Review: Joanne Shaw Taylor – QMU, Glasgow

December 2nd, 2022, Joanne Shaw Taylor performs at The Queens Hall in Edinburgh. February 18th, 2024, Joanne Shaw Taylor performs at the Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow. Rather fitting that both times Joanne Shaw Taylor has recently ventured North of the wall, she has performed in venues with such regal names. After all, you cannot expect the current Queen of the Blues to perform in anything less. And coming hot on the heels of the announcement of a brand new studio album – ‘Heavy Soul’ set for a June 7th release – Her Majesty is in smoking hot form.

As is the norm at many gigs at the minute, tonight’s opening act is performing acoustically. In this case, it is the turn of fast-rising and much-lauded UK Blues singer/songwriter/guitarist Connor Selby. 2023 was not too shabby of a year for the likeable Selby, having opened for such names as Beth Hart, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Robert Cray, and 2024 looks to carry on that hot streak. Once this run with Joanne Shaw Taylor concludes in Southend on February 29th, it’s back home to get his washing done before heading out with his band for a plugged-in electric tour (dates can be found here). Not only that, but Selby also joins the long list of guitar legends such as Slash, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Steve Vai, Brian May, and Jeff Beck (RIP) to play on Mark Knopfler’s charity single ‘Going Home (Theme From Local Hero)’ – look out for that March 15th. Tonight though, it’s just Connor. And a Gibson guitar. And a chair. And that wonderfully melancholic voice of his.

There is nowhere a performer can hide when they are playing solo acoustically. No wall of Marshalls to hide behind, or other bandmates to pick up the slack. It’s just them and the audience. And if Selby is feeling nervous then there is no sign of it as he stands talking away to punters at the doors to the hall minutes before the lights dim. Once they do dim, he takes to the stage, sits, plugs in, and sets about connecting with the audience.

Familiar to many after performing in Glasgow with Beth Hart almost a year ago to the day, Selby has no issues connecting. Blues audiences are generally very respectful and give their attention to opening acts almost as much as the headliner, and tonight is no exception. Opening with the lush strains of ‘Falling in Love Again’, Selby instantly has the crowd on his side. With a sound quality normally reserved for the headliner, Selby’s warm, organic vocals fill the room loud and clear, and those encountering the Essex wordsmith for the first time are doing that trademark nod of approval that grizzled gig veterans do. When during ‘The Deep End’ he proclaims “They tell me if you want something/You’ve got to go out and get it…” a mixture of Chris Isaak and Harry Connick Jr springs to mind; the same natural vocal tones that snare audiences in with ease. Set closer ‘Emily’ is the pick of the bunch and as the final notes fade away, Connor Selby takes a bow and soaks up the warm applause. Job done.

Taking to the stage after her amazing band has trooped on, Joanne Shaw Taylor steps up to the mic, says “Good evening, Glasgow” and rips into the exhilarating set opener ‘In the Mood’. With Phil Whitfield laying down some crucial hits of the keys, it’s an uptempo, furious slice of bluesy rock and roll. A little something to get the juke joint jumping and the blood pumping. That distinct, authentic voice comes to the forefront of a sizzling cover of Otis Rush’s ‘Keep On Loving Me’ where the pacing is expertly controlled by the stellar drum work from Eric Savage – at times through the evening his playing is both velvet-like and pounding. It’s the guitar work from Joanne though that has jaws dropping at an alarming rate, not only on any of the numerous solos that she peels off with ease, but also on the stunning intro to ‘All My Love’ which has a gorgeous, sweeping tone.

After ‘All My Love’ fades out she asks for the houselights to be turned up so that she can see the audience…“There you are, hello Glasgow, how the devil are you?” before mentioning that although she is from the Black Country, her grandfather is from Glasgow so it means a lot to be back in the city tonight. Mentions about merch being on sale tonight are made to appease her manager, but there is the bonus that if you go to the merch stand “…there is a 100% chance that you will see Hank, my puppy”. This leads into a gorgeous version of James Ray’s ‘If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody’ which features some great interplay with fellow guitarist Joey Spina who takes the first solo. Full of dazzling solos from both, it is an early highlight in a set of many.

A few others would be: ‘Dyin’ To Know’ (major Rory Gallagher vibes on this one, to these ears at least) which has the backbone of the band, Eric Savage and bassist Shane Sanders, combining to great effect, and at times it is hypnotic watching Joanne’s fingers; new track ‘Wild Love’ – co-written with Spina – has quite a cinematic sound to it and it would make a great soundtrack to a dusty road movie (when Joanne lets fly on the solo – oh my); ‘Won’t Be Fooled Again’ is only a few years old but is already shaping up to be a setlist staple for some time, and it’s easy to imagine the ’80s fuelled banger with a brass section and a row of female backing vocalists (“…go online and watch the video…the most important thing to bear in mind is that if you don’t like the video, then you are wrong.”); one from a further back is ‘Watch ‘Em Burn’ which has Joanne changing from her trusted Fender to a Gibson to deliver a fatter sound on a track that grows into a towering masterpiece; the acoustic-driven ballad ‘Fade Away’ has Joanne on acoustic guitar and it’s fair to say that you could have heard a pin drop during the ballad written in memory of Joanne’s late mother.

One of the things about Joanne Shaw Taylor that makes her stand out from many other blues players is her smile and the obvious joy she gets out of performing. She is playing deeply personal and, at times, heartbreaking music. But she is having a blast playing it onstage. Blues players sometimes get so wrapped up in the seriousness of what they are playing that there have been moments where it feels like the audience is intruding. Some play with a perma-scowl whereas Joanne plays with a perma-grin. Warm, witty, and especially good at involving her band (and her audience) in everything she does during the 90-minute set, Joanne Shaw Taylor has evolved into a performer of some standing. Discover for yourself on one of the remaining dates listed here, but remember and go see Hank at the merch desk.

Review – Dave

Images – Ian Potter (pics 1, 2, & 6) and Scott Anderson (pics 3, 4, & 5)

Last few UK dates on this leg:

Sunday, February 25 – The Waterfront – Norwich
Monday, February 26 – De La Warr Pavilion – Bexhill
Wednesday, February 28 – The Apex – Bury St Edmunds
Thursday, February 29 – Palace Theatre – Southend

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