Gig Review and Photography by Drew Kirkland

Joanne Shaw Taylor

It’s almost a year since Joanne Shaw Taylor’s last homecoming gig at Birmingham’s Town Hall. Circumstances had conspired against me catching her act for a few years, so I’d been looking forward to this one for a while.

Bernie Marsden

The night started off with Bernie Marsden, playing in a duo (and, for the most part, acoustically). Guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick was the other half, notably helping out with some subtle slide work. Marsden – best known as guitarist with Whitesnake – has a good singing voice, and it was unfortunate that I’d missed the first couple of songs.

Bernie Marsden

The duo played a mixture of classic Whitesnake (“Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”), and material from Marsden’s “Shine” album (“Who Do We Think We Are” and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dragonfly”) before ending with the anthemic “Here I Go Again”. This was a relaxed, accomplished performance, and Marsden charmed the audience, sharing anecdotes between numbers. It’s not often you see a support act given a standing ovation, but it was a measure of the respect he commands from an informed crowd.

Joanne Shaw Taylor

Then Joanne took to the stage and led out with the swampy riff to “Mud Honey” (from her new album “The Dirty Truth”), before shifting into the smooth, measured groove of “Just Another Word”. Switching her Telecaster for a Les Paul, Jo then followed with “Watch ‘Em Burn” – strutting blues / rock, and that saw Jo really open up a big solo.

Joanne Shaw TaylorJoanne Shaw Taylor

Jo’s voice has matured over the years to be strong, smoky and soulful, and her version of Frankie Miller’s “Jealousy” really showcases this, with a subtle guitar solo building, and building again into a crescendo.

Joanne Shaw TaylorJoanne Shaw Taylor

“Jump that Train” forces its way down the tracks with a non-stop rhythm, and the guitar’s given another good seeing to.

Then “Diamonds in the Dirt” calms things down a bit again, its mellifluous guitar line washing over a laid back rhythm, like a honey massage for the ears. And this is probably a good time to credit the rhythm section of Tom Godlington (bass) and Oliver Perry (drums) who were impeccable all night).

Joanne Shaw TaylorJoanne Shaw Taylor

Then two more from the new album – “Wrecking Ball” (nothing to do with the Miley Cyrus’ song of the same title), and the lovely “Tried, Tested and True”. This has a real Memphis soul feel to it (not surprising, as she records there), with Joe Leadbeater’s organ sound straight from an Al Green track.

Joanne Shaw Taylor

Then Bernie Marsden was welcomed back onto the stage for two songs. This is something that you hardly ever see any more – two top guitarists jamming on stage. An aside – I first saw Jo when she was 14, burning her way through Stevie Ray Vaughan tracks in a Sutton Coldfield jam session. She’s been doing this for a while.

Joanne Shaw Taylor

So first, we were treated to Whitesnake’s “Walking in the Shadow of the Blues”. Then it really lifted off with “Let It Burn”. This isn’t just playing by the numbers, they were genuinely feeding off each other, pushing limits and taking chances. Now, most of the night’s audience are old enough to remember when this kind of thing happened more often. And they loved it.

“That” said Jo, with a broad smile on her face “is as much fun as it looks”. Yup. At a time when most bands try to faithfully recreate their recordings, it’s great to see artists who’ll still take risks on stage, and full marks to whoever set this up.

Joanne Shaw TaylorJoanne Shaw Taylor

After Bernie had left the stage, Joanne riffed into “Tied and Bound” (featuring more of Leadbeater’s keyboard work), before finishing (appropriately) with “Going Home”.

There wasn’t any doubt there’d be an encore, and the band came back for “The Dirty Truth” – Jo playing a solo of biting clarity.

Joanne Shaw TaylorJoanne Shaw Taylor

It’s interesting to reflect on how Jo has evolved over the years, from the hard urban guitar blues of her early years to the more subtle, R&B influenced songs which are increasingly finding a place in her set. But it’s still her her blistering guitar, threatening to break out at any moment, which make her gigs such a compulsive attraction.

Joanne Shaw TaylorJoanne Shaw Taylor

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