CONCERT REVIEWS

SNOW PATROL LIVE AT THE SSE, BELFAST - 8.12.18

Janice SP

photo: Janice Gordon-Stockman

At the end of Snow Patrol's Run the house lights go up and shine across a packed SSE arena. Every hand is in the air. Both hands. Every voice is blowing their lungs out. I am thinking this should be Northern Ireland’s National Anthem. 

Later in the set Chasing Cars has similar effect. When it ends and the crowd go wilder, than the wild they are during the song, I sense something more than an ovation for a pop song. This is a city, a country even, pushing out its chest with pride to acknowledge that our boys have written two of the best rock songs of the last twenty years. Belfast celebrates Snow Patrol’s genius!

If you want to see U2, Dublin is probably best. For Snow Patrol it’s being in the hometown crowd as Gary revels in being home. It’s more electric than the other shows. When they sing Take Back The City for instance, only a Belfast crowd is in the city of that song. When Lightbody does a solo acoustic song I Think Of Home he is singing about our fields, our streets and our Granny!

Tonight I raised my respect for Lightbody’s songwriting even more. I became acutely aware, as the gig went on, that this is our modern Heaney and Morrison. With those guitar shuddering shapes that Nathan Connolly throws and Jonny Quinn’s pumping beat it would be easy to lose the poetic subtlety of Lightbody’s songwriting touch. I imagine most, in various levels of inebriated states (we should have to pass a test to be a gig goer!!!), do!

I didn’t. With my wife, I am more aware with each passing day of a need to find our place to lie with each other and forget the world. My life’s greatest deep place is described so well in Heal Me - 

 

I call out your name it feels a song

I know so well

And it whispers and roars like an orchestra

You call out my name

Like no one before

It sounds like I am called to a home that I never had

 

With my girls beside me Run became a song I want them to sing in the last days and hours of their father’s life, just as Janice and I held hands and wept through it in the same venue nine years ago as Janice was losing her mother. 

I’ve already mentioned the Belfast songs. Right through until the final encore and their biggest anthem statement of Just Say Yes Snow Patrol not only celebrates but soothes the wonderful but wounded soul of Belfast.

From the personal to the family to the neighbourhood, they go beyond that and in Life On Earth I hear a cry for resilience in the midst of a world in a state of chassis at our time in history:

 

It shouldn't need to be so fucking hard

This is life on earth

It's just life on earth

It doesn't need to be the end of you, or me

This is life on earth

It's just life on earth

 

Forgive the language, theirs not mine, and let that rocket to your soul. These are hard times but we can live and thrive through it.

That is something else that comes through tonight. The new songs from Wildness are, as I thought, among their very best. They all sit strong, and indeed popular with the crowd, among the hits and old favourites. 

Maybe we will eventually discover that the best one of all is the first encore, What If This Is The All The Love You Ever Get. It is beautiful and in this communal experience I was drawn to the fact that it is almost a secular sacramental call. As I was planning to invite my community of faith to the Lord’s Table the next morning I couldn’t help but hear Jesus calling us:

 

What if it hurts like hell

Then it'll hurt like hell

Come on over, come on over here

I'm in the ruins too

I know the wreckage so well

Come on over, come on over here

 

Spiritual and emotional love and healing in the camaraderie of our brokenness! Oh I will use it soon in Fitzroy for sure! 

I have a couple of negatives. Martha Wainwright’s video appearance on Set the Fire To The Third Bar didn’t work and a live Miriam Kaufman would have been stronger. Also, something about the size of the sound didn’t reach back as far as me in the arena. Nathan’s riffs that usually slam my kardia, while Gary’s words tickle my thoughts, weren’t shaking my core. I was watching a brilliant gig rather than being in the middle of it.

That said, my chest was out too. This was great stuff, These were our boys. Just say yes!


