Talkin’ ‘bout my EvolutionBy Phil Creighton
October 22, 2008
After 30 albums, Martyn Joesph is revisiting some of his favourite songs ... just don’t call it a greatest hits album though
It seems that every musician or artist releases a greatest hits album at some point.
Even Steps managed it despite only releasing three albums in their short time as top of the pops.
So it should be no surprise that Martyn Joseph, one of the busiest singer/songwriters in the business, should eventually get round to dusting off some of his favourite numbers.
He has released 30 albums, after all.
But his greatest hits collection is nothing of the sort.
He’s called it Evolved for good reason: he’s gone back to them, producing newer versions based on how he feels about them now.
“As artists we often record songs too early,” he explains.
“We write them and record them, but songs have a habit of growing on you as you live with them – as you perform them you learn things about them.
“What I’m really doing is bringing them up-to-date and in doing so it’s a statement of where I am as a performer and an artist right now.”
It’s a brave move, particularly as Joseph is bringing his experiences of touring to the fore.
“The slightly fragile thing about it is that they’re all acoustic performances. It’s mainly guitar and they’re all one take,” he says.
“I haven’t dressed them, I just play them solo.
It’s just a way to present some of the best of my material but having rerecorded them as to how I play them now and not as I played them three years ago.”
The singer/songwriter has been in the business for almost 30 years, recently toured the States and has just gone back on the road for his Evolved tour, which takes in 22 venues across the country.
They’ll range from the bold and beautiful to the small intimate venues seating just a couple of hundred of his fans.
This includes South Street Arts Centre, where he plays on Thursday, October 30.
He’s no stranger to Reading: “I’ve played there many times,”
he recalls. “I’ve also played at The Hexagon many times in the past with Joan Armatrading and many others.”
At home with both South Street’s acoustic stage and The Hexagon’s large theatrics, Martyn doesn’t think size matters.
“They all vary, I mean, the standard crowd [he plays to] is about 300-400 people,” he says.
“I’ve played the Edinburgh Festival with 35,000 people. But it doesn’t make any difference, you still reach out and communicate and make it happen.
Sometimes a smaller venue can be better than a bigger one in many ways.”
Martyn is known for his uncompromising songs, with tough lyrics that call hypocritical politicians and leaders to account.
This might lead some to think he had a troubled childhood – he grew up in Penarth, where he still lives, amid a backdrop of the bonfire riots of the 60s, where Mods and Rockers fought on the beaches.
But Martyn dismisses this, saying he knows where his desire for social justice came from.
“I was brought up in quite a loving environment, I was quite middle class in many ways,” he says. “There wasn’t any sort of toughness growing up.
“It was only really as I began to travel in my 20s that I began to think and upset my idea of the world.
“I looked back over Welsh history and, as I travelled, saw things that were unsettling and didn’t fit in with my comfort zones.
I began to be challenge myself and that was channelled into my performances.”
As anyone who has seen Martyn perform will testify, he enjoys his acoustic performances, strumming his guitar and tuning up.
It comes out of an almost life-long devotion to the instrument.
“As a kid I listened to people like John Denver, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen,” he says.
“I asked my dad one day if he would buy me an acoustic guitar, I was 10 years old – he bought one on the insistence that I took classical guitar lessons.
“I did and it gave me a very good grounding in the instrument.”
It wasn’t until his 20s that he first realised he could make a living from his music. But he really wanted to be a professional golfer.
“I had a love for sport, I was playing golf with a one handicap.
I wanted to be the next Nick Faldo,” he says.
But, his music career took off and, for almost 30 years he’s been touring, enjoying moderate chart success and creating albums.
He’s appeared all over the world, on stage with legends such as Shirley Bassey, Art Garfunkel, Michael Franklin and Joan Armatrading, among others.
“I’ve certainly enjoyed [playing with] some of those artists very much,” he says.
One thing about Martyn is that he’s approachable. Despite his fame, he is well-grounded, which is possibly why he’s at home with small venues such as South Street.
When he appears at the venue next week, you too will have a chance to hear how his favourite songs have evolved over the years. Just don’t call it a greatest hits collection.
Evolved is released by Pipe Records on Monday