I wonder how much of the music you enjoyed as a teenager still features on your regular playlist? Probably the artist I have journeyed with the most is the Welsh singer song-writer Martyn Joseph. The link goes to his website and a selection of songs to watch, including ‘Treasure the Questions’ which he wrote in the late 80s. I first went to his live gig at a school in High Wycombe with my church youth group in 1991 which would have included this track as well as ‘Dolphins Make Me Cry’, his biggest chart success which got to number 34 in the charts in June 1992. Picking up the theme from my previous blog entry briefly, I had a bit of a crush on him as a teenager and find the fact that he’s now 50 hard to get my head around. But it’s the power of his music and lyrics, his song-writing and engagement with difficult questions in a troubled world which keep his work fresh and important to me.
Treasure the Questions is about how we don’t have all the answers to life and the puzzles and sorrows we encounter, but how that’s not a reason to avoid the questions. ‘The search is not in vain’ he writes, because one day, it will all be revealed and we will see in full. Few things are more annoying than people (frequently Christians) who act like there are easy answers to pain, suffering and injustice as well as struggles for faith and purpose in life. Times of disillusionment with church in my own life seemed to mirror some of the faith journey Joseph has shared, and his companionship through doubts and questions has meant a lot for me and many folk on the fringes of faith.
Joseph regularly performs at the Greenbelt festival, perhaps preferring the edges of Christian circles to the mainstream. He has been very critical of US style televangelists and jokingly wrote a song about being a Liberal Backslider following some criticism from Christians who didn’t like the shades of grey in his music. Themes of faith frequently occur in songs which include a rousing list of all the things Jesus never said (He Never Said) and a more contemplative consideration of the mystery of crucifixion (Strange Way). Less directly perhaps he tells stories of injustice, real life heroism and encouraging people on the journey.
While he still plays some school halls (including one that is really rather church like in Rugby), he also plays festivals around the world and had the slot before Fairport at the Cropredy convention this summer. I’ve heard the second song in this Youtube clip, On My Way a few times live, and I really like it. I think it draws together a number of the themes I’ve blogged about so far:
I’m on my way, on my way
Every day a little closer on my way
I’m on my way, on my way
I’m running, I’m loving, I’m stumbling on my way
Joseph talks at gigs about how his songs try to help people feel that they’re not alone in the world. He shares stories and ideas that he is passionate about and produces songs which are by turns encouraging, challenging and at times very sad. He is real about life and the world we inhabit which can be pretty bleak at times. But he finds hope in people and togetherness as well as sometimes from Biblical sources. Which I guess is what I’m trying to do here too. Which artists encourage and inspire you?