It’s a rainy Friday night in north London and tucked away behind Hampstead tube station there is a church filling up with expectant faces and hushed voices. The congregation are not here to pray, however, but to worship the musical poetry of one Joseph Arthur.

Adorned with candles and flowers, the dimly lit church swells with a reverential atmosphere. But there’s a bar downstairs in the crypt and paintings of abstract faces for sale in the entrance. The juxtaposition of rock and roll and a place of silence and prayer is a remarkably suitable one for an artist who’s just released an album called ‘The Ballad of Boogie Christ’.

Joseph Arthur at Heath Street Baptist Church in London on 11 October 2013 (Imelda Michalczyk)

Joseph Arthur at Heath Street Baptist Church in London on 11 October 2013 (Imelda Michalczyk)

Joseph Arthur takes to the stage backed by two musicians and with a blank canvas hanging invitingly behind him. Joseph switches from electric to acoustic guitar with harmonica during the set, as the other band members come and go from the stage. The show includes a good dose of the new album, including the title track and ‘Currency of Love’ as well as older favourites such as ‘Almost Blue’, ‘Chicago’ and ‘In The Sun’.

During one song, he paints a picture from scratch – two faces in red, black and green – not missing a beat of the song as he works to cover the large canvas.

Moving from intense performance to chatting and joking with the audience, the reverence of the venue smoothly morphs towards a more joyous air as each song is warmly received.

Joseph Arthur at Heath Street Baptist Church in London on 11 October 2013 (Imelda Michalczyk)

Joseph Arthur at Heath Street Baptist Church in London on 11 October 2013 (Imelda Michalczyk)

A double encore includes new song ‘I Am The Witness’ and the congregation get to their feet to defy the sombre setting and show deep appreciation for the chance to themselves be witness to such an intimate gig.

As I leave, I see Joseph – literally just off stage – swamped with fans eager to speak with him and happy to oblige. There are, apparently, tentative plans for him to return to the UK in the spring for more concerts. Good news indeed.

Joseph Arthur at Heath Street Baptist Church in London 11 October 2013.

Review by Imelda Michalczyk on 11 October 2013, London.  Imelda also interviewed Joseph and you read it after the click and see her portraits of him. https://rockshot.co.uk/8879/interview-joseph-arthur-ballad-joseph-arthur/