I was killing time before the gig in my now overly familiar pre-Grand Theatre/Howard Assembly dinner venue, Sushi Waka.
Whilst trying to decide which tasty dish to treat myself to, our star of the evening, Joan, appeared on the street corner opposite in what seemed to be the last ray of sunshine, at the end of an exceptionally hot April day in Leeds. Things became even more exciting, as sad as it may seem, when she walked through the door with two of what I assumed to be (and later confirmed) band members. I’ve only found myself in the same restaurant as a musician previously and that was Seasick Steve at the Burger King in Butlins Minehead during ATP of all things. The experience made me feel strangely connected to her and a good omen for what was to be an amazing night ahead.
The support came from Fyfe Dangerfield, the founding member of indie rockers, Guillemots, who came on stage draped in a multicoloured silk scarf that refused to stay on his shoulders; I had a sense that he felt the scarf was giving him power of some sort as he grappled to maintain its presence before finally giving up.
The Howard Assembly Room is an amazing venue: it’s renowned for its acoustics, which is a wonderful advantage, but there is a downside as often the slightest cough, shuffle or whisper from the audience resonates equally around the room. Fyfe sat for the first two tracks at the piano and instantly filled the space with a vocal which had such clarity and depth that the audience immediately responded with a respectful silence. This is no easy feat for a solo artist in that room.
As Fyfe flitted between piano and guitars, he scattered his clothes as he went, he aforementioned silk scarf joined by gorilla slippers and a dressing gown (during a dark and sad number) and then another dressing gown, this time with Marvel comic print. I think these must have been the items worn when composing the songs. The end result was a stage as messy as I imagine his bedroom floor to be. The set ended with a beautiful acoustic version of Guillemots, If The World Ends.
The main act, Joan as Police Woman, appeared on stage wearing what I would call ‘pink lady’ jackets from the film Grease, shiny 1950’s style baseball jackets, and Joan had a ‘Rizzo’ scarf tied around her neck and red knee-high boots; it was a sharp look. The set started with the first three tracks of the new album Dammed Devotion, before mixing with some older songs and styles, such as Honour My Wishes, where we started to gain a sense of the brilliantly gifted drummer Parker Kindred.
Apart from a little giggle from Joan in response to a random squeaky noise, it was a continuous flow of music until the song What Was It Like, which she introduced as being about her father who had passed and his thought-provoking question which is in the song ‘What would passing judgement on someone else do for me?’. It’s about asking him lots of questions before he died and finding out lots of stuff she didn’t know; she liked the fact that you never really understand anyone else. From this point the set was interspersed with quite a few snippets of conversation, which were all good, including at one point someone shouting ‘LEEDS’, to which she responded ‘Hell, yeh!’
There was a short interlude whilst they tried to find a misplaced tambourine, which was never found, and Joan laughed as she tried to occupy her hands in its absence, deciding to dance instead.
In all, the set was a great mix of old and new tracks as well as a perfect combination of melodic, jazzy and funky. Standouts tracks came from Silly Me and the final track before the encore was a fabulous version of The Silence, which ended in a clapping exit, all the audience joining in and maintaining the beat as the band exited one by one until it was just Parker who remained with the audience.
They came back for the obligatory encore and a couple more songs. The grand finale was an incredible cover of Kiss by Prince; which resulted in a standing ovation while the band congregated on stage to take a well-deserved bow. A
This was yet another thoroughly enjoyable evening in one of Leeds’ finest music venues.