It could have been considered perfect timing. The evening after the day before. A gig the night after the US Presidential elections. More than enough fuel to feed the fire which burns brightly and fiercely inside Martyn Joseph. "I don't want to be talking about it all night…But I probably will end up talking about it all night." Some may recall the famous moment in the wake of 9/11 when Bruce Springsteen encounter a passing fan and his cry of "We need you now!" Not shy of sharing his admiration for and inspiration from all things Bruce, an evening in the company of Martyn Joseph on this night of all nights is the perfect anecdote to the seemingly ongoing tide of unfathomable political change in the world and in a year where many are still seeking to make sense of the loss of so many musical icons.
It starts early. During 'Lonely Like America' he tries, fluffs but persists until he manages a segue into Springsteen's 'Dancing In The Dark'. "Tom Jones gets women's underwear and I get photos of Donald Trump" - someone's cheekily placed a photo of the newly elected US leader at the foot of the mic stand, which without getting overtly political or personal could be enough to put anyone off their stride. Self depreciating humour abounds, with the oft quoted Melody Maker review from his earlier days where he makes Leonard Cohen (RIP) seem like Julie Andrews. Actually quite unfair as his philosophy isn't doom and gloom and neither was Leonard's, more beauty and hope in a world where it's easy to get caught up, overwhelmed and lost in what Sean O'Casey called "a state o' chassis."
It's a more serious side which has him speaking eloquently about the ongoing work of his charitable Let Youself Trust. He talks of the hope that comes from the work of small organisations whose work can make such a difference - small things that change people's lives and the phrase "we don't have the luxury of despair" that led/inspired him to write a song which remains rightly as the core, the centrepiece of his current set. 'Luxury Of Despair' ups the ante even in a set where there's beauty, courage and optimism. A song which becomes vast and epic, the guitar pedals transforming it onto a throbbing and passionate tirade and showcasing some Joseph guitar wizardry.
The Library Theatre allows for a small and intimate gathering and a chance to adapt a set that includes the almost obligatory Bruce ("Let's have some Bruce - Springsteen just in case you wonder who I'm talking about") cover - this time 'Thunder Road' - and a request sees him pull 'Dolphins Make Me Cry' from his early nineties bag - a YouTube search will reveal him as a floppy haired Jason Donovan lookalike - and there's 'Working Mother', the ode to his homeland 'Cardiff Bay', 'Sunday's Coming' and the touching 'Clara' which keep the intimacy and emotion tally on the rise. There still remains a theme of optimism to the new material - hope abounds in one new song he premiere's, the lyrics speak of looking at a glass that's half full alongside a brooding rhythm and bluesy accompaniment and then there's 'Nye' - a song he contributed to the Sweet Liberties project; a group of folk musicians asked to write songs to chart the political and social history of Britain - a pity he wasn't asked to write a song for the US election, he quipped - yes, he's already written them. Like the story that accompanies the song that celebrates Nye Bevan and the development of the NHS through the Health Act which he tells in a strong Welsh accent with due passion and fervour, it may well become a new catchphrase. Martyn Joseph, you did well tonight.
Mike Ainscoe - Words & Pictures
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