Martyn takes you to tough places
Martyn Joseph Friday, November 30 All Saints Church, Wokingham
THIS is the first time guitarist and singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph has played Wokingham, as someone in the crowd reminded him. “It’s strange when people know my life better than I do.”
There’s a lot of interaction at his gigs. At one point he asked for requests (and was inundated with responses). There’s also plenty of singalongs – the title track from his new album, ‘Here Come the Young’, being a good example. During ‘Oh My Soul’ he walked off stage and played in the central aisle of the church, his guitar brushing the hair of those on the end of the pews. It doesn’t get more intimate than this.
This intimacy is reinforced with songs about his wife (‘Summer has a way of finding you’), his daughter (‘Driving her back to London’) and his son (‘Cardiff Bay’: ‘Took my son and his tear stained face out of Sunday School/As Chapel Hymns began to fade away’).
He’s a well-versed raconteur, dropping tales between songs with ease. Like the time he tracked down an 84-year old cab driver in Las Vegas (who he met two years previously) and invited him to his gig (‘Vegas’). Like playing in a Father & Son golf tournament for over 30 years at Bagshot but having to stop recently as his Dad succumbed to the mists of dementia (‘Nothing is lost in love’). Or the 12-hour road trips between gigs in Canada that make him wonder at the world we inhabit and his significance in it all.
But Joseph hits the groove when he speaks on behalf of the marginalised and the voiceless. His charity, Let Yourself Trust, has generated £250,000 for such groups since it was set up a couple of years ago.
Whether it’s ‘I searched for you’ – “In the eyes of the broken/I thought I saw your face” – or digging into his Welsh roots with the 1831 Merthyr Tydfil rising (‘Dic Penderyn (The Balled of Richard Lewis)’), Joseph has a deeply-felt desire for justice. ‘Nye: Song for the NHS’ (for Aneurin Bevan, NHS founder) has the memorable chorus “The purpose of power is to give it away/This is my truth, tell me yours” but the killer line is ‘Go break your arm/See what it costs in New Orleans’. During ‘Lonely like America’, Martyn displayed his affection for Springsteen, segueing into ‘Dancing in the dark’, ‘Born to run’ and ‘Born in the USA’ – all in one song (a first for me).
He also riffed the first line of U2’s
‘Streets’ during ‘Luxury of Despair’. Both these artists speak from the perspective of integrity and making a difference in the world and Joseph is certainly part of that great community.
A Martyn Joseph gig will always take you to some tough places, but he never lingers there. He is inspired by the optimism and energy of youth and by those who resist the politics of fear with acts of kindness and nonviolent resistance. There is a better world out there, he assures us, and in our quest to find it we’re not alone.