DEACON BLUE LIVE AT THE ULSTER HALL, BELFAST - 13.11.18

DB Ultsre Hall

photo: Janice Gordon-Stockman

 

Backstage before the gig, I reminded Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh that they ended their last Deacon Blue tour in Belfast and here they were starting their 30th anniversary Tour in Belfast. Last time they were relaxed, tight as a drum, smooth as a ship called Dignity on a calm far away sea. Tonight their Dignity was ready for some waves. They had done their first dress rehearsal with lights in the afternoon. As I gave a final hug fifteen minutes before showtime I sensed some nerves.

Of course there was no need. As they set up that dinghy, time and time again over the next two hours, there was no sense of anybody drowning. Yes, there were one or two wee nods to each other and maybe a few tentative gropes for smooth song transitions but I was kind of chuffed to be part of the crowd to see the new show before everybody else. 

Deacon Blue have a set list dilemma. They have made four albums at their peak before taking a long break. Since then there have been four full albums and maybe another records worth of stuff on compilations. A band that were massive 30 years ago can often draw a crowd who are looking for the hits to rekindle some memories of youth. That can make it difficult for a band to continue to develop the craft and the body of work. For me, it is the bands, like Deacon Blue,  still working at developing the craft three decades on that have my attention. This is not a a nostalgia tour!

Deacon Blue deal with this dilemma so well. There is a large swathe of the set that the nostalgia seekers will enjoy. Loaded, Raintown, Swaying Arms and Wages Day are a stepping stones across the depths of the catalogue around them. Then for the way home Deacon Blue hit them with the hits. Real Gone Kid, Your Town, Chocolate Girl, Dignity and Fergus Sings The Blues fill the last thirty minutes.

And who am I kidding, I love those songs but Ricky Ross and this band are about more. The songs I missed tonight were from the last five years, Bethlehem Begins, Gone, Turn, This Is A Love Song and That’s What We Can Do. My highlights were Stars, I Will and I Won’t, The Believers and Birds. We even got Rae and Homesick. I did say depths! 

Throughout, I was struck tonight by the poetry. Now, I have always loved Ross’s turn of phrase but tonight I was taken deeper. Perhaps it was that early song For John Muir. Not many bands write songs about environmentalists from the nineteenth century! Or maybe it was the inclusion of Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing at the end of The Wildness.

Whatever, I was hearing the themes of the land and the heart. There was something Yeatsian in the air. I have spoken recently about how rock music has been mistakenly labeled low brow. Those with ears to hear the lyrics of Ricky Ross would see that had he been a contemporary of Muir he would have been a poet. Rock is the medium to spread the power of the word. Morrison is a poet too though jazz and the blues equally his grá!

After For John Muir, Ross invited the crowd into an adventure and that is what we got. “Over the sea, over the land and the city” we indeed travelled and everywhere looking for home. From Raintown, to A New House to Birds to Homesick to Dignity, there is a thread running through this show that seeks a place of belonging, a soundtrack for all the refugees within us - “a place in the winter for dignity”. As Deacon Blue have done from their very first single they are creating art that is about “HOME, FAITH, WORK”. 

As in Birds, thrillingly dedicated to Steve, Janice and Caitlin, someday we will all be free:

 

We're high above jail walls and windows

We're high above the waves of worry

We're floating on the wind

Cause nothing can begin

To make us want to land again.

 

Believers.


JEFF LYNNE'S ELO LIVE AT THE SSE BELFAST, 26.10.18

ELO

photo: Janice Stockman

You could accuse Jeff Lynne of bragging before he takes the stage tonight at Belfast’s SSE. The pre gig playlist is made up of songs that he has produced. Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and even The Beatles for goodness sake. It sets out the pedigree. It reminds you of Lynne's his place in rock music history even before an ELO cello gets bowed.

I am no fan of nostalgia concert tours or Beatle rip off bands. Tonight, Lynne with his very own ELO, as opposed to all the other versions, might have been proven guilty of both. Yet, it was fantastic! Did I mention his place in rock history?!

