• Martyn Joseph - Days of Decision: A Tribute To Phil Ochs (2019)

Track Listing:

I Ain't Marching Anymore
I’m Gonna Say It Now
Days Of Decision
The Ballad of William Worthy
Flower Lady
Knock On The Door
That Was The President
Lou Marsh
There But For Fortune
That’s What I Want To Hear
Cannons Of Christianity
When I’m Gone
Song Of My Returning

In 1993 I found myself opening for the great Irish band Clannad on their N. American tour. On June 11th we played the first of two nights at the Somerville Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts. The following day there was a great review of the show written by Steve Morse in the Boston Globe.  Steve wrote glowingly of Clannad’s brilliant performance and at the bottom kindly added ‘Opener Martyn Joseph was a profound experience of his own. He combined edgy protest songs that reached a Phil Ochs intensity at times, but also had a droll sense of humour that kept the audience pleasantly off guard throughout. A fine talent.’ 

I was more than grateful for Steve’s generous words but had to confess that I didn’t know anything about Phil Ochs or his music. So I started to listen to any of his records I could find and was captivated by his songwriting and live performances. I also sadly learned of his struggle with mental health and his far too early demise at his own hand in 1976. This made his music all the more remarkable for its lack of self pity or navel gazing and showed that despite his personal struggles this was a man of great compassion, empathy and action.

Twenty years after the Boston Globe review I happened to meet Phil’s sister Sonny, a wonderful woman with a big heart who is doing a great job of keeping Phil’s music alive through concerts and on her radio show. With her encouragement, and to play a part, I decided to record an album of Phil Ochs songs. Phil was a great and prolific songwriter. The cannon of songs he left us with is extraordinary and it was not easy to choose the songs recorded here. ‘That Was The President’ floors me every time and captures perfectly the despair and shock of the loss of JFK. Phil sent an early draft copy of the lyrics to Jackie Kennedy. When faced by criticism from some for being pro establishment Phil’s response was ‘systems not men are the enemy’.

I was moved to discover an old radio interview where Phil describes writing ‘Song Of My Returning’ whilst travelling in Wales. It's a more personal lyric but it's the troubadour’s lament and I felt an empathetic connection to it. These are but two of the songs I chose but there were many others I could have drawn on and the idea is that this will whet the appetite and the listener will want to seek out more of Phil’s work. They won’t be disappointed. Phil had a beautiful voice and a gifted way with vibrato and timbre. He wasn’t the world’s greatest guitar player and his sense of rhythm could be a little unique, but that pure lilting vocal along with his ragged meter endears him to my ears even more. Recording was interesting. I decided to primarily strum rather than work on complicated guitar arrangements that might distract and move too far away from the original work. My voice will never be as pure as Phil’s but I tried to meet the commitment that his songs demand. It will require a certain amount of grace from his fans but I hope I’ve done justice to this snapshot of the great man’s opus.

What is most striking to me is how poignant and vital his words remain to our present time. Its uncanny that as you wander through this material there are so many echoes of our current struggle with right wing populism and those who pervade their wares through lies, cynicism and fear. Phil once said that ‘In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty’. He brought and left us with a lot of that ‘beauty’ and it’s been an honour to dwell within it for a while and hopefully give it a small nudge forward.

MJ - October 2019

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Martyn Joseph - Days of Decision: A Tribute To Phil Ochs (2019)

  • Brand: Pipe Records
  • Product Code: Days Of Decision CD
  • Availability: In Stock
  • £12.00

  • Ex Tax: £12.00