A belated official issue of a well-traveled bootleg, Sweet Certain Surprise is a solo acoustic performance by John Martyn from 1977, with four selections from an electric full-band gig from 1981 tacked on the end. The timing is key for Martyn fans, as the 1977 gig comes at the end of a nearly three-year period when the singer/songwriter had withdrawn almost entirely from music. Indeed, the set is primarily intriguing for its inclusion of a few songs that would later appear on the 1977 studio album One World, here in embryonic versions with (in the case of "A Certain Surprise") much different lyrics, as well as a moving version of "Solid Air," Martyn's song of mourning for his late friend Nick Drake. The electric tracks are interesting in that they show how Martyn moved away from folk into a form of world music fusion (one song, the rambling "Big Muff," was written by Martyn and legendary reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry), but they don't really fit with the intimate, casual feel of the 13 solo acoustic performances. While the sound is improved for this release, it still reflects its origins as a muffled audience tape, and as a result of the iffy sound and Martyn's occasionally unsure performances, Sweet Certain Surprise is definitely a release for the most devoted members of John Martyn's cult audience.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason