Facts and Stats: originally released on CD and cassette in 1990 with eleven tracks (and ten tracks on vinyl, missing off “The Moment”), The Apprentice was re-issued in 1998 on CD, then again on CD in 2007 with five bonus tracks – “Deny This Love” (remix) and “The Apprentice” (live) (originally from the 1990 “Deny This Love” CD and vinyl single) and “The River” (live), “Send Me One Line” (live), “Look At The Girl” (live).
The Apprentice was Martyn’s 15th album of 23, and came four years after Piece by Piece (which reached number 28 on the UK charts).
The band for the album was made up of a varying cast depending on the track but included Foster “Foss” Paterson (keyboards), Dave ‘Taif’ Ball (bass), Aran Ahmun (drums), Colin Tully and Andy Sheppard (saxophone), Danny Cummings (percussion and backing vocals), Taj Wyzgowski (rhythm guitar) and Danusia Zaremba (backing vocals).
With the exception of “Patterns In The Rain” (by Foster Paterson) all the songs were written by Martyn.
Expanded Edition: the expanded edition is made up of three CDs and one DVD.
CD1 is made up of The Apprentice remastered. It includes the two tracks from the “Deny This Love” single but drops the further three live tracks from the 2007 album release.
CD2 and 3 consist of Live at The Shaw Theatre, London (31st March 1990) which was previously officially released on CD as Live (1995) or Dirty, Down and Live (1999).
The DVD repeats The Apprentice in Concert DVD from 2006, which was an update of The Apprentice Tour concert video from 1990 (which had missed off “Look At The Girl” but was restored for the DVD). It’s the same gig as the CD i.e, from the Shaw Theatre, London 31st March 1990, but not the complete show – (see below).
All in all, this is an ideal package for a Martyn fan who wants most of the material all in one place.
Background: John Hillarby sets the scene in the liner notes to the expanded edition: in March 1987 Martyn returned to the studio to record a new album at Island Studios’ the Fallout Shelter. The Apprentice was completed by April 1987 but rejected by Island Records due to the overall sound, and so the album was mixed again in June at The Roundhouse Studios. Despite this, Island Records rejected the album again – Brian Young of Ca Va Sound recalls that the record company “were heavily trying to push John into being the next Chris Rea… but John was quite happy with the early Apprentice.” Despite this, surprisingly in October 1987 Island released included live performances of three of the songs, “Deny This Love”, “The Apprentice” and “Send Me One Line” on a live album Foundations (recorded at the Town and Country Club, London in November 1986).
Martyn unexpectedly found himself without a record contract as he approached his fortieth birthday, taking time out; a brief period of reflection extended into some dark months of “substance assisted relaxation”. Eventually a “refreshed and reinvigorated” Martyn committed to recording with or without a record company thanks to a complete lifestyle change on doctor’s orders, and he began work on The Apprentice again with Brian Young at Ca Va Sound. Martyn also signed to Permanent Records, a label set up by John Lennard, his manager and concert promoter.
Graeme Thomson in Small Hours (Omnibus Press, 2020) confirms that The Apprentice was “a painfully drawn-out affair, pieced together over the course of three years. It was released only after first being rejected by Island, Chris Blackwell having “finally lost patience”. Thomson notes that Island was sold to Polygram in August 1989, and there was never anything “as formal” as a falling-out between Martyn and Blackwell.
The Apprentice was finally released in March 1990. Martyn was “in love, content and enjoying life, and this is portrayed in the songs” [John Hillarby liner notes], but Britain was in recession, with widespread strikes and rioting in protest at the poll tax.
What The Critics Thought, The Apprentice: “…Better by far is “The River”’s easy flowing lines, the quiet anger of “Income Town” (recorded live) complete with vocals contorted all over the place and what could almost be a mute on the guitar, and the dramatic title track with its agonised, third party cries of “What’s wrong with my life” rising against the sudden jolts of combined sax, keyboards and guitar. It’s easily the most demonstrative moment on what is the most controlled of albums” (Q Magazine, March 1990).
“The Apprentice, along with Cooltide, caps off the smooth jazz sound of his ’80s albums, and is one of the best of this series of works” (Allmusic).
Graeme Thomson writes in Small Hours that with the release of The Apprentice, Martyn “left behind any semblance of a mainstream music career…He returned to the margins, where he was perhaps best suited”.
A review of the 1990 concert video said: “When he’s on form, as in “Dealer”, “One World” or the rightly perennial “May You Never”, there’s something irresistible and warm about his craft. At other times, however, his songs atrophy into a slew of middle-aged jazz rock, all shimmering cymbals and flatulent fretless bass, sporadically enlivened by Martyn’s heartfelt guitar playing (New Musical Express, September 1990).