There is a thin line between history and nostalgia. There was a whole lot of nostalgia in this show. Apart from When I Was A Boy from Lynne’s 2015 ELO record Alone In The Universe and Handle Me With Care, a song from his other band The Travelling Wilburys all these songs were written before 1981! The film snippets of The Wilbury’s got the obligatory cheer. I was again surprised at how moved I was with Tom Petty’s face. I haven’t got over his loss! 

The fans loved it all. They weren’t young. I imagined a range from 60 to 50, all finding Radio 1 in their teens and if they did then you can be sure that from 1973 to1979 an ELO song was pumping out. For the older ones it might have been Evil Woman or Showdown. For the younger then it would have been Last Train to London or Shine A Little Light. The younger ones might never even have heard of 10538 Overture!

My mate David was a fan before me. He had Face The Music. For me it was Livin’ Thing that finally made me a fan. Then Rockaria, still my favourite as was almost everything on A New World Record. Not that the ELO fans filling the SSE tonight were an album deep sort of crowd. Lynne, machine gun fired the hits, bang bang bang. Everyone a gem!

A New World Record was released at the end of the summer of 1976, the summer I fell madly in love with The Beatles. People were likening Telephone Line et al with The Beatles. My ears were too young to hear it. I guess when Lynne finally produced not only George Harrison and Paul McCartney but actually The Beatles I got his obsession. Tonight I could hear Lennon’s bluesy sounds, Harrisonesque guitar, the harmonies and the fulness of sound of Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. I could even hear Paul McCartney doing a song like When I Was A Boy!

Yet, unlike the crude theft that Oasis would do of The Beatles in the 90s, Lynne took inspirations, sometimes obvious but he was also magpie picking other glittery sounds. You can hear The Moody Blues and even post Saturday Night Fever Bee Gees in there too. When Lynne finally patched those sounds together he had come up with this symphonic pop music that was lush, uplifting and utterly beautiful.

Tonight with a crack band of players and singers it sounded deep pile. The sounds washed over you and the visuals too. It was a big symphonic sound and as well as the light show it was impressive. At the end of Mr Blue Sky, before a partying version of Roll Over Beethoven, there was a sense to me that the standing ovation was not just about the last two hours but about those ten years in the 70s when Jeff Lynne with his ELO put the most amazing body of work together. 


THE ALARM LIVE AT THE LIMELIGHT, BELFAST - 28.4.18

The Alarm

photo: Colin Hopkins

The last time Mike Peters was in Belfast, it was him and his guitar and kick drum contraption that he used to the full. There were stories between songs. This gig was different. This was the current Alarm, James Stevenson ex Gen X and The Cult on bass and guitars, Smiley who played this very stage with Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, and Jules Jones Peters on keys. Stevenson and Smiley crack out a thumping thud of a rhythm, Smiley’s Strummer days giving it all a Clash sounding rawness.

They go at it for two hours without even the slightest breather. Conversation is rare tonight and when it comes the band are using transitioning from one anthem to the next. Anthems they are. From the oldest hits to the newest songs, Mike Peters creates a communal happening that is almost congregational. The Alarm family as he likes to call his fans know every part they need to sing. 

But over all it is the lack of breather that is hard to comprehend. Peters has three mics, one left side of stage, one right and one centre and he moves from one to the other throughout. He shimmies and shakes, throws guitar poses and conducts the congregational sing. His body has been tough years of cancer treatment and yet here he is giving everything and a little more, his voice never flinching. Inspirational before we even get to to the songs.

For over thirty years Mike Peters has written songs about peace and love and hope. They are all about a better world that is fair and just and true. The energy that Peters pumps out is a positivity of spirit that is infectious and effective! If ever a band expressed in rock music the essence of Judeo Christianity’s idea of Shalom, it is The Alarm. 

