Andy Howells spoke to Welsh singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph in January 2014, prior to Martyn’s appearance at St David’s Hall in February.
Welsh singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph clearly loves been busy, despite recently completing a UK tour following the release of two albums and a tour in 2013, his 2014 diary is already rapidly filling up.
He plays a date later this month as part of St David’s Hall, Cardiff’s Roots Unearthed season which focuses on global sounds in the intimate setting of the L3 Lounge, an environment Martyn himself particular excels in during his concerts.
Among his set will be songs from his very latest release Tires Rushing by in the Rain, showcasing tracks written by Bruce Springsteen.
“I’ve always done a couple of his songs in gigs” Martyn tells me. “People said “we’d like to have recordings of these”, but I was always a bit shy because it’s sort of hallowed turf. Then a couple of years ago at a radio station in New York I met a guy called Dave Marsh who is married to Barbara Carr, Bruce Springsteen’s manager. Dave has written biographies on Bruce and he suggested that if the covers were well thought out, he would write the sleeve notes. I thought maybe I should take the risk; I recorded the 17 songs in three days last summer. We put that out and it’s done really well.”
“The reaction has been incredibly strong and I’m doing a special gig in London of all 17 songs in one show and I’m suddenly getting all these Bruce fans coming to my show who have never heard of me.”
Despite the fact that Martyn began his musical journey back in the 1980s, and has since released many albums including chart success in the 1990s how does he feel about been described as ‘The Welsh Springsteen’?
“That makes me a feel a little uncomfortable to be honest,” he replies, “I think a reviewer said that once and people have run with it. I think it’s interesting, it’s a need to be able to understand who you are, what you do and what you’re about so I guess it’s a useful tag to say he’s a bit like this, but it’s a lot of weight to carry.”
Martyn is still very much his own artist, touring and recording regularly as well as fulfilling his charitable work. “I’ve run my own label for over 15 years. After the heady days of the 90s, I’ve been able to manage everything myself and control it and keep putting albums out, playing 160 odd shows a year travelling the states, Canada and Europe. The latest thing I’m excited about this year is I’m forming my own foundation and trust fund to aim finance some of the projects I’ve been involved with and others I’ve always pointed towards social concerns within songs. After a visit to Palestine last year, I thought its time to help some of these people who do a lot of great grass roots work. They help each other and other people and are always in worse off situations but don’t get a lot of attention or get the big grants and money. Its going to be called the Let Yourself trust with a small team of great people around me we can keep going.”
Its Martyn’s awareness of worldwide situations that has kept his approach to music fresh and relevant over the years, fans can usually follow his latest work through his frequently updated website as well as regular newsletters. “I’m just following a path. It’s a natural thing, in life, as you walk along the road things change. I suppose my job is to try and articulate in an art form called song writing. In a way the slant of the music has changed through the years and I think it’s important in terms of having longevity to keep something of reinvention about what you do. There’s a lot of ways of getting your message across these days with modern communication, you’ve got to be clued up on that.”
Still focusing on the live show, Martyn tells me that there will be a good mixture of new and old material as well as a special guest from America , “Billy Porter is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen. He’s a good friend and he’s coming over to open this show. While the shows still contain some very serious issues were having a good time these days. There’s a lot of getting the crowds singing. I want them to have a good time, a laugh, it’s a mixture of all those things one is trying to do every night and make that connection so that it feels like a dinner party and not concert!”