Jo Harman @ The Artrix 06/02
Support Tom Gee
Jo Harman has been on my ‘must see’ list for a while, voted Best Female Vocalist and runner up for the song writing award in the 2014 British Blues Awards, she is definitely a star in the ascendancy.
But first a few words about her support, Tom Gee, who was in acoustic mode, leaving behind the 7 musicians, that make up the Tom Gee Band. His only accompaniment was his 6 string, and a dry Yorkshire wit, the rapport with the audience, was measurable, and the response warm. ‘Dead In The Morning’, is more about clearing the fog of sleep than a TV vampire diary. Well written and well performed, it features on the full bands album Swapping Stories, a bit of soul with a splash of funk. A bit more banter and a song pointing to past girlfriends, ‘Listen To Yourself’, the genre of the full band is funked up Northern Soul meets contemporary blues, without the brass and percussion, the songs become much more personal. Tom has serious writing credibility, the band perform in festivals across the country, Cheltenham Jazz to Hebden Bridge Blues. Closing the set, again from the album, ‘Thinking About You’, needs no explanation, suffice to say, from interval chatter, Tom’s set was well liked, one commented to say if this had been a stand alone gig, it would have been well worth the ticket purchase.
Now Jo has been ‘claimed’ by the Blues fraternity, and can be found appearing in Blues sessions and festivals everywhere, but, she really sits in that orbiting moon that broke away and produced the great divas of Soul. We are talking from the Jazz and Blues roots of the likes of Billy Holliday through to Nina Simone, along with all the wonderful female singers that emerged throughout the 50’s and early 60’s. Fundamentally Jo has a stunning voice, rich and dark like a Yucatan honey that’s been lightly ‘smoked’, and as if that is not enough, she has also been recognised for her writing talents. Jo opened with a gospel laden soul classic ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’, people have been recording this from way back in Charley Patton’s day, changed to ‘we’ for the civil rights movement, Jo presented it superbly. The tempo was switched up for ‘Heartstring’, sharp edged percussion, gives way to some funky, jazz orientated keys from Steve Watts. Those keys keep Jo solo company for a gentle soulful ‘This Is My Amnesty’, then on to an exceptional ‘Aint No Love In The Heart Of The City, simply memorable.
A full on hard rock edged, ‘Through The Night’, driven along by the drums of Martin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Jo’s hair fanned over her head as she lost herself to the rhythm. Another of Jo’s songs followed closely behind, ‘Cold Heart’, borrows some lyrics from bygone classics, but the whole is distinctly Jo’s work, slow and heartfelt, lovely. A complete change of direction as the massively popular Pharrell Williams, ‘Happy’, lifted the auditorium, though we were all happy where Jo had taken us, it was a bit of fun and the band obviously enjoyed themselves. Its time for the guitars to be put to work, Dave Ital has his moment to demonstrate his skills, ably supported by some solid funky bass from stand in Yolanda Charles (she has played alongside the likes of Adele, Jagger and Weller, quite an accolade) for ‘Underneath The River’. This is rock blues, a song from Jo’s pen, that allows her to give full range to her voice, and that range is indeed wide, the keyboard kicks in then the guitars take full control. Brilliant.
We are not quite finished yet,
A truly beautiful ‘prayer’ is about to be heard, Jo wrote this in memory of her father, she sings it with all her heart and soul, it would not feel out of place in any house of God.
How do you follow such a song, the show has to close, Jo dips into the classic soul bag, and pulls out, ‘I can’t Stand The Rain’, I can honestly say, I have never heard better, performed live, an absolutely fabulous close to an evening in the company of an exceptional artist.
Words & Photos Graham Munn