Peters cleverly mixes the old favourite sit the new. The new are no less crafted or powerful, Marching On, Blaze of Glory, The Stand and Strength stood alongside Peace Now, Dead Reindeer and Neutral. A new album coming soon should be as eagerly anticipated by Alarm fans as anything before it.

As I listened and marvelled at the vitality and communal connection I couldn't help think I was watching a mix of 70’s punk, 80’s big music and actually also the folk tradition of Woody Guthrie’s 40s and Bob Dylan’s early 60s. It’s an intoxicating are of goodness for the soul to imbibe!


RICKY ROSS IN CONCERT & IN CONVERSATION; 4CF18, FITZROY, BELFAST 7.2.18

Ricky Ross 4CF 8931

photo: Bernie Brown

I had a dream. My favourite songwriter is at the front of Fitzroy. I am asking him questions about art and faith. I am pretty much choosing the set list. I am stretching him. A song or two that he hasn’t done for a while. Favourite songs of mine with spiritual depth. 

He is opening up to every question… and the performances are astounding. There were a few hundred people patiently allowing me to go my own way. They seemed to rather enjoy it. It was quite a dream. It came true. Dream perfect. Dream complete. Ricky Ross played the 4 Corners Festival in conversation with me.

I have been listening to Deacon Blue since March 1987 when I picked up a 12” single of their very first single Dignity because their singer had the same name as my best friend and I thought I had read about him in a Greenbelt magazine. It was almost a year after my discovering of the band before a re-release of Dignity made the Top 40. In 1987 I was their greatest evangelist. Ricky Ross’s songs have been a soundtrack to my life ever since. 

This was a unique evening. It was not a concert, not even in the storytelling type of solo concert Ricky has been doing recently. He put himself at my mercy. He had no guitar which limited the set list somewhat but with a list in my hand I was the director, allowing one song to lead to another. While Ricky was singing one, the lyrics sent my mind racing to the next choice. There was one moment when I had three directions of possibilities. 

The reason that we had felt that Ricky Ross was the right person for The 4 Corners Festival was not just that he would pull a crowd. The conversation made those deeper and wider reasons obvious.

Ricky Ross has rarely been about the hits, which is a good thing because there were very few hits performed. No Real Gone Kid or Fergus Sings The Blues! Ricky has been about the power of the song to open discussion, to break down barriers and to change the world!

Faith has always been important in Ricky’s life. He grew up Brethren, he was a Church Of Scotland youth worker, before Deacon Blue, and is is now finding his spiritual belonging in the Ignatian thread of Catholicism. He spoke about all of that with a deep sincerity of a faith that cannot be labelled but is rich in wisdom from across the Christian traditions. 

Of particular humour and insight was his attempt to do an Ignatian exercise of Scripture reading on a plane to Dublin. The plane sadly was full of those enjoying a hen weekend. As the pop stars self righteousness started welling up into anger at his inability to be silent with God in the midst of this noise nuisance, God suggested to Ricky that actually Jesus was not so much sitting with him in his prayerful contemplation but with the women around him having a good time!

That spirituality led us to the sermonette at the end of the evening. Having been a committed advocate of the Yes Campaign in the Scottish Independence referendum   Ricky spoke of the divisions still, three years after the vote. He spoke about his concern that people were still stuck in their referendum positions and how he had found himself reaching out across that polarisation, becoming friends with those on the the other side. 

In a festival about breaking down the apartheid barriers of Belfast’s 4 Corners Ricky’s grace and intentionality of befriending those he disagrees with was a depth charge. The audience was asked to do the 4 Corners thing and get the mobile number of someone they considered “the other” and grab a coffee!

Oh… and there was music… a packed set list of songs crammed with lyrical deftness and clout at the same time, resonating melodies and Ricky’s stunning voice. My stumbling from song to song had him sing Surprised By Joy, one of the first things he ever wrote; Bethlehem’s Gate, the nativity town that Ricky comes back to often; Riches, written for pioneering youth worker Jim Punton; We Can Overcome The Whole Wide World, for his daughter Caitlin who believes human slavery can be ended; Only God and Dogs, the theology of grace in the voice of a dog!;  and A Gordon For Me that Ricky wrote about Gordon Aikman, after his untimely death, who was an opponent of Ricky’s on the Referendum vote after he passed away. 

