Home Gigs Gig Review : Joanne Shaw Taylor ‘The Blues Album’ 2022 Tour HMV Empire Coventry 30th April 2022

Gig Review : Joanne Shaw Taylor ‘The Blues Album’ 2022 Tour HMV Empire Coventry 30th April 2022

45 min read

Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

The Blues are a genre of music that gets a bit of a rough time. It’s not all full of adultery and dogs dying. In fact, it can be uplifting and downright ‘ornery’. Having been a fan of the ‘Blues’ for decades now, I heard that JST (Joanne Shaw Taylor) was playing close by.

This was a no brainer. This was a gig that I was keen to cover. With Toby Lee as the undercard It was certainly looking like a great way to spend a Saturday evening. Having seen them both previously I knew what sort of a night to expect so to say I was keen was an understatement. Sadly, good buddy Waldorf is sitting this one out due to prior commitments.

Having covered ‘Skindred’ at the Coventry Empire a few years back, I had an idea of what to expect of the venue. So, setting the car sat nav to the address, I set off, Planet Rock booming away.

As it’s not a frequently visited venue I was trusting the car sat nav implicitly. Arriving on the outskirts of Cov’ a tad early, I call in at the big Tesco just off the M69/M6 interchange for a sandwich and a double decker. Setting off again I follow the instructions carefully, only to find I’m directed down a dead-end street. Setting google maps this time, to the address given; I perform another loop around the middle of Coventry only to end up back at the exact same place.

The dead end has parking bays which after 6pm are free so a bonus, I guess. I decide to set off on foot as the venue is showing as being just up the road. Following the directions, I, confusingly walk through a shopping mall. Staring at my phone and then glancing around to get some sort of a bearing only to see a shop front with a small HMV Empire sign.

Not the big Art Nouveau entrance I’d been expecting, so I thought it must be another way in from the back. Asking one of the guys putting the railings out if this was were JST was playing he said yes and then explained it was a completely different venue. DOH! My bad.

Walking in, the door into the main hall is opened by Terry Lee, Toby’s dad, with a beaming smile we get talking about Toby, the tour and life in general. Terry is a great person, rightly proud of his son’s achievements, he is fully supportive, but not pushy that is often evident in some of the other up and coming ‘child stars’. Terry has that chilled vibe about him that I later told Toby what a great Dad he has, and that I’d love him to be my dad, except I’m a couple of years older than he is, a fact Terry did point out lol.

The venue, is seated, and divided into cheap and VIP. The stage is large and well-lit although there is a smokey haze loitering in the air, looking over head there is a considerable lighting gantry so hopefully they’ll get used to the max. I’ve covered a lot of ‘shadow’ shows recently which can’t have been fun for the paying fans too watch.

Up first is the new kid on the block. Toby Lee, now at only 17, he has already played with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Buddy Guy, Peter Frampton and Laurence Jones to name but a few.

In fact, the last time I managed to catch Toby playing, a few years ago now, was at the Stables in Milton Keynes, with Laurence Jones. That night he jumped on stage with an SRV replica Strat and proceeded to smash the place with a stunning bit of playing, at one point the guitar was behind his head, amazing skills from a 10year old.

His dad was sat on the floor next to me as we filled our memory cards with pictures of this future guitar hero. Toby then went on to star in Lloyd Webbers production of the ‘School of Rock’ musical, as well as appearing on shows throughout the Blues World playing with numerous Blues legends. Toby even appeared on the Helen DeGeneres show in the states, at the age of 13, where she filled is arms with goodies for ‘Buddy the Blues Bus’, his 1969 VW Camper after he wowed the audience with a scorching rendition of ‘Superstition’.

Walking on stage to a rousing cheer and plenty of whistles, Toby and the band, Ollie Brown, Tom Williams and Wayne Proctor, waste no time by Kicking off with Gary Clark Jnr’s ‘Bright Lights’.