According to a review by Melody Maker of the 7th April, show Martyn was as “scruffy as ever”, and shuffled onstage with a cardigan that tried to escape from his shoulders at every opportunity.
Our Review: The studio album (CD1) is at its most commercial with its opening track, the optimistic “Live on Love”, which has an accessible melody and impressive lead guitar surrounded by bright ‘80s production.
Despite the mention of work in the lyrics, “The River”, is a relaxed meditative flow with sax by Colin Tully, a song inspired by one of John’s musical heroes, American actor and bass baritone Paul Robeson. Tully also plays on “Upo”, a joyful bossa nova confirming John’s contentment with life at the particular point.
Saxophone is key to this album. Andy Shepherd contributes some impressive work, particularly to “Look at the Girl”, a dreamy ballad inspired by Martyn’s daughter (perhaps a follow-up to his 1974 song “My Baby Girl”) and “Send Me One Line”, a romantic ballad inspired by Helene Hanff’s book 84 Charing Cross Road and written for the film adaptation [Martyn wrote the song and then forgot about it, so it was too late to be used in the film]. Shepherd’s solo on the breezy and upbeat “Deny This Love” ensures the track rises above its’ 80s production.
Once you get past the dense sound, there are some great songs and interesting ideas. The title track, which had the working power of “Nuclear” was inspired by a conversation [perhaps unsurprisingly, in a bar] with a dying man who had worked at a nuclear power plant. The keyboards were no doubt intended to enhance the drama, but at times they risk overpowering the track. The anti-capitalist “Income Town” has some obvious canned audience reaction as a satirical touch to suggest the track is a live recording from Martyn’s mythical Green Banana in Toronto. “The Moment” starts out like a Purple Rain outtake, and continues into a quietly dramatic ballad. “Patterns in the Rain”, co-written with Paterson, is drenched in romance. “Hold Me” is light and poppy, with a subtle blue riff hidden away in the background.
The two bonus tracks on CD1 are the single remix of “Deny This Love” (which drops the vocal introduction and undoubtedly has a more direct approach) and a live version of “The Apprentice”.
To support the release of The Apprentice Martyn toured for three months in the UK and Europe, including eleven dates at London’s Shaw Theatre. Martyn said of his comparatively young band [Miles Bould on percussion, Spencer Cozens on keyboards, Dave Lewis on sax, Alan Thompson on bass] that “they’re more jazzers than anything else, and sometimes it’s very cerebral stuff! They’ve got a very sweet approach to music. They do a lot of organic eating; no, I’m lying about the organic eating, but we’re not a ‘let’s go out, get drunk and wreck a hotel band.’”
Live at The Shaw Theatre, London (CD2 and 3) is a recording is of the 31st March 1990 gig and includes four live tracks from The Apprentice, namely the title track, “Deny This Love”, ”Income Town”, “Look at That Girl”
Martyn kicks off solo acoustic with “Easy Blues” and gets the almost obligatory “May You Never” quickly out of the way. The “Dealer” echoplex jam extends into “Outside In” with the full band dramatically joining. The tone is generally sophisticated and smooth, with Lewis’ sax gliding effortlessly though “Never Let Me Go”, Could Not Love You More”, “Fisherman’s Dream”, and others. “Big Muff” is surprisingly glossy; “Angeline” and “Sweet Little Mystery” twinkle sweetly as the absolute opposite of Martyn’s dark side.
After the canned audience on the album version of “Income Town”, it’s a little odd but somewhat of a relief to hear a genuine live audience react (also, answers on a postcard to what Martyn unintelligibly shouts at the end – “Pollax”? “Poll tax”?). Excitement builds with “The Apprentice”; Martyn then declares that “there’s some freak on the stage!” as Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, a long-time admirer of Martyn’s music, joins the band. In their review of the April gig, The Melody Maker comically expressed concern when Gilmour joined, preparing for the evening to be ruined, but concede “even he fits in to the relaxed style Martyn evokes, adding a weird Floydian feeling to this clever construction of sound”.
The show continues to increase in atmosphere with the dramatic and deranged “John Wayne”, and the jazz fusions of “Look at the Girl” (dedicated to his daughter) and “Lookin’ On”. “Johnny Too Bad” is extended to over 13 minutes. There’s some short banter with the audience before the closing swirl of “One World” as if to say – I can fight you or charm you, depending on which the way is blowing.
The DVD effectively repeats The Apprentice in Concert DVD, from the same gig as the CD, the Shaw Theatre, London 31st March 1990, but not the complete show – there are only 13 tracks. Our basic maths therefore confirms there are at least 7 tracks missing from the DVD (as Live at the Shaw Theatre is made up of 20 tracks).
Label: Cherry Red/Esoteric Recordings
Release Date: 25 NOV 2022