“This is like therapy for me,” Dom Martin told The Hare And Hounds. “I was never supposed to play these things to people”. He was explaining his music, and in doing so, he did it with an almost evangelical zeal. He let us in on snippets of his life, and there was one constant amidst the turmoil: the blues.
In contrast to the last time I had seen him in the autumn, this gig had no band behind him (that previous gig had been half and half); this one was just the man, his guitar, his songs, and his stories, and it was genuinely moving.
“His” songs are just as much “their” songs, as there is a lot of Rory Gallagher and John Martyn in the almost two hours he’s onstage, but they’re constantly with him anyway. As he puts it, “I felt like my friends were on these records. I’ve listened to ghosts my whole life.”
He begins with a Gallagher song, and “Could Have Had Religion” set the tone for the fragile yet somehow stoic beauty here. The acoustic arrived for “Easy Way Out,” where he spoke about his chaotic early life, with lyrics like ” you have champagne taste but beer pockets,” there’s a poetry here too, and also how he drifts somewhere else, you can’t fail to notice how he’s trance-like, possessed by his instrument.
“Mercy” was written when he was squatting in an attic, while his friend didn’t know and was living downstairs. “Out on the Western Plains” merged with “Cavatina,” a version he’d been taught by his late father. “Bakers Blues,” which he segued beautifully with “Bankers Blues,” was Rory at his most playful.
There’s love of the most destructive kind, too. “The Rain Came” was written about his first girlfriend when he walked out. The words, as much as the playing, struck me again: “I opened up her chest and found nothing inside.” Contrast that with the man singing it. If you cut him open, he’d bleed this music.
He ended with a pair of his favourite takes on John Martyn tunes, “You Can Discover” and “May You Never,” both beautiful and done with reverence and skill. He encored with his own “Hell for You” before ending with another version of the great man’s stuff. This time on a guitar built for him by a fan in Florida, a Telecaster built in the style of Gallagher’s Strat. It had arrived on what would have been Rory’s birthday, while Martin was playing a celebration festival in Holland. “I like to think he was saying hello in some way,” Martin said. His presence was never far away, but it was here on “Shoulda Learned My Lesson” for sure.
For a man who can play so incredibly, it seems a little disrespectful to end with another thing he’d said. And yet, when he spoke about his need for music rather than just his love for his craft, he had reasoned that “Music is mandatory,” and that was the thread that went through the whole night, underlining the importance of the guitar to Dom Martin. That’s also why my words are so ephemeral and unimportant in comparison.
Perhaps thanks are in order instead. Thanks for inviting us into one of your therapy sessions.