Martyn Joseph, upstairs at the Art Deco fronted Leaf, a Liverpool Tearoom, formerly a chapel, a cinema and even a Rolls Royce dealership. Inside a gloriously open space with tall ceilings, a high performance stage is decked out as we wait for one man and his guitars.
It begins with a slice of social injustice, "The Ballad Of Richard Lewis" or Dic Penderyn if you prefer, a tale of an innocent man hung for wounding a solider as the Ironmasters quelled an unruly mob seeking food in impoverished times. Lord Melbourne stopped dead that uprising by shooting twenty four protestors and as if to justify their ruling rights they then sought a scapegoat for a scratch. A martyr from Merthyr.
Any potential barrier that might have created was soon banished as Joseph leaps from the stage, abandons his microphone, closes the gap between the stage and the cabaret style seating and sings unaided to the hundred or so present. His one voice blends with our own as the room becomes as one. We sing not because we are cajoled or asked but rather because we want to, a bond between performer and audience is effectively established.
Just back from America, he professes to feeling the jet lag, he strikes a pose sitting in a comfortable red period stage prop armchair before barely seconds later bouncing back and striking chords with a passion an energy and an intensity that dismisses the statement completely.
And so it goes on, well known songs such as "There's Always Maybe" and "On My Way" with its chorus "I'm on my way, I'm on my way /Every day a little closer on my way /I'm on my way, on my way /I'm running, loving, stumbling on my way" enthusiastically picked up and reverberated around the room by those present.
His delivery is impeccable, he entertains us and we respond as he takes us through his journey of roots music and life.
Old favourites are matched with new material for an album already recorded scheduled for release in the autumn. Songs about his eighty year old mother Rose introduced in a gentle beautiful way as he mentions his mum asking about loyalties over the song rather than royalties. Like much of the between song banter it has a genuine warmth that is infectious, it melts even the hardest heart, you smile. Inclusive self-depreciating humour for all.
Just before the break he mentions his charity "Let Yourself Trust" it raises money for smaller individual projects around the world. Causes such as the Project Somos one that helps provide a secure home and a hopeful future for Guatemalan children. Somos is run by Heather Knox and Greg Kemp, a husband and wife team doing incredible work that falls under the radar of funding from larger mainstream sources. The Trust has raised over thirty thousand dollars in the last six months including donations from friends of a couple who celebrated their Fortieth Wedding Anniversary by asking for contributions to the Trust rather than giving presents.
A new project is chosen twice a year, the current one is "Zac's Place" which offers help, support and accommodation for the homeless and those who slip through the ever widening social net. It's based in the city of Swansea.
Suitably the song "Let Yourself" closes the opening half.
The second set opens with the now obligatory Bruce Springsteen covers, with "No Surrender" played with a vertical Ukulele under his chin, pared down it has more impact than the original. "Lonely In America" morphs into "Dancing In the Dark" before reverting back to its origins.
On "Cardiff Bay" Joseph sings of his love and memories of a Sunday morning with his son. It's a poignant song, the past viewed though rose tinted goggles. It brings back my alternative memories of grey Grangetown, of the wild wilderness on the banks of the River Taff that not so much flowed but rather spewed sludge and silt out into the bay, a brown stain that lingered with the tide. Which in turn recalls thoughts of Uncle Reg, a slight softly spoken Welshman and Auntie Dot the matriarch, a half size Laurel to a double Hardy. Reg with his "once a year" free issue works Duffle coat that was given away as soon as it arrived. An oversized overcoat it buried him, it dwarfed me even as I expanded to a sixteen and a half stone baby bloomer. Memories of day trips to the funfair and concrete of Barry Island, from the impossibly wide centre platform at Grangetown Station, wide enough for us kids to play football on. And, as I type, a grin forms, my "shades" are stripped off and I'm remembering the positives seeing through Martyn's eyes and yes the world is a better place through doing so. He pulls the best out of us with his songs.
It's a feeling that prevails. Songs of social inequality, of child abuse, of unfairness, yet with a positive feel, you want the world to be better, you want to contribute in some small way, to make a difference.
To quote the man "There's still A Lot Of Love Round Here".
There's a lot of integrity too, to Martyn's writing from the redemptive love of "Clara" a song that raises the hairs on the back of your neck to the new track about Bobby Kennedy inspired by the film "Ethel" (Bobby's widow)
And so to the encore. "Arizona Dreams" shouts a voice from the back before an even louder call comes "From the armchair". A quick rearrangement of equipment and it happens. Imagine a low, red velvet chair, high arms and trying to play a guitar, factor in a harmonica round a neck. Add in a drooping microphone that he continually has to push up with his nose and you're getting the picture.
He could have said "No" but he didn't. He took it all in his stride and cramped as he was, he played with an incredible grace. Towards the end the song slipped seamlessly into excerpts from "Penny Lane", "Here Comes The Sun" before closing with "In My Liverpool Home". We all sing along and as the final chords are struck the room rises for a standing ovation for a man and an incredible night of music.
Martyn Joseph with his music makes a stand, he shows us we can stand too; together we outnumber the greed and the meanness of the few. It's a powerful message; it's delivered with genuine feeling from a genuine guy. A genuine star!
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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