I got a copy of Joanne Shaw Taylor’s latest CD, The Dirty Truth, a couple of weeks ago and I have listened to it almost every day since. I was therefore very much looking forward to hearing her live. Did she live up to my expectations? (Spoiler alert: yes, she did!)
Before I go into more detail about Ms Taylor, it is only fair to start with a word or two about the support act, Federal Charm. A combination my poor time keeping, and heavy traffic meant I missed the start of Federal Charm’s set and they were coming to the end of their second song by the time I got to the Òran Mór. I’m a bit annoyed about that, because what I heard, I really liked. They worked hard to entertain, and delivered a rock filled set with more than a touch of the blues thrown in for good measure. I knew next to nothing about the band before seeing them on Tuesday and had only heard one track of theirs: “Hercules”, the latest single. I was slightly concerned because, although I liked the music, I thought the vocals were a bit thin. As it turned out, I had no need to be concerned. Live, the vocals were fat and meaty. Can I therefore apologise to Nick Bowden (the singer) for doubting him? He has a powerful set of lungs and sounded outstanding live: easily matching the energy of the band with his vocals. (Maybe it was the mix of the recording that didn’t do him justice, or maybe I was just in a grumpy mood when I heard it.) I was also impressed by Paul Bowe on lead guitar who played with passion and power. LD Morawski (bass) and Danny Rigg (drums) were pretty impressive too.
Federal Charm claimed this was their fourth time in Glasgow and they endeared themselves to the Glasgow audience by noting, with sadness, the passing of The Arches. They played seven songs in total (see setlist for details) and, for me, the stand out song was “Reconsider”, a slow build of a tune which had an astonishingly good Blues guitar opening. It built to a fast, rocking middle section before slowing down to end, as it started, with some great Blues licks from Paul. I was also impressed with “Silhouette” but I didn’t hear anything in the set that I disliked. I will definitely check out these chaps more carefully sometime soon. Worth noting some of the reactions from the people I was standing beside. (Funny how easily you become chums with the people you stand beside at gigs!) When Federal Charm’s set finished, four of us had a discussion about what we thought. There was universal agreement that they had delivered a great performance Two of the chaps had seen them before and said they were getting better every time they saw them. One bloke commented on how tight they were as a band and that they played off each other very effectively. I agreed with the positive comments. My only concern was for whoever washed Paul’s t-shirts as he looked far too hot in his leather (pleather?) jacket!
There was a good crowd there for Federal Charm and the venue felt pretty full but as they finished, the Òran Mór really filled up. I don’t think it was a sell-out, but it must have been pretty close. Looking around, the age range of the audience was impressive: ranging from people older than me (a self confessed baldy old man) to young teens. There was also a reasonable mix of the sexes (if you’ll pardon the expression). While it was nowhere near 50:50, there were significantly more women in attendance than you see at many rock/blues concerts. Anyone attracting that range of people must be doing something right.
As we waited for Joanne to take the stage, a mix tape was playing with a bit of Texas blues, some classic rock and more than a little psychedelic guitar: a mix of styles that could describe Joanne herself. Everyone was very much in the mood for the start of the show so, when the lights in the house went down; a shout from the audience went up! After a comment about how “nuts” the Glasgow audience was, Joanne and her band launched into “Mud, Honey”. No messing about here. This is a superb opening number. Blues rock at its best. Musically complex and lyrically witty:
Mix of looking sharp
With a lil’ touch of too hard
No rules to tend just break ’em if they bend
Go looking for trouble
Double up the smile
You’d be pushed to find a sinner who’d defend your style
This was followed by a couple more of my favourites from The Dirty Truth (“Outlaw Angel” and “Wrecking Ball”) before she started mixing it up with slower songs, older songs and Bluesier songs. The first of the slower songs, “Tried, Tested & True”, was introduced as one of the few autobiographical songs she has written. In this case, it is about a relationship that ended badly just before the recording of The Dirty Truth. Joanna wondered aloud if she ought to be careful about what she said as film of her concerts tended to show up on YouTube. After a moments thought, she remarked that her boyfriend knew she was a songwriter when he started going out with her and that if he didn’t want bad stuff posted about him on the Internet, “…he should have been a better boyfriend!” This was met be a roar of approval!
Joanne is a considerable talent not least because of her vocals. She has a voice that feels lived in; older than her years. Full of emotion and power. Generally, she sticks to a relatively narrow vocal range (presumably she writes songs that she feels suits her voice) but when she pushes herself beyond the edges of her comfort zone, she still sounds fantastic. (I think she could push herself even further. I suspect she is a better vocalist than she thinks she is. She is already good, but she has the potential to get better.) Joanne can portray vulnerability with her vocals in one song but then switch it up in the next to belt out the blues with breathtaking rawness. And I haven’t talked about her skills as a guitarist yet. No narrow range issues there; her solos range over the fretboard with dazzling speed and skill. When I interviewed Joanne a couple of weeks ago, she said she was often asked what it was like to be a “girl guitarist”. She thought it was a daft question and clearly it is! She delivers outstanding solos that flow out of the music. At times, hard and rocking; at other times, when the music calls for it, relaxed and laden with the blues. Girl guitarist? Boy guitarist? Who cares? Outstanding guitarist: that’s what’s important.
