INTERVIEW: Blues star Joanne Shaw Taylor talks about her phenomenal year and her upcoming gigs, including New Brighton in November

Joanne Shaw Taylor where she feels at home: On stage, wowing another audience

To say that Joanne Shaw Taylor has had something of a wild time over the last 15 months or so would be an understatement. Her appearance on one of the smaller stages at Glastonbury last year was followed by a live late night TV appearance from the festival; an unexpected plus that provided us with a timely taster of Joanne’s not then released fifth studio album Wild, which finally saw daylight in September 2016.

Naturally there then followed a whole raft of gigs that has seen arguably the hottest British female blues act there is on the road, both in the UK and Europe, for much of the interceding months, with festivals, venues and guest slot assignees falling over themselves to sign her up.

Aside from the album’s release, however, the highlight of the year could only have been her appearance on Later with Jools, the seminal British music show that showcases a huge array of established and up-and-coming artists work.

Via the courtesy of good old Skype, Joanne seems happy and relaxed. There’s a veritable spring in her step and little wonder. 2016/17 has been quite a year and, as we speak, she’s having little downtime at her home in Detroit before taking to the road once more with dates in Holland and the UK looming fast.

“I’m doing really well, thanks. I’m just having a few days at home in Detroit, enjoying an Indian summer before heading back to the UK later in the week,” she explains. “It’s been my home base for around 10 years now and I try to spend as much time as I can in the city. I was in the UK and Europe a lot more last year than I had been previously and, quite frankly, got I bored hopping on and off international flights to come over here as much.”

“I love it here. I was brought up in Solihul and there are a lot of similarities, to be honest. Detroit is an industrial city with quite a high rate of unemployment, sadly, that’s had a fair amount of problems over recent years. It has had to sell a lot of its municipal buildings to survive. In the ten years I’ve been here though it’s really starting to come back into its own.”

“When I first moved here, downtown was pretty much a no-go area, but I was there at the weekend and it’s changed so much. There are loads of farmer’s markets going on and bistros and supermarkets opening up, so the regeneration is underway, slow but sure, which is really nice to see. It’s a really, really lovely city with a great energy to it.”

Wild was released on September 30, 2016. Exactly one year ago to the day. We spoke around a week before it hit the shops and, a little like myself, Joanne finds it difficult to believe it was that long ago. “I only realised it had been a year thanks to one of those Facebook, flashback things that pop up. When I saw it I was like ‘bloody hell, where’s that gone?’, but it’s been brilliant the way it has been received.”

“Everything I’ve seen – and I don’t think too deeply about these things – has been really positive towards it. Most importantly it seems the fans are enjoying it, which is great. It was a slight departure from the albums I’d put out before, in terms of both sound and songs, although it still sounds like me, but it was a bit of a step up I think. You never know how any sort of transition is going to go down, but on the whole it’s been very positive.”

Produced by Kevin Shirley and recorded in Nashville, Wild  is one of the stand out blues/rock albums of the past year. A rich mixture of Joanne’s exemplary guitar work and smoky vocals, being added to by a couple of covers including David Bowie’s Wild is the Wind – from which the album derives its name – Summertime from Porgy & Bess. A song Joanne performed live alongside Jools Holland on Later in October, along with the debut single from the album Dyin’ to Know.

 To see Joanne Shaw Taylor perform Dyin’ to Know on Later, Click HERE

“That was really unexpected. I was walking back from a tube station when I got the call from my manager who said you’re doing this next week to which I thought ‘oh crap!’” Joanne laughs. “I’ve been waiting years for that phone call and when it finally came through I was just so excited. It’s a huge, huge show to do and was all a bit of a whirlwind, particularly as Jools sat in and did the duet. He was really lovely and very complimentary about the music, so all in all it was a very nice, very big, bucket list tick.”

Well they say things come in threes. Earlier in 2016 Joanne had been at Glastonbury. “We’d literally just got back from a two month tour of the USA supporting Glenn Hughes, had been rehearsing with a new keyboard player, did Glastonbury, released the album and then did Jools. It was a bit of a manic period to say the least, but all good. I think I may have lived around ten years in that period though.”

And, apart from an enforced break over the Christmas period, the Joanne Shaw Taylor juggernaut has been barrelling along pretty much non-stop ever since.

“We had to slow down towards the end of the year, because I got ill. What started out as a cold turned into flu which turned into bronchitis, which then turned into pneumonia. It was a case of my doing too much, really, and we had to reschedule some dates which is never ideal either for us or the fans but couldn’t be helped. Those dates have all been played now, which has been great, but yeah things slowed down a little bit at the beginning of the year.”

