Martyn Bates
Reverb, Islington

by Bob Stafford (Melody Maker, March 25 1989)

Downstairs at the Market Tavern about 100 people are seated around small wooden tables. The room is lit by candles. This is not a trad rock‘n’roll venue.

Martyn Bates has pulled the biggest crowd in Reverb’s eight month history – he’s more surprised than anybody. It’s been three years since he last played London when Eyeless In Gaza were still alive and well, and his current ‘Love Smashed on a Rock’ LP is a Belgian import because nobody here wanted to know. He should have been nervous as hell but if he was it didn’t show.

The evening’s moods yoyo – first off is a biting ‘Since I Can’t Have You’, fuzzboxed and angry and leaving a few puzzled looks. Then it’s christmas night stillness, ‘You So Secret’ is so quiet it’s almost whispered. The feeling is happysad, up and down, Bates half kills his semi-acoustic on an untitled new song, thrashing it so hard and fast he makes David Gedge seem positively comatose. The song is almost atonal, the voice swooping and dipping, exorcising some long forgotten demon. A bitter wind, a winter soundscape. You could call this folk music.

A 45 minute set is finished with Tim Hardin’s ‘Black Sheep Boy’, and you wonder if Greenwich Village 25 years ago could have been that much better. One of our last true originals, we ought to cherish Martyn Bates before he gives up for good.