The band are straight on it and although Toby looks a little timid in front of the crowd at first, he is soon in his element. With a stunning ’64 Gibson Firebird V, much favoured guitar of legendary Blues man, Johnny Winter, around his neck he proceeds to light the place up with a scorching solo, this leaves one or two mouths agape.

The band slide into Doyle Bramall 11’s ‘Green Light Girl’ next, a quicker number which again sees a more relaxed Toby prowl the stage as he smashes the intro, smiling at Ollie on the other guitar as he does so. Face screwed up as he delivers the ‘chops’, eyes closed as he feels the notes. Finishing face to face with a smiling Ollie, as he brings it all down.

We finally get Toby speaking to the crowd as he mentions his album ‘Icons’ from which the opening two tracks are taken from. Up next we have ‘Take the Wheel’ from his debut solo album, Aquarius. ‘Icons’ is an album of covers, whereas ‘Aquarius’ is an album of original material.

This opens with a more melodic guitar line and demonstrates Toby’s skill of being a singer/songwriter. With a catchy hook to grab hold of, Toby’s voice is strong but full of youthful emotion as he launches into a scorching solo, the Firebird is, well, on ‘fire’ as the mini humbuckers scream to his touch.

His Blackstar Amp is cooking as it delivers a stunning tone, now Toby’s trademark Amplification. As he stands square on to the crowd, head back and eyes closed, the rest of the band are watching him intently as he delivers a fine performance, they get ready to bring the song to a great finish!

This is followed up with ‘Search for Happiness’ a slower blues number again from ‘Aquarius’. This has a stunningly simple opening riff. A confident Toby delivers a fine vocal, Ollie Brown gives it a nice depth with a subtle backing vocal.

Wayne’s drums are on point, In-fact there is an almost KING KING vibe to the drum beat. Toby punctuates the vocal with great licks on the Firebird, with the restrained playing you know it’s going to get a bit fruity at any minute. At which point Toby walks to the front of the stage (right) and delivers a clean, seductive, slightly jazz inspired lead break.

For a 17yr old he has the feeling of someone a lot, lot older. They say it’s the gaps that you put in a solo that makes it great, well you can add to that reducing the volume. Playing with just the sound of the strings, you could hear a pin drop, there is silence in the crowd. A great show of respect from the fans, volume up a touch and the crowd cheer and whoas are flying! Another KING KING moment, as it’s something that I’ve seen Alan Nimmo do, except this was without the grunts.

As the song ends Toby goes back to the mic to finish but comes away and rips out another solo, sustaining a note he works the vibrato to hold it, the band bring it down and boom, almost 10minutes worth of a track, stunning and simple, but my favourite of the set.

We get the third track from Toby’s debut album ‘Aquarius’, ‘It Could Be So Easy’. Unsurprisingly it is yet another stunner from what’s turning out to be a cracking debut album. What I’ve seen and heard it’s definitely one for the collection. Toby’s song writing and musicianship is excellent as this melodic tune drips with catchy hooks and a stunning guitar work over the top.

Tom Williams deep bass is throbbing along in the background, hooked nicely into the kick drum of Wayne, the back beat is tuneful, powerful and driving. Ollie Browns riffing is strong giving Toby the room to breathe.

This set is far too short as Toby is now smiling and rocking out confidently as the notes smoke from the neck of the ’64 Firebird. He’s played the same guitar all night. Apparently, it’s been playing up, but tonight it’s decided to behave itself and is oozing vintage quality as Toby embarks on a fast lead break, his fingers working like little pink maggots across the neck, as he hits every note. Truly stunning and a great song.

The previous sets have only had 5 songs, looking at the set list we have 6, Jeff Healy’s ‘See the Light’ finishes the set, another from ‘ICONS’ which has now got to be another must have album for the blues section of any collection.

