Ronnie James Dio dead, Jeff Martin live

So I’m just about to say how much I enjoyed Jeff Martin’s gig at Ruby’s last night, and I see that Ronnie James Dio has died from stomach cancer. The little guy had a massive voice — anyone who saw him tour with the Heaven and Hell Sabbath tour had nothing but praise for him (alas, I was elsewhere, and now the opportunity is forever lost).

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that Jeff Martin’s Requiem-Hurt combo was a highlight of last night’s two-hour acoustic set, accompanied by Armada bass player Jay Cortez. This was their third night in a row, and Martin’s voice had taken on a huskiness that added to the impact of the slower tunes, but he didn’t favour it, giving each song everything he had.

This was my first outing at Ruby’s, an easy 30-minute drive from home and plenty of off-street parking, at least at eight on a Sunday night. It’s an atmospheric and intimate club, lots of black and red, and a wicked timber staircase down to the basement loos. Naturally, as it is these days, it seems, the crowd had its share of tossers who got more vocal during the night: I’ve never seen bouncers come to the front of the stage at a Jeff Martin gig before, and it was a relief when the manic-depressive domestic in front of us finally decided to take it outside.

But they managed to contain themselves for the opening songs, Morocco and the aforementioned Requiem. The set canvassed Martin’s career, including Tea Party favourites The Bazaar and Sister Awake rubbing shoulders with solo songs The Kingdom and Stay Inside of Me (a duet with support act, Brisbane singer pear), and Armada tunes The Rosary (written for his dead grandmother) and Line in the Sand, and a stomping encore double of Going Down and Black Snake Blues. Add a second duet (regret I didn’t catch the singer’s name), on the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush hit Don’t Give Up (a RockWiz hit with Tina Arena), and a cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable, emotionally charged concert. But then, his usually are, which is why, despite the aggravation of arseholes who chatter and elbow and take their flash photographs, I keep going back for more of the same (but never quite the same).

Martin is said to be withdrawing for a few months to work on a new album. Can’t wait for that!

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Jeff Martin, back in Australia

Cool news to come from the Armada gig at the East Brunswick Club last night: Jeff Martin, Canadian songwriter of note, previously of Ireland, has landed in Australia as a full-time resident. Although the travelling troubadour said he didn’t know just how much time he’d get to spend here.

The gig itself, being recorded, was damn fine, although the amount of inane crowd chatter during and between songs could be a headache for the final cut.

Martin, with Wayne Sheehy on percussion and Jay Cortez on bass (and other bits ‘n’ bobs, such as mandolin and harmonica), was in fine fettle for the two-hour performance in a hot, cramped venue offering superb sound. Seated mid-stage throughout in black shirt and jeans, he paraded a host of instruments during the night, including a hurdy gurdy, esraj, oud (won in a Cairo poker game) and theremin, as well as mainstay Gibson guitars, a classic Les Paul and an Australian-made 12-string.

The set list, similar to last year’s tour with familiar banter, ranged from Tea Party favourites such as Sister Awake and The Bazaar, to his signature solo tune, The Kingdom (album review here), again dedicated to Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires, and Armada tunes. He again offered crafty blends of NIN’s Hurt and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, and Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.

One highlight was Coming Home, given extra gusto by his announcement of a move to Oz, and the closing encore song, Black Snake Blues, with Cortez on slide guitar.

In Sheehy and Cortez, Martin has found ideal complements, and, combined with the regularity of his touring, must bode well for the Armada’s future. Or so I hope.

Jeff Martin and Wayne Sheehy at the Troubadour

I’m trying to recall the last time I was consumed by the music. Probably Nine Inch Nails ripping up the Soundwave festival. And now tonight, with Jeff Martin and Wayne Sheehy unleashing an intensity of peformance that was simply staggering. Playing at the Troubadour, an intimate acoustic gig with the sound right up to keep the chatterers quiet, the pair came out firing, Jeff on guitar and vocals, Wayne on percussion. The Bazaar to open, followed by Requiem/Hurt. And I was gone for all money. It helped that the front ranks stayed seated on the floor, offering superb line of sight. That the sound was, mostly, crisp and at just the right volume to drown out the background rabble without being painful, helped. But it was the attack, the emotion, the obvious rapport between the two, and of course the music, drawing from Tea Party and Jeff’s solo album and the Armada — the pair’s band, in this instance with Jay Cortes on bass. His addition for the last three songs — The Kingdom, Black Snake Blues/Whole Lotta Love and encore Save Me (with Jeff’s voice close to straining out) — added yet another dimension. Good news: Jeff reported a sellout of the Armada album in Aussie stores, and also that the Armada are set to return to Australia in November, with Roy Harper as guest.

Dr Martin is in

One man and a guitar. It’s too much power, really. At least, it is when the man is Jeff Martin.

His leonine presence filled the boudoir-style stage of the intimate, first-floor Troubadour tonight. Just him, a couple of acoustic guitars, effects pedals, stomp box. And that voice…

He was feeling the music tonight, I thought. He was in the zone, touched by an encounter with unexpected love on a previous visit, still haunted perhaps by his gigs down in Victoria where the pain and loss of the bushfires have clearly affected him. He dedicated The Kingdom to the fire victims, and paid respect to the Queensland flood victims, too, with the eco-friendly Line in the Sand.

The medleys came plentifully, my favourite the mix of Requiem and Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt — poignant, given we heard Trent Reznor close his emotive headlining gig at Soundwave with that song only on Saturday, a probable farewell, as it turns out. Schade.

With Martin, there’s blues and world music and a touch of pop and good old rock. It’s head-nodding, hand-clapping, joyful, cathartic stuff, drawing on Tea Party material (opener The Bazaar, Save Me, Sister Awake et al) as well as his solo and now Armada work, with crafty dollops of covers thrown in. And some of it resonates, all the way to the heart.

The inclusion of a line from Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart was particularly affecting. There were others, but that’s between the doctor and me.


Martin returns with his Armada compatriots in May. We saw them at the end of last year and were impressed. But tonight, now that was special, just we happy few and the man and his guitar, and the chords he played.