With having to reschedule an almost entire European tour, the knock on effect has been a delay to recording studio album #6. “We were due to start recording in the summer but, as I say, we had to rearrange the tour so everything was sort of put on hold. We’re planning to record now in early 2018 and hopefully release this time next year. It’ll be two years on from Wild, so still in good shape and not too long between albums I don’t think.”

So is the aim an album a year then? “It isn’t for me, although there are those who disagree,” Joanne laughed, somewhat mischievously it has to be said. “I think eighteen months to two years is perfect just in terms of the writing if nothing else. I’m not Bob Dylan. I just can’t knock songs out because, essentially, I’m a guitarist and singer. I love the writing aspect but coming up with fifteen or so original songs  once every eighteen months is more than enough to keep me happy, frankly.”

“I’m also very aware of saturating the market. The last thing I want is people to start thinking: ‘Oh bloody hell, another Joanne Shaw Taylor album!’ and for people to grow tired of it all. That’s something Adele does very well. She’ll put an album out once every three years, tour it then disappear until the next one so people don’t grow sick of her, which I think is a nice way of doing it. Hopefully by the time the new album comes around, people will be ready for some new material.”

Joanne returns to touring on Friday, with four dates in Holland then a whole raft of gigs in the UK to follow which takes her – and her band – on the road until early December. In light of falling ill through taking too much on, keeping an eye on healthily maintaining energy levels is important.

“I have a very good vitamin regime, which always helps, and I just love playing live and touring! I’ve had a fair amount of time off this year which has seen me play in Europe more in blocks and at one-off festivals more and more. That’s meant I’ve been able to spend more time at home here in Detroit, which is good for recharging the batteries. This spell has been around three weeks, which has been lovely, but I’m itching to get back out there now because I enjoy gigging so much. It’s what I do and I’m used to it. I’ve been doing this since I was fifteen, don’t forget, so I sort of miss the pace of it all when I’m not out there playing. I guess it’s in the blood now.”

One of the highlight gigs of the year was yet another festival, this one in Warrington at the Summertime Blues Festival staged at Parr Hall. Joanne headlined the event which also saw appearances from Stevie Nimmo, Bad Touch and Xander and the Peace Pirates. In all honesty, each of the bands were superb, but JST in particular was on fire that night.

“I really enjoyed that gig. It was the first one back after a break in the US, so it was nice to get out there. It was also a bit nerve wracking so it was nice that it all turned out okay. The sound in the venue was spot on and the audience seemed really up for it, too. You can never tell what you’re going to get with an English crowd and it’s kind of make-or-break as soon as you walk onstage.”

“Sometimes they’re really rowdy and sometimes you get this sort of quiet coughing thing going on. They were well up for it in Warrington though and I guess I shouldn’t have been quite so concerned, what with it being a northern crowd who can be a little bit louder than others at the best of times. I love it all the more when the audience gets into it.”

“I didn’t get to see too much of the other guys, unfortunately. There isn’t really a side-stage where you can take in what’s going on. I did see a little bit of Stevie, who I’ve known for years and who as always was just brilliant on the night. I checked out Xander and the Peace Pirates out at the sound check though and they were just amazing.”

“My dad came along and drove me up there because, like I say, I’d only landed back in the country the day before. It was like old times, with dad chauffeuring me to gigs, which added to the event too. It was him that turned me on to Xander as well, because he really thought I ought to come out and have a listen when they were checking. I’m really pleased I did. They’re a great band with a big future for sure. I think he may well have blagged a signed album from them, too. That’s dads for you!”

That was Joanne’s last appearance in the North West but she’s set to play the New Brighton Floral Pavilion on Friday November 17th as part of a Wirral Guitar Festival week which features the likes of The Blues Band, Roy Wood, Wishbone Ash and Steve Hill.

“I don’t think I’ve played there before. I’m sure somebody will correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I have. I’m certainly looking forward to it though and I just love the fact that there are all these blues and blues-rock events and gigs popping up. It shows what a healthy place the genre is in right now.”

And to round this exceptional twelve months off nicely, Joanne and her band will be headlining the Saturday night of Planet Rockstock on December 2nd. In excess of twenty-seven bands will be performing in Trecco Bay, South Wales, across three days at one of the UKs most highly anticipated music events of the year.

An event Joanne is no stranger to.

“It’s always great and the guys at Planet Rock have always supported me and what I’ve tried to do. Every time we’ve played Rockstock it’s turned out to be the last gig of the year, like this year, and always turns into some sort of band/crew Christmas party. The last time we were there, we hired a caravan for the three days, wore dodgy Christmas jumpers and cooked the Sunday roast over a three ring cooker. It was great fun.”

Headlining an event of this size illustrates that Joanne Shaw Taylor is fast establishing herself more and more as an artist. Still, there’s no surprise in that given that – as she’s already said – she’s been around since she was fifteen, played in front of multiple thousands as part of Annie Lennox’s band at The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – a performance marked by her extended guitar solo, it should be said – and is selling albums by the bucket load wherever she goes.