Yes, there were RaintownWages Day, The Believers, Dignity ("thinking about home... faith... work) and many others. As well as Ricky the audience was at my mercy too. I was the one in charge of the choices and the questions. I was the one seeking out songs I hadn’t heard for a while. In the end, if I missed your song forgive me. My mission statement for the choosing of songs in this, or any kid of setting, is  “songs that are not just good but good for something.” 

The songs in this gig, I pray were just that, at a personal level and at a national level. May this Ricky Ross concert and conversation have touched minds, hearts and souls to dream up a world of shalom and then to live out that dream. Just like I lived the dream to make it happen!


GLEN HANSARD LIVE AT THE ULSTER HALL - 16.12.17

Glen Live Shaw

photo: Bill Shaw

He was the guy who annoyed me almost the entire way through the gig. The drunk who chatted loudly at the wrong moments and even tried to sing along at the non sing along moments. On the way out he looked me in the eye, staggered across and told me he knew what a fan I was when I got the first G in Gloria! Suddenly we are mates and he says, “the music is in good hands with Glen.” How right he is!

At this Ulster Hall gig Glen Hansard came 100 miles up the road and showed why so many of us believe hm to be the Elisha to the Elijahs of Bruce and Van. The opening song, a new one called Roll On Slow had his Springsteen reference - “Thunder Road on the E Street Radio” - and two songs in we got a rousing version of Them’s Gloria! Truthfully the first nine minutes alone were worth the price of the ticket.

After that we got two and a half hours of genre variety and instrumental versatility. Hansard doesn’t hem himself to Van and Bruce. Oh no! We were in New Orleans one moment with the amazing horn section, on Mermaid Avenue in Brooklyn singing Woody Guthrie the next, then across to Mike Scott’s Spiddal, into Dublin pubs with an unaccompanied Rocky Road To Dublin before bringing it home to Belfast with another Van cover, Into The Mystic

There are a lot of shifts in volume. We rock out with seventies guitar solos to the tenderness of the string quartet. There are a lot of blues in the foundational structure of what Hansard is doing right now. We get a lot of the last record Didn’t He Ramble and a sign of Hansard’s musical confidence as well as confidence in his fanbase we get more brand new songs that at any other gig I have ever been to. Between Two Shores lands in January and the songs were so strong that I absolutely had to buy the vinyl edition available at the merch table tonight.

There wasn’t as much auld chatter tonight but when it came it was as humorous and insightful as ever. Hansard gave our gifted genius of a painter Colin Davidson some abuse (humorously harsh I’d say Colin), “his favourite Protestant!!” and before a tender song Shelter, on the piano, Hansard explained his efforts to help homeless people in Dublin at the start of the year. “Tonight’s money is going to the Simon Community,” he declared to a raucous cheer. My daughters were there and I just loved that they were seeing a musical hero who is a genuine hero. 

Trump took a pasting after Guthrie’s Vigilante Man. Apparently a Fred Trump was once a cruel landlord to Guthrie and Hansard having had the privilege of reading Woody’s journals wrote a piece that links the Trumps with a Guthrie line, “What I would do to him, if I thought I could get away with it!” Comic and prophet all rolled into one songwriter’s vocation! My favourite, the dirt blues rock out, Way Back In the Way Back When was dedicated to the refugees coming from the middle east to the north west. 

As a boy I was a winner of a Boys Brigade Choir competition. I remember as an eleven year old being told the importance of using the entire stage. Strings to his right, brass to his left, this thirteen piece band did just that. There was always something happening musically. The near perfect sound in the Ulster Hall makes it the best place in Belfast to hear live music. I have been watching Glen Hansard for 27 years and he is at the peak of what he does. So, this was one mighty gig.

