With a new CD in the racks, MARTYN JOSEPH sets out afresh to conquer the dizzy heights of the pop rock mainstream. He spoke to Lukas Willcocks.
Fans of British Christendom's premier acoustic singer/songwriter have been waiting a long time for a new Martyn Joseph album. Since his move from the Christian subculture to the entertainment mainstream the Welsh singer/guitarist has toured with many a star name, had a near-hit with a single ("Dolphins Make Me Cry") and a critically acclaimed album 'Being There'. But that was in 1992 and since then there's just been an ill-conceived live album ('Undrugged', containing in-concert versions of songs on 'Being There'). Now at last a batch of the riveting new songs Martyn has been performing in concert with artists like Tom Robinson have been committed to CD and the new album 'Martyn Joseph' will be in the record shops (if not the Christian bookshops) by the time you read this.
Lukas: What would you say has changed stylistically since your last studio album?
Martyn: "I guess on the sound side the last stuff lost some of the rawness, some of the edge that you get when a guy stands on a stage with an acoustic guitar. We wanted to retain some of that energy so on the new record we used a producer guy called Mick Glossop, whose worked with people like the Waterboys, he was excellent. It's still me there but in a sense its more me, it's not quite so polished as other records have been. I think lyrically, I've just made it more accessible for people. I think doom and gloom is a bit of an exaggeration, I don't think what I've done before has been that down, but people feel that this is a little lighter, a bit more approachable. It's all about people in different circumstances, there's not any airy-fairy stuff. I can't write that sort of material. I guess there is a little more humour, a little more light and shade with this attempt. The people who've heard it so far, the record company and friends really feel that it's the best thing I've ever done. The first single came out on May 8th. That's a song called Talk About It In The Morning', which is a song I wrote with Tom Robinson. Remember him, '2-4-6-8, Motorway' and 'War Baby'?"
Lukas: Uh, no!
Martyn: "Before your time! He was big in the 70s. Anyway, it's a sort of relationship song. Two people who are still committed to each other -the guy comes home having worked hard and his wife wants to talk about a situation, and he says, 'Let's talk about it in the morning.' So a real relationship song rather than a 'luv you baby' one."
Lukas: Tell me about some of the other songs on the album.
Martyn: "There's one called 'Gift To Me', which is a song about my daughter. We had a baby girl about a year ago. Then there's 'If I Should Fall' - a left over from the 'Being There' sessions, and we finished that off. The lyric is along the line, 'If I should fall, don't lose the faith that kept you steady.' It's about the fact that heroes don't always live up to our expectations and we sometimes feel therefore that what happened before is not of any worth. But we're all human beings - we have our ideals but it doesn't make them any less when we can't attain them. There's a song for my grandfather who died of Alzheimer's disease a couple of years back...doesn't sound like a happy album so far does it? There's another song about my son actually."
Lukas: Is it Daniel?
Martyn: "Yes, the song's called 'Cardiff Bay' - about walking around the docks with him and looking back at the past."
Lukas: Are you still living in Cardiff?
"Yeah, still down here. There is a song called 'If Heaven's Waiting'. Speaks for itself really, if there isn't more then this life is a joke and I don't want to know - that kind of thing. The verses speak of tragedies and the chorus goes, 'If Heaven's waiting, I know she's waiting for souls like these.' 'Condition Of My Heart' -the verses rage about various issues and the chorus says, 'I stand aware of the condition of my heart.' In other words, you can rant and rave all you like but the problem often starts at home, sort yourself out first type of thing. So a mixture of things. Some lighter than others and some more hopeful than others."
Lukas: Is there any overriding theme to 'Martyn Joseph'?
Martyn: "No, there's not really. That's probably the problem I had with the album title in that this one shoots off at all different angles. Personally, I think my writing is about the reality of what we are going through and the hope of better things to come. There's a song called 'Change Your World' on it, which is one of the most hopeful lyrics I've written for a long time. So I feel that my songs often point to what secularly you'd call 'a better place' or from a spiritual point of view 'Heaven'. Despite life being a wonderful thing, for many people it's very tragic and very sad. So surely there has to be more and the mundane things will pass away."
Lukas: So you're being real on two fronts - the joy and the pain?