She clearly enjoys playing live, apparently unable to suppress a smile when the solo was flowing smoothly but looking appropriately scunnered (on the rare occasions) when things did not go right quite. For example, about half-way through the set, Tom Godlington (bass) and Oliver Perry (drums) left the stage and Joanne sat down with an acoustic guitar to sing “Almost, Always, Never”, a deeply personal song that she wrote in response to her mother’s fight with cancer. Sitting alone on the stage, with just her voice and the acoustic guitar, her heart was on her sleeve. It was unfortunate therefore that she had a major fight with the tuning of the guitar during this song. Even as she was playing, she was twiddling tuners, desperately trying to wrestle it into submission. As the last, slightly off-key notes of the song sounded out, Joanne gave a sheepish grin before (somewhat unfairly) blaming her dad for loaning her the guitar. Apparently he described it as a, “busting guitar” but Joanne begged to differ. There was then another acoustic number, but this time Tom put down his bass and played some pretty impressive slide guitar while Joanne soloed and Oliver worked the drums with noisy enthusiasm.
This would seem an opportune moment to say more about the other people on stage. Tom Godlington is possibly the tallest touring bass player in the world… at least that’s how he looked to me, standing on the floor and looking up at him on the stage! Certainly he gave a couple of nervous glances at the low ceiling in the Òran Mór. When he wasn’t terrifying me with his Goliath-like stature, he was doing a stunning job on the bass. He worked well with Joanne, following her lead and giving her a solid foundation to work on while still adding his own flourishes. (And I’ve already mentioned his slide guitar on the acoustic number.) Oliver Perry, while not as tall as Tom, has an unfeasibly bushy beard and I suspect he kept his spare drumsticks in it for ease of access. The beard, however, did not get in the way of his drumming. He had a relatively small kit but produced a wondrous racket from it: solid and surprising in equal measure. Oh… and just because he can, he sings backing vocals too. I do like a trio because there is no room for slackers. Everyone has to be on their game as, with only three people, the danger is a gap opens and somebody falls through. No danger of that happening with this three.
At all times, Joanne seemed relaxed and happy on stage. There was none of the cliched, “Hello Glasgow!”, shouting. She had an almost conversational tone as she chatted between tracks. I feel she may have overdone the, “I can’t understand your Glaswegian accents.”, shtick but she did try to win us back by claiming a Scottish grandfather: “That’s where the Shaw comes from.”. She was also generous in sharing the stage, inviting us more than once to show our appreciation for Federal Charm. No threatened diva but an artist happy to see others given the chance to shine.
Eleven songs after opening with “Mud, Honey”, we reached the end of the set and Joanne closed with “Going Home”, the opening track from her first Album, White Sugar. It has a beautifully laid back blues riff running through it and while it brought the set to a close, it left the crowd wanting more. Thankfully, after much enthusiastic cheering and clapping, Joane returned to the stage to perform the title track from the album, “The Dirty Truth”. She introduced this as a song about a woman murdering her lover, which she claimed was a work of fiction and then added, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”, but a voice from the floor shouted out, “Until they find the body.”. With a grin, Joanne repeated the comment and exclaimed, “I understood that!”. With the encore delivered and received with noisy thanks, Joanne left the stage again and the house lights came up.
I think a mid-show comment from one of my new chums sums up just how much we enjoyed the show. After Joanne had delivered a particularly blinding solo, he turned to the chap next to him and said with typical Glaswegian understatement, “See if she practised a bit more, she could be quite good.”. Trust me Joanne, you don’t get much higher praise than that from a Glaswegian. We loved the show. Haste ye back!
See the full (well, almost full) setlist for details of what she played.
Tickets are available from www.thegigcartel.com and the 24-hour Box Office: 08444 780 898
UK Tour Dates:
- 22.09.2015 UK Exeter – Phoenix
- 23.09.2015 UK St Ives – September Festival
- 26.09.2015 UK Coventry – Copper Rooms
- 28.09.2015 UK York – Fibbers
- 29.09.2015 UK Glasgow – Oran-Mor
- 01.10.2015 UK Liverpool – Epstein Theatre
- 02.10.2015 UK Sale – Waterside ** Sold Out
- 03.10.2015 UK Kendal – Brewery Arts
- 04.10.2015 UK Clitheroe- Grand
- 07.10.2015 UK Durham – Gala
- 08.10.2015 UK Lincoln – Drill Hall
- 10.10.2015 UK Shoreham – Ropetackle ** Sold Out
- 12.10.2015 UK Bromsgrove – Artrix ** Sold Out
- 13.10.2015 UK Bromsgrove – Artrix
- 14.10.2015 UK Gloucester – Guildhall
- 15.10.2015 UK Frome – Cheese & Grain
- 19.10.2015 UK Milton Keynes – Stables
- 20.10.2015 UK Norwich – Waterfront
- 22.10.2015 UK Hertford – Corn Exchange
- 23.10.2015 UK Newbury – Arlington Arts
- 24.10.2015 UK Southampton – Talking Heads
- 26.10.2015 UK London – Jazz Cafe ** Sold Out
- 27.10.2015 UK London – Jazz Cafe
Photo Credit for Joanne Shaw Taylor pictures: Lara Fullerton