Chatting to friends Andy and Beth I was telling them about the 27 years. Andy told me he was 27 this year. Ouch! I then challenged this newly engaged couple to make sure they got their children to a Glen Hansard gig in 27 years time! Andy agreed it wouldn’t be Bruce Springsteen in 2044. Never mind, as my new drunk buddy put it, “the music is in good hands.” 


ANTHONY D'AMATO Live At THE BELFAST EMPIRE - 7.12.17

Anthony D'Amato

There was a telling clue to Anthony D’Amato when I had a short conversation with him after his support slot for Ricky Ross at Belfast’s Empire this week. During the gig he had said that this was the last of a two month European tour. I asked if he was flying home the next morning. He told me he was heading to Dublin for a day before home. He was hanging out with his friend Josh Ritter first.

Josh Ritter is a perfect reference point for Anthony D’Amato. Ritter, who played Belfast the night before D’Amato, is a literate song writer a tad above the average rock musician intelligence. As Ritter once studied neuroscience, D’Amato studied at Princeton where he came under the influence of Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who himself dabbled in rock music working with Warren Zevon. As we shared just those couple of minutes chat I remembered seeing Ritter for the first time supporting The Frames back in 2001 and the impact he made on me. Hearing D’Amato tonight was so similar. 

A song into D’Amato’s short set I leaned over to my wife and said that I would love to hear this guy without the Empire’s clinking glasses and disrespectful chatter. I learned later that he has studied Bruce Springsteen at an academic level, not just as a songwriting influence, but it was Dylan’s name who quickly came to mind. With just a guitar and harmonica I picked up Dylan’s early sixties period but there was an Americana feel too which had me thinking John Wesley Harding. Rolling Thunder Revue era also seemed to be swirling around.

Eventually, D’Amato got the crowd to listen. He dedicated Ludlow to Ricky, his manger Tom and those he’s been on the road with. It’s a beautiful list song, which D’Amato is susceptible to, and I assume that the message to those he wants to thank is in my favourite couplet:

 

“First the last, and last the first

Then the righteous know their worth.”

 

D’Amato then gives his acoustic a hard rocking strum as he ends with Ballad Of The Undecided, an honest, open confessional of a song full of self awareness and seeking.

A sensitive troubadour with lyrical songs, original of thought and rhyme, D’Amato needs an audience. He’s got my attention. File beside Ritter and Hansard


RICKY ROSS at THE EMPIRE, BELFAST - 7.12.17

Ricky Set list Belfast

In the Short Stories Notebook that he was selling after the gig, Ricky Ross tells us about him and his wife being at a play in New York that was simply the story of a man’s life. Ross writes, “It struck me then that someone telling their story front of an audience might still be the most potent kind of night we could experience.” 

Tonight Ross created exactly that. When Ricky Ross goes solo, it is not a stripped back economical way to tour Deacon Blue songs. Not that he doesn’t do Deacon Blue songs. It is just that this is a different kind of art… and art it is. 

The Empire is no easy venue. A bar running down the side of it has been the bane of many a good concert. Ross himself did a gig here a few years ago where the audience had come to party to Real Gone Kid, getting more and more frustrated as the concert progressed. The drinking without an outlet to party made it a tricky night.

Not tonight. Tonight there was rapt attention from the first chord striking the piano on I Thought I Saw You. The bar shut and the noise hushed. Ross said that we would hear songs of love and marriage and children and divorce and all of life. He pretty much covered every area. In a sense with the storytelling conversation in between this is like a theatre performance. It’s not a bunch of songs to fill a couple of hours. Each one is chosen carefully and every one matters to someone in the crowd, somewhere on their journey. 

That way of reaching an audience in personal ways is highlighted when Ricky send out a song to Jonny whose mate Michael wants to say ‘thanks and keep thugs going’. Ricky songs Gentle Teardrops for Jonny and then goes into a song he wrote for one of his daughters We Shall Overcome The Whole Wide World. It’s like a pill of resilience, straight to the soul. 

