Dic Penderyn (The Ballad of Richard Lewis), the second song, set the tone for the evening. Joseph was strumming and singing with all the passion of a protest singer on a mission. The mission was the Let Yourself Trust, Josephs new charity initiative which we heard about during the gig. This was one of three launch concerts, but it wasn't a chugger event, (which I have to admit I feared it might be). The music was still central.
He played Thunder and Rainbows for an audience member who had emailed him in the first half and Cardiff Bay in the second half. The latter getting perhaps the greatest audience reaction of the evening, but primarily this was an evening for protest songs reflecting the content of Kiss The World Beautiful, his newly released CD which was available at the gig. The album mixes familiar tunes of the last few years with the odd new one.
Whilst some reference to the Let Yourself Trust was made in the first half of the gig it was the beginning of the second half where it was given more prominence. There was a video of a project in Palestine, which is the first the Trust is focusing on. Whispering Bob Harris of Whistle Test Fame is patron of the Trust and he came on to be interviewed by Martyn. The interview focused on Bob Harris broadcasting legend, rather than the trust and it was a pleasure to listen to him talk of his love of music.
Then it was back to the music and one of several Springsteen covers thrown in. The focus then returned to Palestine, where Joseph had been playing the Bet Lahem Live Festival the previous week. He unpacked the story behind the video and told more about the Trust before, tears in his eyes, launching into Luxury of Despair. It was sung with an intensity only the anger at injustice seen firsthand can give. An intensity, unfortunately, not replicated on the CD, although it still stands out as a particularly strong song.Faith, as one expects with Joseph, was mixed in too. The instrumental intro to Brothers in Exile was long and touching, being the most beautiful interpretation of the hymn How Great Thou Art I've ever heard. The song, obviously sung from the heart, reflecting how over the last 28 years or so he has gone through a range of stages. From the young Christian playing venues like Suffolk College, (where I first saw him), at events intended to help convert the audience through the stage of being a Liberal Backslider who was rejecting that past. It now seems he has a mature faith of some kind which is beyond institutional engagement and based on an uncomfortable bedrock of doubt but as strong and real as any believer I know.
He played homage to Guthrie as well as Springsteen in the set with Deportees, a song written in 1940s America but, as he said, equally relevant in the UK today. Its deep social comment is echoed in Martyn's own song writing as Half a Man, a song about domestic violence and our failure to do anything about it, demonstrates.All in all a cracking performance demonstrating how he has endured and grown as a song writer and activist over time, even if at times the schedule and pressure of the new project were showing. Looking forward to see if he can deliver the same passion at Greenbelt in August.