Walking into the Hall the first thing I noticed was that the ‘stage’ for tonight’s show was on the floor, and the ‘proper stage’ was all curtained off as if it was out of bounds. All became clearer later as Martyn Joseph explained to the audience that the Hall’s stage was too high and he really wanted to be ‘closer to my peeps’. The second thing I noticed was the guitar rack, which housed two acoustic guitars, a tenor guitar and a Stratocaster next to which stood a ukulele. Hmmm I thought to myself, this is going to be an interesting set list and so it proved to be.
SONGS FOR THE COMING HOME is Joseph’s latest album and the current UK tour in support of it, is giving audiences the chance to hear the songs, stripped down to just Joseph’s vocals, a guitar and occasionally a harmonica. If the album is one that grows on you with repeated listening, then you only have to witness the live performance of the songs once, to ‘get’ Joseph.
He’s animated and passionate and personable and funny and intense and political and ultimately an extremely accomplished musician whose writing runs the gamut from tender love songs to hard hitting social commentary.
Focusing on the new album, he played eight of its ten tracks; my personal favourite is Clara a true story of a young girl, employed to look after a baby, who is unwanted by his parents. As a (rejected) young man he attempts suicide only to be rescued by a melody he hears in his head. That melody is from a song sung to him by Clara; although he has no recollection of her, they do meet many years later and he realises that he was loved:
‘…I hope we all have a Clara/singing songs unknown/songs for the healing/songs for the coming home…’
This year, Joseph, alongside Billy Bragg, has been involved in some Woody Guthrie tribute shows (it’s Guthrie’s centenary) and feels that whilst everyone recognises Guthrie’s legacy insofar as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are concerned, he considers that Paul Robeson should be included in the same hallowed company. In homage, he played Proud Valley Boy to warm applause. He invoked Guthrie again towards the end of the show when he said that how, like Guthrie ‘I am out to sing songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work’.
For On My Way Joseph meandered through the audience, standing on a vacant chair to begin with before walking through the crowd – joining in the singing, they were word perfect! Having earlier mentioned Springsteen, Joseph covered The River and when he came back for a three-song encore, one of his choices was No Surrender which he played on the ukulele!
He invited the opener, Luke Jackson, to join him for the second encore song. Together they sang and played Bakers Woods a lyric the eighteen year old had written at the age of fourteen. Short-listed for a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award, Jackson has a brilliant future ahead of him.
Closing out with Let Yourself Joseph showed just how effective he is at constructing memorable melodies. Throughout the evening, he held the audience in thrall confirming how good a live performer he is. If you get the chance to see him live, take it - you will not be disappointed! Jela Webb