There’s a smattering of well known and some rare Deacon Blue and Ricky Ross songs. I imagine that even fans were off home to remind themselves where Earth A Little Lighter and Looking For My Own Lone Ranger were from. 

Introducing Undeveloped Heart Ricky told us about never quite getting it right, which explains the different versions he has released. He also talked about adding a Beatles segment to the recorded version but his manager had warned him off, fearing a law suit. “I blame Yoko,” he joked. Tonight we got I’ll Get You, b-side of She Loves You, right there in the middle.

The big cover tonight is Springsteen. Even then it is not a hit but Factory from Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Dedicated to the Belfast Shipyards it is a reminder of the commitment and toil of the working man. Cue Dignity, but not a Deacon Blue encore Dignity. Tonight it is how it would have sounded had Springsteen wrote it from Nebraska. “Home… work… faith…” felt more important than ever. This reinvention suggests Short Stories Vol 2 will have many reasons to come into existence.

The highlight for me tonight was again Only God and Dogs. I first heard this the last time he played The Empire and it came out on Short Stories Vol. 1. It is a perfect song, throwing out the life of a dog who chooses a homeless guy instead of a big house in the suburbs. When Ricky sang:

 

I'd give you everything of me

Knowing you can't return it back in full

That's why I love you

The way only God and Dogs can do

 

… the hairs on the back of my soul stood up. Preceded by The Germans Are Out Today and followed by In The Garden, an old hymn, as covered by Johnny Cash on his My Mothers Hymn Book album, this was the homily section of the evening.

Not that everything tonight didn’t have a spiritual hue. Ricky Ross doesn’t write a song that doesn’t have a contribution to make. Even Boys, Boys, Boys about his son’s ability to break things has conversations going on among mothers after the gig. 

In the end it happens. What Ricky told us he would do with songs about family and life in all its seasons is what the chat is about among friends as they leave. That is what this art of the concert should do.

 

I am thrilled to say that Ricky Ross will be back in Belfast on February 7th as part of the 4 Corners Festival in Fitzroy... more details to follow


MARTYN JOSEPH LIVE IN FITZROY, 16.11.17

MJ Fitz 3

photo: Gerry McNally Photography

I have reviewed so many Martyn Joseph gigs over the last twenty five years that I wondered how I’d be able to say something new about tonight’s gig in Fitzroy. In the end though the man has so many songs to call upon that every gig is so markedly different. It’s hard for the reviewer to repeat.

So, let’s start at the end. A song about your mum is not the most rock n roll way to finish your gig. Yet, Rose summed up Martyn Joseph’s raison d’être perfectly. It all started out as a song about his mum, a gift for her 80th birthday and he grabs a wee joke about her giving off that he told St. David’s Hall in Cardiff her age. Suddenly though it’s about all our mothers and emotions are opened across the room. He’d moved the personal to the universal and not finished there it goes further and becomes a hymn for womankind, their strength, their faithfulness, their tender love and their world shaping power. Soon it’s an anti-sexist anthem, a defiant call to action. Then Martyn opens up the writing of the song and the circular chord sequences that describe the child venturing out from mum, falling and being loved as a prodigal and then stumbling and returning and… It’s back to the personal!

Throughout the rest of the concert, as across the entirety of his catalogue, Martyn has all of those things intertwining. There is the personal, the intimate, there’s the joy of love and sorrow of loss. There is the political everywhere, bombs and guns and injustice but for all of that reality there is hope and resilience and evidence of change like Nye about the National Health Service, as well as the hope of Sunday’s Coming and Everything In Heaven Falls Apart.