There are some who could argue it has taken seventeen years for Joanne to have become an overnight success, but at the rate of knots she has managed to achieve all she has so far is down more to her skill, dedication and hard work – and the vision of those with whom she has surrounded herself – than to blind luck and being in any one particular place at any one particular time.

Let’s be fair, she’s just thirty two and was first signed a recording deal when she was fifteen years old. Seventeen years to make the mark she has in this business – and in this genre, particularly – in all but a blink of the eye is testimony in itself to her capabilities and it’s a rise she could hardly have envisaged when releasing her debut album White Sugar back in 2009.

“It is funny when you put it like that, because it seems a million years ago White Sugar was being released,” she says now. “Getting the flight to Memphis and meeting with the producers Jim Gaines and Thomas Ruf – who also backed the next two albums too, The Dirty Truth and Almost Always Never­ – seems a lifetime ago. On my first tour of the USA, I hired the van myself and drove from Detroit to Vegas, but I’m far too lazy to do that kind of thing now. All that kind of stuff, though, God knows where I got the energy to be perfectly honest. Then to think that was just eight or nine years ago is, like, wow! It’s kind of terrifying where it’s gone.”

“Similarly, some of the early gigs I had, like at Ronnie Scotts in Birmingham when I was fourteen, they seem as long ago as White Sugar. In some ways it seems like yesterday and in others a million years ago, it’s pretty weird. I think the thing to do is just take each day as it comes. You’ll get days when you’re playing standard gigs that blow your mind and others you think will be fantastic that aren’t. The thing is to appreciate them all on their own merits. Each one is an experience after all.”

So through all of this, Joanne is aware that every day brings new challenges and that through these she is constantly learning, constantly improving. “There are two major things I’ve learned since starting out and that, firstly, I’m just part of a pretty big team. Without the guys in the band, the techs, the lighting guys, the sound engineers, the record producers, the PR guys … everybody … I don’t get to do what I do. A Joanne Shaw Taylor gig or album is one massive team effort and I’m constantly aware of that and very thankful to those who help me day in and day out. in no way is this a one woman show and these are the people audiences don’t see. These guys work harder than I do, day in and day out, making sure I look and sound good on stage. Without them there is no Joanne Shaw Taylor gig.”

“The absolute biggest thing I’ve learned though is to enjoy it more. That’s particularly true since my twenties came and went, because that period of my life was a bit strange anyway;  mum passed away through cancer in 2014. So in my twenties I was dealing with helping to look after her and then dealing with her passing, so when it came around I was so focused on the job I didn’t stop and enjoy what I was doing along the way.”

“Now I realise just how fortunate I am. Yes, I do work hard and there’s a huge part of me that’s happy and proud of what I’ve achieved so far. I also realise that it’s perfectly alright for me to enjoy where I am now as well.”

“Mum got to hear my first three albums. She also saw the Diamond Jubilee gig on The Mall in 2012. Brian May on the roof and all that stuff. One thing I do wish she’d seen though was Jools Holland. That was the big one. That show was such a big part of my upbringing, particularly the Hootenanny on New Year’s Eve.”

“When you’re a kid living in Solihull, when there was no internet and had to cycle into Birmingham to buy a CD, Later was always the highlight of the week and gave great exposure to the likes of Bonnie Rait, BB King, Bo Diddley and whoever else has inspired me. Through seeing them on Later, with my mum beside me on the sofa, it gave me the chance to witness the very best performances around. She also always said one day it’d be me, so when I got the call it was just like ‘Yeah, mum. You were right.’”

“The first thing I did when I found out was buy a bottle of champagne and walked round to dad’s house. Of course he didn’t know and in that second that I walked in, clutching this bottle of Moet or whatever it was, he must’ve been thinking right across the extremes. When I told him I’d got a gig on Jools Holland, he became very excited then, after a while a bit tearful because he knew what it would have meant to mum.”

“I was given a +1 for the show, so I took dad on the absolute binding condition he stood nowhere me when I was playing. He still looks at me as though I’m that thirteen year old kid and panics my string will snap mid-song. I have to remind him I have guitar techs who’ll sort that for me now, so I said look, you can come but just stand somewhere I can’t see you and if I do happen to see you, you’d better be smiling.”

“But really that’s the biggest lesson anyone can learn in this business, I think. Without getting all pious or preachy, we’re very fortunate to be able to do what we love to do, and to be able do it for a living. None of us should take that or anything else for granted, because we don’t know how long any of it will last.”

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Joanne Shaw Taylor will be at The Floral Pavilion New Brighton on Friday November 17.

Click HERE for Tickets

Joanne will then be on tour through the UK. Click HERE for tickets.

Order Joanne’s latest album, Wild, Below