Telford's Warehouse, Chester, Monday 12th December 2011 concert review by John Cheek.
"I'm nearing the end of the tour, now. It's been good - but I'm feeling tired. I'm looking forward to Christmas."
A cold, dark, wet Monday night in December shouldn't necessarily make
for a sell-out show, but gig-goers have travelled from Liverpool,
north Wales and from across Cheshire to watch Wales' finest at one of
his favourite venues these days, judging by the fact that he's played
here, at least once, for each of the past four years. Favourite or
not, the Welsh songsmith is looking tired when I speak to him
beforehand, in the upstairs-restaurant before his show. Martyn is
playing without a band tonight, and to keep costs down spent the night
before in a humble Travelodge in Morecombe, having driven through the
night from his previous date in Carlisle.
It seems to symbolise the lot of the jobbing-Christian artist these days; has it ever been much different? Joseph appears to personify the situation and indeed, in his own song from a few years ago, "Somewhere In America", sums it up well: "Tonight's a different motel/That looks the very same/It's not what I imagined/On our diamond stairs to fame..." Tonight, the tastefully-lit, renovated Warehouse is certainly atmospheric and the performance area would be an exact replica of The Cavern in its heyday - were it not for the Coronation Street-esque backdrop with its flying-ducks mural. Martyn doesn't miss the opportunity to evoke the spirit of Hilda Ogden in his between-songs banter. Establishing a rapport with the audience is something that he's long been an expect at and it serves to confirm the gentle warmth of the lyrical concerns of his material. As Martyn is not touring a new album, he's in the mood to play whatever he fancies and throws in a couple of new songs in a set characterised by his usual serious sensitivity. One of them, which emphasises "grace first, grace second, grace always," makes it clear to anyone who bothers to listen that his passions are very much spiritual as much as anything else.
"Buddy Holly, Elvis/God-fearing, down home boys/Went to church on Sundays/But sang of different joys. . ." I chat to some of the people around me during the interval between two meaty-sized sets, and they're either long-term fans of Larry Norman, theology students or followers of Mike Peters and The Alarm. You get the feeling that Martyn Joseph is part of several musical traditions including, judging by the intimate nature of his performance, the folk-and-faith lineage of Woody Guthrie and even Billy Bragg.
The lyrics of this Celtic balladeer are rooted firmly in hard reality. Eschewing sentimentality, Joseph is at pains to communicate to the least member of his audience that "you're not alone" in the universe, even if it occasionally feels like it. As he finishes with "Who It Was Who Brought Me Here, Will Have To Take Me Home", I wondered which influences he'll have playing on his car stereo, to keep him awake, on his journey down to Cardiff after the gig. You see, Martyn Joseph is connected to a much bigger picture - musical as well as eternal.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.