Judging by what we’ve all just witnessed, the future of the Blues is safe in the hands of Toby Lee, 2018 young Blues Artist of the year. Go check him out, he’s the real deal.

www.toby-lee.com FB @tobyleeguitar Insta @tobyleeguitar Twitter @tobyleeguitar

A quick change over gives me enough time to go and say Hi at the merch’ table. The queue for Toby stretches across the room, Wow! He’s made an impact for sure. Guys are asking for a picture with him, respect indeed, as his Dad nods across at me, beaming like a Cheshire cat. Toby has smashed Coventry well and truly. Well done!

With the Stage now set up for Joanne, we wait for the band to walk on. The crowd is full of anticipated mumblings as they settle back in their seats. The haze has reappeared, but noticing there is an industrial style fan pointing at Joanne’s microphone we’ll hopefully get some good pics tonight.

Joanne and the band walk on to great applause, the crowd are in tonight and are making sure the band know it. Looking around, one or two are standing as they clap. At the microphone Joanne welcomes and thanks everyone for turning out on a Saturday night, this was the closest to a home town gig she could get on this short tour, as she’s from nearby Solihull.

She then explains that she’s had a rough but restful couple of years, like so many she has spent it drinking prosecco and on Zoom chats with friends. She explains that throughout her career she has wanted to make a Blues album, full of great covers, but, she added that she’s glad she waited until she’d grown up a bit as the album is now full of some great tracks, she spent time trying to make them her own, no easy task when they are already unique to the creator.

Joanne explained that with the help of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith she put together an album of 11 great tracks, some of which she’s going to play to us tonight along with the addition of a few old favourites thrown in to make it a great night. The album is simply called ‘The Blues Album’ it was released in December 2021.

Starting the night off we have Peter Green’s ‘Stop Messin’ Around’, a 12bar blues shuffle from 1968. No pressure then as we get Dorian Ford on swirling Hammond and James Edwards on drums bouncing along, JST’s guitar, a natural finished Fender Telecaster with what appears to be a bikini clad pin up sat on a record sticker, is screaming as she cuts loose, she swops sides as, smiling, she lays down the Peter Green inspired licks.

He vocal is divine, dark, husky and dripping like golden syrup off a spoon as she punctuates her playing with visits back to the microphone. Her long golden hair over right shoulder as she croons to the crowd. Another visit to stage right sees her play at Michael Bradford, a giant of a man on rhythm guitar, stood in a leather jacket and aviators he smiles as he completements Joanne’s playing. The big solo is faultless, full of distortion and grit, a great start and appreciated by the crowd.

Little Milton’s ‘If That Ain’t a Reason’ is up next. This apparently started out as a text from Joe which developed into an official video for the album. With a scorching guitar and smokie lyrics delivered over swirling Hammond and a steady thumping bass provided by Steve Lehane giving room for Joanne, in gold lame jacket and flower-patterned bell bottoms, to deliver a simply magical performance.

Otis Rush continues the night with 1969’s ‘Keep on Loving Me Baby’. With big splashes of sound to herald the start, this 60’s sound has a great cross stick snare pushing it along as Joanne is at the microphone her husky tones are dripping with smokie undertones as she strokes the guitar as she delivers, a couple of staccato pics and she’s out at the front rocking the groove, double stops and slides as she flies around the neck effortlessly as this bouncy track cracks on full of swirling Hammond on the background giving it that late night, smokie, Jazz bar feel.

We jump back a few years as James Ray’s ‘If Your Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody’ starts with a husky vocal and a steady Hammond swirling around in the back ground, all that’s missing is the horn section from the album version. This slow deliberate delivery showcases Joanne’s control, vocally her voice is special. A fat neck pick up driven solo cascades from her fingers as we get treated to a gentler side of her playing, full of vibrato and emotion.

‘Can’t You See What You’re Doing to Me’ By Albert King flies at us next. Full of walking bass and a stomping kick drum and cymbal splashes. Lyrics sung she wanders the stage delivering a muted solo, very reminiscent of King’s style. Shaking her hair over her shoulder as she delivers. This song is another great showcase, as its extended solo gives Joanne time to show why she is so highly regarded in the Blues guitar world. Tormenting the neck of her Telecaster with huge bends she romps through the song as the crowd cheer her on.

