldn’t keep up. His life-long abuse of drugs and alcohol took its toll, yet his searing soul still continues to haunt us through his music.

“Sweet Little Mystery” is Sarah Jane Morris’ homage to Martyn. Morris is at pains to emphasise that her show is not a tribute, but her own take on the songs. “John Martyn would have enjoyed the fact that we celebrate the songs but change them – that’s the point of covering songs” she says introducing her set. Centre stage at Notting Hill’s Coronet Theatre, her only prop is a microphone through which she layers her own personality on a hand picked collection of Martyn classics. Accompanied by two virtuoso guitarists: to her left is her ‘partner in crime’ on the project, guitarist Tony Rémy and on the right Tim Cansfield. Directed by comedian and activist Mark Thomas, the show – a labour of love – began as a CD recording resulting from touring and interviewing friends, family and fellow musicians of John Martyn. Footage of these conversations are projected onto the back wall between numbers. More interesting though are Morris’ own anecdotes about what the songs mean to her.

If a voice was perceived in colour, Sarah’s would be red. Red velvet. Red wine. The colour of fire, passion, anger, danger. And love. A rich, dramatic contralto that betrays her journey into music via theatre. Yet theatricality is absent here as she lets the songs speak for themselves. Included in the evening, among several other numbers, are ‘Solid Air’, which Martyn wrote for Nick Drake shortly before Drake’s suicide, ‘May You Never’ (famously also covered by Eric Clapton), ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’ – co-written with his first wife, Beverley Kutner. In a dark moment Martyn professed that he wanted to write a song about evil, but his wife replied “I don’t wanna know about evil – I only wanna know about love”. ‘Sweet Little Mystery’, which gives the show it’s title, comes from Martyn’s album ‘Grace and Danger’, a record that his producer refused to release for over a year as he found it too raw and disturbing. Morris adds warmth to the desolation, knowing when to add light to the shade, and with a wry nod to Martyn’s taste for the grain she urges us at interval to raise a toast to his spirit with a large whisky at the bar.

The toast, however, is surely to Sarah Jane Morris and the exceptional musicality of Tony Rémy and Tim Cansfield. Morris has said that she will only cover a song if she feels she can take it, change it, claim it and make it her own. At the Coronet, she not only achieves that with the songs, but she takes the audience, changes us, claims us and makes us her own. A remarkable feat for a performer. A remarkable show.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Sarah Leigh Lewis


Sweet Little Mystery – The Songs Of John Martyn

 The Coronet Theatre until 31st October


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Love Lies Bleeding | ★★★★ | November 2018
A Christmas Carol | ★★★★ | December 2018
The Dead | ★★★ | December 2018
The Lady From The Sea | ★★ | February 2019
The Glass Piano | ★★★★ | April 2019
Remember Me: Homage to Hamlet | ★★ | June 2019
The Decorative Potential Of Blazing Factories (Film) | ★★★ | June 2019
Three Italian Short Stories | ★★★★ | June 2019
Winston Vs Churchill | ★★★★★ | June 2019
Youth Without God | ★★★ | September 2019


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