By Mark Lear, Rock At Night Manchester
Live Review: Joanne Shaw Taylor w/Jon Allen – Birmingham Town Hall, Birmingham, UK – November 30, 2022
Jon Allen – So, on a very old night in Birmingham and with the hideous road network navigated as best as anyone can (oh, how I long for the day when I don’t feel compelled to write about the journey to Brum) I descend once again on the Town Hall for a night of heavy duty blues – which is started off however, in a most subtle way with Support from Jon Allen “without an ‘h’ which kills him on the internet” says he having sauntered on stage to a polite ripple of applause.
Allen starts with ‘How long will I have to wait’, ‘Bad Penny’ and ‘Take Me to Heart’ in quick succession – there’s not much time for banter or introduction when you have 30 minutes to build your audience and Jon is on a bit of a mission it would appear. Birmingham is appreciative and likes what it hears, which is not surprising as Allen has been around for a while and knows how to deliver the goods. He’s got an extensive CV for supporting artists from Dionne Warwick to KT Tunstall and has even appeared on Later… with Jools Holland.
‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’ and ‘No One Gets Out of Here Alive’ follow, but we’re assured that the doors haven’t been locked. Nice touch, Jon. ‘Can’t Stop Now’ and ‘Lucky I Guess’ start to build up momentum before Allen’s attempt at capitalism (his words not mine) is announced with a plea to “buy into him at the Merch stand in about 10 minutes” – everyone has to make a coin in this world and he’s got a relatively new album to sell ‘…meanwhile’, along with four others as he’s been doing this for a while now. That just leaves him to introduce his last tune, ‘Dead Man’s Suit’, the title track from his first album, which tells the story about his love for second hand clothing, an off the wall piece of subject matter that you’ve ever heard of for a song perhaps, and he even asks for audience participation with hands claps, and seeing as Birmingham has been suitably warmed up, it responds with gusto – for a Support Act. Well done, Brum.
…and so, the clock hits the 30-minute mark and Jon’s time is up. Y’know, there’s something true and honest about one voice and an acoustic guitar and this was a pleasure to listen to.
Joanne Shaw Taylor – I’ve always thought that there’s something extra special about playing on your home turf and for Joanne Shaw Taylor this is probably as close as it gets (for a decent venue, anyway) as she hails from ‘just down the road’ in Wednesbury – even though you could be forgiven for thinking that she hails from Nashville or Tennessee with her look and style of music. Hometown gigs are normally reserved for the end of a tour, but this one falls bang in the middle, but it doesn’t mean that much really.
We start with ‘Stop Messin’ Round’ and ‘I Want You To Love Me’ – big opening tunes that leave you in no doubt as to what you’re in for – as if you didn’t know – before we get the title track from the new album, ‘Nobody’s Fool’. If you’ve not been initiated into Shaw Taylor World (that’ll be me then) you quickly learn that every song has a seriously big guitar riff in it, and if this is your ‘thang’ then JST is definitely your girl, because big guitar riffs are blatant, loud, sustained and very well done – and if that isn’t enough the solos screech the house down.
She’s solidly backed with a four-piece that know how and when to play their part and they do it to perfection. ‘Three Time Loser’ has a great bit of honky-tonk piano in it to compliment the big riffs when they kick in again and ‘Dyin’ to Know’ sees the riffs interspersed with a cheeky drum lick and solid back beat.
‘Bad Blood’ is another song off the new album and Joanne tells the story about when she first sent the track to her Producers, Josh Smith and Joe Bonamassa, “they thought they could hear a spaghetti western vibe” she says – which is blatant when it’s pointed out and leaves you waiting for the hook to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to slip in on the QT, but it doesn’t – she wasn’t offended by this as it was “different to say the least” but she suddenly got it into her head that her Manager’s best friend, Billy Bob Thornton, would appear with her in the video, they’d fall in love and both go to Harry Potter World – now there were a dozen or more places I’d have expected her to come up with at this point but Harry Potter World would never have been amongst them !
At this exact moment a cry comes from the crowd… ‘Joanne you are fantastic’, but he pauses just long enough after the word Joanne to make her wonder what’s coming next, “too loud” is apparently what normally follows she says, so she was happy with it being something different.
As style changes go, next up is the latest single ‘Won’t Be Fooled Again’ which has an 80’s / 90’s pop vibe and this time she wants the video to “have more cheese than the cheesiest thing in any video of that time”. She compels you to look it out and if you don’t like the 80’s cheese vibe, “you’re wrong”.
‘Watch ’em Burn’ takes us firmly back to the blues stuff but with a Hammond organ thrown in for good measure. The tune softens in the middle and is then built up, bit by bit, until it gets there, and when it does be ready because it hits you full on. It’s the kind of tune where a band can go on and on for a good hour and a half, playing with it, teasing it and lapping up every minute as the people of Birmingham did; who stood and applauded at the end because it deserved it. Blinding.
‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ gives you time to get your breath back. Slow, bluesy and just at the right time. ‘Fade Away’ sees drum and bass take a back seat. Joanne tells us that it’s coming up to the 10-year anniversary of when she lost her mum. She was 28, she says, and it’s only now that she’s realised that she hadn’t asked her all the questions she needed too, which all came back to her during the writing. Acoustically played and backed by piano and a softened electric guitar nestled behind, it’s perfect and puts you firmly in the moment Joanne wanted you to be in. “Grieving is a process, and if you’ve lost someone close, they would want you to be happy and make the most of your time here.”
As we move towards curfew ‘Runaway’ starts to raise the mood but not before Shaw Taylor confirms to us that ‘she doesn’t have commitment issues’ despite the protestations of one British Journo’ and “when you write a song about running away – it’s just a song” ! We all laugh, but I get uncomfortable in case she reads this, takes an instant dislike and deletes me off the Christmas Card list – as if I’d ever appear on it ! !
‘Bad Love’ closes the show and Birmingham shows it appreciation by the bucket load. She leaves the stage, waits a moment and then returns (as tradition dictates, she would) and we’re graced with a couple more tunes, ‘Going Home’ and ‘Mud, Honey’. It was a fine way to end an excellent evening and Birmingham once again paid due deference by standing and applauding for the fourth time tonight – and how they stood and how they applauded – because it was well deserved.
The girl came home, and the girl done good. In fact, the girl done very good …as they’d say in these parts ‘bostin ah kid’.
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