Joanne Shaw Taylor–Fibbers, 28/09/15

If it hadn’t been for Blurred Vision’s slot opening for Uriah Heep earlier in the year, Manchester’s Federal Charm might have been my “surprise support act” for 2015. As it is, it was a close run thing. Their mix of blues-y rock, reminiscent of Whitesnake in places, and straight-up rock was energetic and featured some fantastic guitar work from Nick Bowden – whose vocals were just the right side of raw – and, in particular, Paul Bowe. Any Other Day opened their set in style and it just got better from then on. The rhythm section of Danny Rigg on drums – somehow flicking his hair back into position after every frantic beat – and the fast fingered L.D. Morawski – making use of all the strings of his bass – provided a pulsing backdrop throughout the set. During Guess What I couldn’t help but get the impression that Bowe was used to a slightly bigger stage area as, with the band slightly cramped in front of the headliner’s equipment, he seemed to be curbing his energy, but that didn’t stop him playing a blinder, during a song which showcased the tightness of the band. The band, touring with Joanne Shaw Taylor, were promoting their second album, Across The Divide, and the set was, obviously, mostly made up of songs from it, including the less Blues-y Hercules. More and more people were edging forward and the band were getting a good response from the crowd. “That was well done,” I heard from behind me as Master Plan reached its climax. Reconsider, from the band’s self-titled debut album, opened slowly, blues in the style of Clapton’s Edge Of Darkness. Receiving the best reception yet, it was a slower, sultry track which during which Bowden’s guitar work shone, leading to an acknowledgement from Bowe after one solo, just prior to massive step up in pace during the mid section. Rock-y and energetic, Silhouette was very much a twin guitar track and then, after Bowe took a crowd photo, presumably focusing on the few people who had come forward as far as the stage, that first album was revisited for Reaction, which saw Bowden venturing into bottleneck guitar territory for a track which brought the set to a close. My only regret – I didn’t buy an album on the way out…

Before tonight I only knew Joanne Shaw Taylor by reputation. She had been in York earlier in the year, supporting Robin Trower but, despite him being on my bucket-list, I wasn’t able to make that show and was delighted when this headline gig was announced. In terms of crowd, I didn’t really know what to expect. Other blues acts such as King King, Yorkshire’s own Chantel McGregor and, especially, Aynsley Lister, haven’t really got anywhere near the “sold-out” position in York’s venues (so far, anyway). I should have had an inkling, though, when I found myself joining a queue to get into Fibbers and, once inside, found the venue already much busier than it usually is within a few minutes of doors opening. It was too busy to bother Mr H for a ticket for my next gig as I handed over the one for tonight so, between acts, I turned to head back to the entrance and realised how many people were stood behind me – by far the biggest crowd I have seen for a blues act, apart from John Mayall at The Barbican. Next ticket purchased, and with the floor area that Federal Charm had tried in vain to encourage people forward into now full, there was no way I was going to be able to reclaim my original position, so I found a suitable slot elsewhere and stood marvelling at the variety of band t-shirts on show – everything from vintage Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to Kiss, Y&T and Avenged Sevenfold. Time ticked on and, fifteen minutes after the time I thought I had heard Mr H tell one punter Miss Taylor was due on stage, I caught sight of people behind both sound desks checking their watches.

Just after that, Taylor and her band – in the seemingly ubiquitous blues trio form – came on stage to cheers, applause and a warm response to an early, “How are you doing York?” The set opened with the country-blues sound of Mud, Honey, Taylor moving to mid stage for an intricate instrumental section that didn’t stay subdued for very long. And that, basically, set the format (but not the sound) for much of the set. With barely pauses for applause Outlaw Angel contained another effortless instrumental and was followed by Wrecking Ball. “Bloody good, isn’t she?” asked one fellow audience member on his way back from the bar. A change of guitar gave her the chance to welcome the audience and acknowledge Federal Charm before she explained that Tried, Tested and True was an autobiographical song about the end of a relationship. Slower than the opening trio, it showcased Taylor’s emotional vocals, husky in places, breathy in others and featured a lovely guitar sound matched only by the smiles she flashed throughout. Jump That Train upped the pace again and provided another new guitar sound. This time there was a bit more strain and emotion showing on Taylor’s face during the instrumental section. Diamonds In The Dirt, about good things coming from seemingly bad situations, changed the sound again, this time to something that had an almost reggae beat but which built to a frantic finale. The band left the stage, with the drummer (whose name I failed to catch) returning briefly to bring on a chair for Taylor to sit on during an acoustic performance of Almost Always Never, a deeply personal song, written during bad times but reflecting on the positives of life. Kudos go out to whichever member of staff turned off the otherwise welcome air-conditioning unit during the heartfelt performance of this song. With the band back on the next track featured softer drums and some brilliant dual acoustic guitar work as bass-player Tom, now also seated, joined Taylor on a second guitar.

With the chairs removed Taylor asked if we were ready for some Texas Blues before launching into Watch ‘Em Burn, which included the best instrumental section so far – a full-bloodied affair that led into something much more subtle and then right back out the other side, reminding me a lot of the instrumental during King King’s Long History Of Love. Initially slowing things down again, Time Has Come once more brought out some fleet-fingered guitar work – if there was an inch of any of the six strings that hadn’t been used during this set, I would be surprised – and raw vocals during a performance that saw even the drummer, his performance explosive in places, deft in others, applauding at the end. Tied & Bound was a thunderous blues track, during which it struck me how American Taylor’s vocals sound, perhaps due to living at least part-time in The States. The main set was brought to a close by the prematurely title Going Home and then, having barely had time to leave the stage, the evening was brought to an end with an encore of The Dirty Truth, the title track of Taylor’s latest album.

In my own head, I was always going to be drawing comparisons to that other blonde blues guitarist, whose career I am more familiar with. On the evidence of tonight, Joanne Shaw Taylor is less “girly” in her performance, preferring t-shirt and torn jeans over the floaty dresses favoured by Chantel McGregor. She’s also a little less loquacious and fun between songs. The fact that she pulled in a bigger audience is probably down to the greater longevity of her career – Taylor is a bit older and has just released her fourth album whereas Chantel has just released her second. Taylor is rawer and huskier in her vocals and I’m not qualified enough to compare them in terms of  guitar playing, but they are both very entertaining. Overall, which is the better of the two? Difficult to choose. Suffice to say I thing I have a new joint favourite female blues guitarist…

Having said that, I have one complaint (and I doubt it is down to Taylor herself). I like to support live music and the artists that play York by buying an album or two at their gigs. However, supporting does not mean being ripped off. Tonight I walked away from the gig without having made a purchase because the CDs on the merchandise table were priced higher than they are on Taylor’s website, and they are already higher than I would normally pay for a standard album on there. Why should the people who have already paid quite a high (although admittedly worth it) ticket price have to pay over the odds to buy a CD? Maybe, in this case, it’s time to remember that Amazon still exists.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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