Joanne introduces the next song as being one she skyped with her girlfriends. ‘Two Time My Lovin’. Her friends agreed it was a great tune but the message was ‘bad’, Joanne says she agrees, “its bullshit”, she says, “just leave” which gets agreeing cheers from the crowd.

As this Fabulous Thunderbirds track starts up with a walking bassline, pink spots play across the stage. A brief intro and then Joanne’s vocal is delivered slow and purposeful. Frequent staccato strums on the guitar help to push the tune along. The solo has a crisp edge to it, Jimmy Vaughan style as she faces Bradford they trade back and forth, both smiling away. She walks over to stage left and, eyes closed she cuts loose, her fingers down in the dirty end as she puts on yet another cracking display of guitar virtuosity.

‘Let Me Down Easy’ with swirling chorus driven guitar has Joanne back in a smokie blues club as she delivers this Maurice Dollison classic, again, made popular by Little Milton.

The slow picked guitar providing the foundation for a smokie, melancholy lyric. The bass drone swirls through the ‘mist’ as this song moves on slowly. Eyes closed as she delivers this emotive song, it gradually builds through tempo and key changes as the band join in, helping to drive this tune along to the inevitable mind blowing solo, and bang repetitive strumming, a squeal of a note and we’re away, marching around the stage she is bent over at the stage front pushing her overdriven guitar through the roof as she screams out the ending of the song.

‘Three Time Loser’ the Wilson Pickett version is next. Honky Tonk piano fills the air, joined by a steady shuffle beat from the drums and a bouncing bass that hooks into the keys as Joanne’s smokie lyric fills the air. This late 60’s track has a thick sounding, crunching solo lick, halted, as the keys get a run out on their own with a boogie woogie style plinky plonk piano. Joanne and Lehane, on bass, play back n forth. You know as the song travels its building to a screaming solo, seemingly running out of frets as she plays an ascending run, face contorted as she squeezes the final notes from her guitar.

With the first half of the set over, each song being from 2021’s the Blues Album, we now get treated to some of Joanne’s own material, and to be fair it fits in seamlessly. First up from this section we get ‘Dyin’ To Know’ from 2016’s album Wild. This starts with a great snare rim lick, as Joanne’s voice is backed by Bradford’s whispered voice. The repetitive guitar finger picked shuffle is delivered over a galloping bass line and as it builds JST wanders the stage, not missing a beat, brushes the hair from her face, finishes with a big smile in response to the cheers.

2009’s album White Sugar is visited next with ‘Just Another Word’ with its Drum and Bass intro, it soon has a soft smokie lyric weaving around it as Joanne, head on her shoulder and smiling, delivers a quick, meaty riff before getting on with the lyric. Bathed in purple and green spots she switches it up a gear, flicking her hair out of her face she pics the notes while dancing back and forth. The double stop riffs punctuated with harmonics cry aloud as she closes out the song.

‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ sees a change in guitar to a dark ‘Burst’ Les Paul. The Hammond swirls in the back ground as Joanne, now comfortable with how the heavier guitar is sitting, hits a note and hangs on to it, to the point of break up. The guitars meatier sound evident from the start, you know this one means business.

The short licks are dripping with ‘Blues’ notes as Joanne sets the song up, walking up to the mic she delivers another smokie vocal full of huskiness and grit as it curls tightly around this slow, 8minute ballad from 2019’s ‘Reckless Heart’. The inevitable solo doesn’t disappoint, full of scorching highs and lows, Joanne again eyes closed, pulls the chops out of the bag and once again delivers the goods, striking the strings with big downstrokes she brings the song back down with an acapella type vocal, before a crashing instrumental finish.

‘Watch Em Burn’ from White Sugar follows With Michael Bradford and his Black Les Paul helping to start this song off with a stomping beat. The stage is bathed in yellow spots as Joanne slaps a teasing lick out on her Les Paul.

