Several months back, I had the last minute opportunity to catch Wilko Johnson at the O2 ABC with a blues songstress by the name of Joanne Shaw Taylor. Admittedly, I’d heard mixed things about her but none of her actual material. By the sheer fact of walking into the venue with her already onstage, the place already uncomfortably full and people mumbling between songs “She’s bloody good”, it’s maybe one of the best support acts I’ve ever seen.
Fast forward and the Midlands lass is back headlining the same room as part of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections. Before she graced the stage with her band, Broken Witt Rebels, one of the most-talked about bands at the moment warm up the crowd. Less busy than when Ms Taylor opened for Wilko, they receive just as warm a welcome. Constant touring with Whiskey Myers, King King and their upcoming tour with Bad Touch had earned them a wealth of fans.
Their rootsy and bluesy sound is a good fit for their current touring partner and it’s obvious that before even taking to the stage they’re walking out in front of fans. It’s a well-crafted and tight performance from the fellow Midlands four-piece; the proof of concept that constant touring will do that. However, whilst they win over their captive audience (this being my second experience of them) they fail to grab my attention. Drawing heavily from the inspiration of The Temperance Movement, they fall victim to hype; there’s certainly worse out there and I’ve seen far worse support acts (and headliners). Frontman Danny Core may not be the most engaging in the world but it’s obvious he’s trying. Given a bit more time to learn stagecraft and it’ll add an extra depth to their performances.
As The Pretty Reckless blares through the PA (ironically due to play this exact room in a couple of days), the speedy changeover reflects the early curfew. Following her bandmates out into the packed room, Joanne Shaw Taylor earns a roar before she’s played a single note.
Opening with the Southern-fried “Dyin’ To Know” recorded in Nashville has clearly had an impact and gets the crowd raring to go. Already she’s shown why she’s made a name for herself. Showcasing songs from her new album (her first Top 20, she mentions), Wild, Taylor’s crafted a great set of songs both old and new. Songs like the funky lament “No Reason to Stay” fit in well with songs like “Jump That Train”, “Diamonds in the Dirt” and “Time Has Come” alongside a cover of David Bowie’s “Wild is the Wind”.
After the first couple of tracks, the Fender Esquire is ditched in favour of a Les Paul for the vast majority of the night. A Glaswegian voice punctuates the silence as she plugs it in: “Gaun yersel’, hen!” Whilst it could be in light of her tremendous opening efforts, there’s a sense of her breaking out the big guns after a quick warm-up.
A grin stuck to her face for the entire night, Taylor and her band are clearly having a good time; a band who just loves to play. Whilst most of the focus may be on her with her blues licks and singing, she’s got a tight band behind her.
With her soulful and throaty vocals delivering the goods, the main draw is her guitar prowess. She doesn’t only play blues, she feels it, as if coursing through her veins. The polish and refinement in her playing is reflected by how nonchalant she is. Sometimes you hear a voice which hits your core but with Joanne Shaw Taylor, it’s her guitar licks that do it. At several points in the night I found the hairs on the back of my neck standing to attention as she hit her solos with aplomb; it’s the power blues can have. It can make you forget your troubles or that a certain perma-tanned, toupee-wearing individual now has access to the nuclear codes.
With its first ever outing, new single “Ready to Roll” breaks out the slide guitar and kicks off the encore before “Mud Honey” ends the night’s entertainment. All around me, there’s adulation and the sign that for every person in the room, it’s been money and a night well spent.
All photos by Gavin Lowrey.