Music, good music, timed perfectly and delivered by the right person can occassionally have an incredible impact upon you – almost involuntarily producing an emotional response. That happened to me last night when I went to see Martyn Joseph at the Sage.
I have to say I regarded most of it as a bit of a mediocre gig. It certainly didn’t have the power that the recent performances I’ve seen him do at Greenbelt with or without Stewart Henderson produce, or indeed the passion of the Deep Blue stage of his career a couple of years back when he was angry at Bush. It seems that as he has entered into middle age and Obama has become president MJ has lost alot of the anger. Thus, this set was a very different gig to those I’ve encountered in the past. Yes there were some oldies, but noticeably Dolphins Make Me Cry and several others that were staples have disappeared. There were some proper love songs, not the cynical type that he and Billy Bragg do so well, but a couple of proper tender ones. The man it appears is mellowing.
That is not to say he has mellowed to anything near selling out, the politics and passion are still there but something has happened, that you can tell. He gave some new material, not yet on a CD/ albumn or however you wish to describe, and this showed that the man emerging from the shadow has been reflecting life and a 29 year career. This material was, I would venture to suggest, amongst the best he has produced. Some of it is available for free download from his website, including “Five Sisters” – the second best song of the evening – and “Lonely Like America”.
The intense moment for me came during a new song called “Brothers in Exile”. Here I have to put some stuff in context. Firstly, I was sitting there in the 2nd row of The Sage with TOH. Secondly, I first saw MJ in concert exactly 23 years ago, (give or take a couple of weeks), in a FE college hall. Then it was a concert put on, I believe, by the local evo youth ministry org. This young singer, song writer in his 20’s was expected to put on a good show so at the end someone could come on stage, thank him and sell religion to the smiling Christian crowd. It was a Friday night, the Friday before I got baptised the following Sunday. I bought a t-shirt, got it signed but then my dad washed it and the signature came off…hey ho. In the intervening time both MJ and I have, in our seperate lives, grown up; married; had children; struggled with and walked/ crawled away from the evo sub-culture; getting out (one could argue) before we were thrown out for our different reasons. Once a year our paths cross again, although we don’t know each other, at Greenbelt. That place of hope which MJ described earlier as in the year, as he stood on stage at the festival answering questions from the audience, as his church, and which I over the years described as my place of sanity and safety. We never talk, I just go and listen to his music…but we have been on journeys down some of the same roads. To a certain extent you could argue we are exiles from a culture we were both previously part of and Greenbelt is our refugee camp.
Thus, when he gave an opening to the song “Brothers in Exile” saying it was about being a refugee, an exile but not a literal one I knew what the song was about. Once he started singing the words my tears began to flow. It was honestly like a damn opening as this song touched my heart. I realised that he is still an exile outside the church and I am refugee who has settled in a new land, mainstream Methodism. There was a line in the song about leaving before you were kicked out, as TOH held me as I just cried into her and she kissed my head while he sung I felt this summed it up really. The tears and the emotion only lasted a song, but it is a song that I realised has meant more to me than any other I have perhaps encountered on first hearing. I joked with TOH afterwards that if that it had that effect on me what effect would it have with a tent containing many refugees at GB? She suggested some large boxes of tissues might be in order.
I leave with you This Being Woman, one of the better MJ songs available on You Tube…and which has a better version on the Martyn Joseph and Stewart Henderson music and poetry albumn “because we can….”.