A quick wander to stage right and she slams out the solo, leaning into it she smiles as she flicks her hair out of the way. Back on the mic she grips it with both hands before going back to delivering a driving riff, her foot stomping as she smiles at Lehane on the bass and then rips into the solo, the guitar is rocking as one second she’s down in the dirty end, the next the guitar is pointing skywards as she, squeezes out a natural harmonic, untangles her lead as she wanders around the back of the stage, facing Edwards on the drums, no doubt smiling away.

Hair sweeping the floor as she crushes the outro, the Hammond is swirling as it all comes together in a tight fast searing finish.

With a quick guitar change back to the Telecaster we have another from the White Sugar album, this time it’s ‘Time Has Come’. With its 12bar blues shuffle providing the backbone as Joanne starts the song of with a screaming solo.

The song bounces along as her husky vocal swirls around the guitar licks. Relaxed Joanne moves back as we get the piano break, standing stage left with Bradford before moving back and ripping a solo over the walking beat.

Switching between pick-ups, the song changes its dynamic as she delivers an electric barrage of notes as she flashes her fingers down the neck mouthing the note as she does so, she has the Telecaster screaming, as double stop after double stop is crunched out. The rings on her fingers not interfering at all as she smokes the solo yet again.

Without a pause the band goes straight into the tasty, ‘Mud Honey(White Sugar)’ she continues to destroy the venue with her powerful take on the blues. Full of shuffling blues and fat guitar sounds punctuated with pure harmonics the song builds to a scorching riff of pure dirtiness. This wall of sound is crushing in its delivery.

After that monumental delivery, Joanne takes time to introduce the band, which are

Michael Bradford on guitar, Dorian Ford on Keyboards, Steve Lehane on Bass and James Edwards on the drums.

Finishing the set with ‘Bad Love’ we take a visit back to 2019’s Reckless Heart. A clanking solo introduces the song like a firm smack around the head. Joanne’s velvety vocal delivers as the screaming solo takes over, digging in Joanne, face hidden by her hair, soars as the telecaster delivers a scintillating solo to finish the set off.

The band briefly leave the stage, but soon return for one more, ‘Going Home’ again from the album White Sugar. Full of swampy blues licks, this finger picked classic from 2009 slowly builds. The deliberate kick drum pulsing like an industrial timepiece providing the backbone as both the bass and keys dance along filling out the tune like a pair of fine curtains.

Smiling, Joanne builds to the final solo of the night, playing briefly in front of bald-headed Bradford, she wanders to the front of the stage and grinds out the licks everyone wants to hear, as finally the song is brought to a stop with a crash and flurry of cymbals. With a final “be safe lots of love and see you soon” Joanne and the band exit the stage.

Tonight, has been a show of blues guitar virtuosity. First up, 17year old, Toby Lee set the scene with a set that opened the eyes to many in the crowd. His all to short set delivered on all fronts. Definitely a name of the future.

Joanne after being discovered by Dave Edmunds at the age of 16, has had a meteoric rise to now being one of the biggest names in the Blues world. With 10 recordings already under her belt, she has grown to be one of the best Blues exports that the UK has delivered in recent times.

Her performance is polished, but at the same time believable. Her scorching solos are effortless as she hooks in and takes you on a wild guitar ride, throw in her husky voice and you have the complete package, and all from the West Midlands too.

It would seem that the enforced lockdown due to the pandemic has brought her back meaner and more excited about the future. The switch from Sony to Joe Bonamassa’s record label was clearly a good one. As for the Blues Album, she has gone on record as saying, “if you don’t like it, Its Joes (Bonamassa) fault”. Having just watched Joanne play 8 tracks off it, I can say ‘Good Job Joanne you smashed it!’ Yet another for the overflowing collection.

Joanne has announced that a CD/DVD/blu-Ray is being released in June 2022 entitled ‘Blues from The Heart’. Recorded in Nashville in January this year it features guest performances from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mike Farris and Joe Bonamassa. I wonder if there’s a vinyl version in the offing?

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