Then there is what happens around the actual songs. I don’t go to any other concerts where the conversations among the crowd are so personal and pastoral.  By the last song Joseph has opened the soul and the tear ducts, made you mad at the world but in such a constructive way that, with recurring words like grace and faith and hope, he has put wind in the sails of your determination to make the world a better place (check the new electric groove of This Glass). All of this makes a crowd of strangers, or loosely connected at best,  a community where the spiritual refugees get a moment of belonging.  

Martyn doesn’t leave you wishing. On the way out, you can sign up for his Let Yourself Trust and become a world changer before you reach the exit. Your guilt atoned you can then go home with a smile on your face, marvelling at the guitar playing, the lyrical dexterity, the power of performance and the potency of the song personally and socially. 

 

 

"Fill it up with the poets and the carers

Fill it up with those who seek to serve

Fill it up with the givers and the sharers

'Cos they know what the rest is worth

 

This glass is half full

This glass is heartbreakingly beautiful"

 

... and filled was I!


THE STORYTELLERS TOUR 2017 - THE SOUL SURMISE REVIEW

Storytellers 1

Give me twelve Fields Of Life Alumni and you can forget what you might watch on Saturday night TV. These guys will match the singing, match the dancing, match the emotional drama. You can save your TV Licence and Sky TV subscription. Indeed give your savings to sponsor children in Uganda because then in 10 years time you can do it all over again.

The Fields of Life Storytellers Tour hit Belfast and kept us spell bound for three hours! The Ugandan colour and vibrant personalities. The traditional dance with grass skirts and rhythmic drums. The voices and the harmonies. 

All Africans can sing and dance, not just the good ones, but into this mix we add the good ones. One of the Alumni happens to be Jay K Mulungi from popular Ugandan band The Undercover Brothers. The boy impresses. 

Just as you are impressed, Levixone takes the stage. Well… my goodness… this young man is the real business. Best Gospel Artist in Uganda for five years running, he is nominated this year for Best Gospel Artist in Africa. He has it all, the voice, the songs, the showmanship, the charm. More X Factor than One Direction! I am telling you, you don’t need TV. This is no charity pantomime!

Even the charity part rises way above charity. The storytelling is central to the whole show tonight. People who as children were without hope until being sponsored by strangers who had never even seen them and for less than £20 per month transformed their lives. Charities can be about coins in a tin to give something to the poor. Fields Of Life is deeper and therefore the impact longer and wider.

Story after story tonight spoke about how simply knowing that school fees were covered allowed children to gain the education that their parents could never afford and told us that today they were entrepreneurs, fashion designers, celebrated musicians or working for Fields Of Life itself. If anyone doubted the impact of sponsoring children then these guys eliminated any need for a jury. It was inspirational. That during the show one or two of them met their sponsors for the first time raised the emotions and increased the tears!

Better than Saturday night TV, I said. Well, the truth is it was better than Sunday morning Church service too. There was something in the storytelling that floored my efforts to follow Jesus. It was the readiness, indeed natural inclination of these Fields Of Life alumni to give back. Sponsored themselves they now sponsor. They see siblings through school. Josephine has even taken homeless children into her home. 

As we vote Brexit to keep out refugees, Uganda opens its arms to refugees pouring in from South Sudan. The difference is that we have so much we don’t want to lose anything whereas they have so little that they want to share what they do have around. These Storytellers are putting us to shame with their Christlike service of others. Levixone’s CD says across it, “Secret to living is giving”. They have the secret and I was listening.

Indeed, the reason for this tour is that the Fields Of Life alumni are fundraising to build a school in Karamoja. In the north east of Uganda Karamoja is notoriously difficult but these former benefactors of Fields Of Life schools are working hard to raise the money to give children, in one of the poorest and most needy areas of their country, the opportunity they were given. This is the Fields of Life harvest, reaping another harvest; bringing hope, changing lives, transforming communities!

Those who know me know that I love art that is not just good but good for something. This was a night of good singing and dancing and storytelling. BUT all of it is good for these artists, good for Uganda and good for my own soul.

Inspirational!