Going For A Song: ‘Spencer the Rover’

John Martyn – Spencer the Rover

It’s a fact in my mind at least about any great bassist (Krist Novoselic or Carol Kaye to name two) the songs they played on would most likely have been great without them, but they would have been quite different and, yes ok, not as great. My current favourite bass player is Danny Thompson. He was a member of Pentangle and bass player with John Martyn, playing on many of Martyn’s 1970s albums. It was his attitude to playing music with Martyn, told to a BBC4 documentary on Martyn, which first endeared him to me: “We never ever discussed his poetry, his songs, the music content. We just got together and did it”.

‘Spencer the Rover’ is a good example of how this attitude transferred over to his playing: it’s sensitive but with no sentiment. He bows the double bass, entering on the third verse, and its low sweep anchors Martyn’s treated acoustic guitar and particular vocal delivery. And though the song has Martyn’s name on it, the sound of this traditional ballad is very much reached through collaboration. That it maybe doesn’t often get credited as such is another reason why Danny Thompson is such a great bassist.

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