Photo: Steven O'Connor
December 11, 2022

It is a cold and wet Sunday night in Sheffield and Joanne Shaw Taylor is bringing her special brand of the blues to town but England are also playing Senegal in the World Cup so I feared that many fans would stay at home in front of the television. However, I had no need to worry as a virtually sold-out Memorial Hall was waiting, ready and eager to spend an evening of thrilling blues with the woman who has proven conclusively that white women can play the blues with style, passion and aggression! Taylor has built up a spectacular career since her discovery by Dave Stewart as a 16-year-old and has since won many awards as well as enhancing her reputation as a major blues artist.

The evening – pardon the football pun – kicked off in impressive style with a short but beautifully played solo acoustic spot from roots singer songwriter Jon Allen during which he enthralled an ever-expanding audience with his perfectly delivered tales of delight and wonder. He has a superb voice, interacts well with all in the hall and his songs are enticing delights that gets the grey matter working. Allen has released five albums so far and you could do much worse than give him a listen. I particularly loved the song Dead Man’s Suit which is deliciously dark and delivered with a real edge. He left the stage to genuine and appreciative applause and set up everything for Taylor and band to make a spectacular entrance.

Photo: Haluk Gurer

Although born in the West Midlands, Joanne seems to have been soaking in the US blues scene for so long that she has infused something of a southern drawl while remaining a streetwise and friendly musician who is very happy to chat with the audience and keeps up a witty banter which occasionally turns serious depending on the nature of the song she is introducing – a woman of the people indeed! Taylor has a great band around her and all with beards approaching ZZ Top proportions which are in total contrast to the long blonde locks that Joanne sports which makes everything such a visual feast. Sheffield’s Memorial Hall is a lovely little venue in the shape of a semi-circle with the stage at the heart with sparse but effective lights spotlighting everything perfectly with tonight being a feast for the ears rather than the eyes and Taylor and band does not disappoint.

The set is heavily culled from her last two albums with The Blues Album and latest release Nobody’s Fool contributing 11-songs with the rest of the set coming from a variety of back catalogue albums. The band opens with a blistering version of the Peter Green song Stop Messin’ Around which effectively sets the scene for what follows which is 95-minutes of high intensity blues with Taylor excelling on guitar as she delivers a veritable barrage of exhilarating guitar runs that leave you quite breathless. The band is incredibly tight and she allows them free reign as they all interact perfectly and her combination with the second guitar makes for Blues rock heaven. This then is magnified when combined with plenty of exquisite and lush keyboards and all with that classic Hammond organ sound so redolent of the ’60s Blues Explosion. The songs are a mixture of classics from the old blues masters mixed in with her own material and she is such an accomplished songwriter that they all work so well together. Taylor’s guitar is an old Telecaster which is very much an extension of her personality which she wields like the rock god she is and, to be truthful, I always wanted to play guitar like the one and only Richie Blackmore but I’m having second thoughts now having seen how much emotion Joanne puts into her work; gifted with an extraordinary voice that is husky and powerful yet smooth and refined which blends so perfectly with her trademark guitar sound.

Photo: Haluk Gurer

There’s a little bit of tongue-in-cheek name dropping throughout the set as she gives each song a full introduction with only the cover of Two Time My Lovin’ being introduced as a Fabulous Thunderbirds song. Won’t Be Fooled Again sees yet another long, sprawling guitar workout which is very much in keeping with her playing; she can be short, sharp and precise but the audience really laps it up when she goes to town and lets everything go. Bad Blood is a hoot as she relays the story that producers Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith both commented on a spaghetti western feel to the song which led to a flight of fancy to make a video involving the actor Billy Bob Thornton – sadly, she concluded, that he was ‘unavailable’ so it never happened Joanne plays he beloved Telecaster throughout except for the song I’ve Been Loving You Too Long for which she brought out her Gibson Les Paul bringing a rich and sonorous tone to the proceedings. Taylor also played an acoustic guitar on the moving, intense and personal Fade Away which is a homage/homily/letter of love referring to her mother who she lost back in 2013. It’s then back to the trusty Telecaster and the evening continues with exceptional and passionate blues and I have to say it has bee a long time since I heard a guitar played with just skill, passion and spirit and a casual look at those in the audience showed that they too were in awe of Joanne Shaw Taylor and her band.

All too soon it was over and they left to thunderous applause which didn’t stop or fade until they all returned to the stage to finish with the up-tempo Going Home and a simmering, soaring version of Mud, Honey which was simply on another level. Delighted and on cloud-nine the audience disappeared into the night but I suspect many of them would have driven home to the sounds of Joanne Shaw Taylor and if you have never seen her then I urgently advise that you take the next opportunity that you can as musicians of her skill and stature do not come along very often. With her long blonde locks, Joanne looks like an Angel but she plays like the very Devil and isn’t that what the blues is supposed to be about? What an unforgettable night!

Photo: Stephen O'Connor

Set list

Photo: Stephen O’Connor

  • Stop Messin’ Round
  • I Want You To Love Me
  • Nobody’s Fool
  • If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody
  • Can’t You See What You’re Doing to Me
  • Two Time My Lovin’
  • Let Me Down Easy
  • Three Time Loser
  • Dyin’ to Know
  • Bad Blood
  • Won’t Be Fooled Again
  • Watch ’em Burn
  • I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
  • Just Another Word
  • Fade Away
  • Runaway
  • Bad Love
  • Encore
  • Going Home
  • Mud, Honey

Joanne Shaw Taylor‘s latest live album Blues From The Heart Live is out now to stream and buy on Joe Bonamassa’s KTBA Records