Every shadow…every word

[Oh, look – a pre-written blog post. Here’s some thoughts I jotted down shortly after the Martyn Joseph and Stewart Henderson gig on March 27th]

We’ve had a busy weekend. A gig on Friday night, up early on Saturday to travel to Aberystwyth for a meeting, an overnight stay in a B&B in the Brecon Beacons, and home in time to lead music at Church on Sunday night. Not much of a restful weekend.

This post is about the first of those things though: Friday night’s gig.

We’ve been booked in to see Martyn Joseph and Stewart Henderson for months and, as always with a gig, we were excited and expectant as the evening approached. But what, actually, to expect from a gig that’s half folk rock music and half poetry?

For those that don’t know, Martyn Joseph is a really good folk rock guitarist/singer/songwriter. His shows are always packed with passion and emotion, MJ means what he sings, his fiery spirit punches through in every song and you leave stirred, moved and excited.

But behind a lot of his songs sits the quiet, wise, humble Henderson, who writes some of he lyrics that MJ puts music to. It’s a long established partnership that spans decades. But Henderson is a poet; a man of words and not music or song.

We arrived to a stage with two microphones set up. Introductions were done by the compère and as the looming Joseph in crisp white t-shirt and jeans leapt up on stage followed by the small, slight, bespectacled Henderson in proper trousers and a neat suit jacket, I don’t think anyone was quite sure what was about to happen.

But, if I remember rightly, MJ launched into a passionate rendition of “Weight of the World”, but dropping his sung vocals at times for Henderson to read – intelligently and entertainingly – the lyrics, in his soft Liverpudlian, while occasionally dancing around the stage in…delight?…err…well I’m not sure why, but it made us laugh.

What followed was a fascinating evening of poems set to music, prose read with charm and wit, music wrapped around poetry, songs rendered with power and feeling, and entertainment from two inspiring and engaging men, with great sensitivity and wisdom.

At times, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Knowing a lot of the tunes and words, I can barely hold back from song, so having the verses read as prose created a tension for me and I think, overall, I prefer Joseph on his own.

But this is important stuff right? Henderson is so often the unrecognised talent in the team. How incredibly right that MJ puts his own rock ‘n’ roll talent aside, steps back from the mic, and suppresses his desire to launch into song, in order to give voice to the spirit of his words.

And Henderson is hugely entertaining in his own right. A master of words with a huge vocabulary and gift for crafting them into evocative verse. He has a talent for public speaking too and when the floor was opened for questions, Henderson did most of the answering (though that my be because more of the questions were directed at him) bring his replies to life with fun anecdotes and dry, spontaneous, northern wit…even, occasionally, making his stage partner screw his face up in laughter.

I, personally, was reminded of the power of poetry. I wonder if we can use the spoken word more in our communication, and for me this may be especially relevant in leading people in worship at church. I also used to write prose myself…perhaps this is something I should try again.

Folk music is often so much more than the sum of its valuable parts. This evening demonstrated that. Poetry and music together partners that have been clearly demonstrated to complement each other so well.

Now where’s my guitar? Or, possibly, when my quill and ink?