“Hey, Joanne, where ya going with that guitar in your hand?”
“Gonna go down to York, gonna play some mighty blues.”
Joanne Shaw Taylor – Toby Lee
Barbican, York – 24 April 2022
Words: Sid Kissinger
Photography: John Hayhurst
And my word, did she deliver. The reigning queen of British blues played an electrifying set, enjoying being back on home turf. “Americans can’t quite say it the same way,” she mentions as a front-row fan shouts, “go on, gal – play it like you stole it.”
But first, a mention of the support act, Toby Lee. At a mere 17, you might think this person is too young to be fronting his own band, and yet, when looking into his past, it’s quite clear that this has been his destination for some time already. In 2018 he won ‘young blues artist of the year’ and has been rubbing shoulders with the stars ever since.
Fronting the classic four-piece band set-up, he was ripping up his firebird through a black star amp and creating quite the response from the crowd. A mixture of blues and rock, he has the looks and style to conjure up images of a young Bonamassa himself, perhaps.
The newer songs seemed to tend towards the rockier rather than bluesier side of things, so who knows yet where this young talent will head next – and at that age, there really is no rush! A clinical performance by the young star, and clearly a talent to keep an eye on.
Joanne Shaw Taylor herself was also a spotted talent at a young age, obtaining blues awards back in 2010, and the experience of the years of work and touring compared to her younger support act showed. She had that swagger that only comes through time, an ease at the microphone and a band which just oozed groove – with that freedom of roughness around the edges that belongs in any blues gig. Joanne was fronting a five-piece, with the addition of Dorian Ford and his electric organ to complete the traditional rock set-up.
An immediate delight was the quality of the guitar sounds. Michael Bradford, her band member on guitar, had an excellent set-up with a fine-looking black semi-acoustic going through some Vox AC-30s. The scooped middle twang that this guitar had might sound lost alone, but it really supported the overall sound perfectly with some lovely underlying clarity and groove.
Over the top of this, you have Joanne’s distinct telecaster sound, singing through some tweed amps and finding that nice balance required to deliver the softer and harder sections of the songs.
Vocally as well, there is no doubt that here is a master of the blues, with her powerful and rich voice adding that velvety icing to an already fabulous blues cake.
The set opens to raucous applause and straight into her version of Stop Messin Around (Peter Green) from her latest album, The Blues Album. The Blues Album was recorded by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith on Bonamassa’s Keep The Blues Alive label.
This flows straight into If That Ain’t A Reason (a Little Milton song), a funky number given the blues-rock makeover by Joanne. The new album songs continue to tumble to the pleasure of the crowd, and the band are a tight unit on these latest songs.
Joanne largely lets the music do the talking but interludes some with comments, most noticeably, “here’s a little Ted Talk. This next song is about loving your partner so much that you stay with them even when they cheat on you. Err, yeah, don’t do that! The song is a great tune from The Fabulous Thunderbirds, but ignore the message – times progress.”
Around two-thirds of the set in, there is a switch to a Les Paul and a non-stop stream of stomping riffs and screeching solos across songs which are enough to fill anyone’s blues/rock desire.
The end sees a return to her home guitar, and the classic Mud Honey song, for which she is perhaps most known, is riffed around the venue.
Despite the mention of jet lag, which may account for the odd rougher edge, the overall hour and a half show was a titillating display of British blues power, both in terms of guitar, vocals, and just the overall balance of timbres within the band to deliver this blues rock powerhouse of a show.
Joanne Shaw Taylor
Stop Mesin Around
If That Ain’t A Reason
Keep Lovin Me
If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody
Can’t You See What You’re Doin’ to Me
Two Times My Lovin
Let Me Down Easy
Three Time Loser
Dyin’ To Know
Just Another Word
I’ve Been Lovin’ You Too Long
Watch Em Burn
Time Has Come
Joanne Shaw Taylor band
James Edmunds – drums
Dorian Ford – Keys
Michael Bradford – Guitar
Steve Lehane – Bass