Jo Harman: Devon Sent
“I am gracefully coming away from the Blues thing now and going into a kind of soul…the Blues tag has been so good in so many ways but you know, I'm not a Blues artist and I think it's really important that it's now the Soul end… My music covers gospel, it covers roots, it covers country, it covers rock…for me, it's all about the songs, the songs come first because I’ve got a Soul voice, there’s kind of black influence in me, it's very much the black end of the Blues - I've got a Soul voice!”
This is not a statement from an artist who intends to bite the hand that feeds - phew! As Blues’ fans breathe a sign of relief - you will be happy to know, there is more than a decent helping Blues influence, like the word Blackpool through a stick of rock, through Jo Harman’s impending 10 track long player, “People We Become”. But I do have to echo this 32-year-old driven diva from Devon’s sentiment that it is definitely not a Blues album, per say. First and foremost, the above quote is more like a mission statement from an artist who, like most, does not like to be pigeon-holed. It also reflects the direction that Harman sees herself flying in musically and artistically, but with that said, there is absolutely no reason in my mind why her sights should not be set on crossing both Soul and Blues horizons - after all, she wouldn’t be the first.
As we commence our breezy pre-album amble, over the phone on this occasion, on a Sunday afternoon in December…Harman is as, if not more, chilled than the weather outside - relaxing at her mum’s home in Devon, ahead of her latest tour ending show that evening - a stripped back affair with just a piano for company - instead of the usual Jo Harman & Company!
I asked if the new tunes will get an airing? But Harman explains that this tour is not about showcasing her new album, although there will be the odd new track thrown in for good measure, it’s more about her constant craving to perform. “Yeah, for me, there’s nothing like getting up on stage - I think that’s the reason why I do it. I much prefer being on stage and connecting with people, in many ways, more than I do sitting on my own writing songs. That's where I get my therapy and where I find my joy in expression.” As she continues, Harman starts to refer to the process behind some of the tracks on “People We Become”. “Yes, I like to have something to say, and everything I have said on this record is from the heart and sincere and honest - it really is me in ‘every’ way, but it doesn't necessarily mean that I am feeling like that all the time. It was just my experience as myself in that hour, or that minute, or that day…things change. Things can evolve rapidly in that time. There are really sad moments and I was really sad at points writing it - I had a whole wealth of feelings as I was writing it, but for me, there really is a sense of empowerment as well and wanting the best for somebody else. Like “Changing Of The Guards”, ‘I will carry you over the low sodden ground’, it's about empowering the other person to go and do what they need to do to be happy - it does feel like bearing my soul completely.”
This statement pretty much encapsulates this whole independent offering, with a relationship break-up at its core, Harman doesn’t so much wear her heart when delivering each song as a musical chapter in her life, she tattoos it! “I know that the person that I am writing about will hear it, sometimes I worry about that a little too much…but what I did try to do is not think about them too much”. Whether you think Harman’s lyrics are brave or indeed blasé, one thing that should be applauded from the off is the fact that she is a songwriter who is laying bare her life experiences. “I think, as an artist, when you start analysing too much you become far too aware of it. In my nature, I’m the kind of person that actually shies away from dealing with stuff and I can sometimes be in denial, or I just don’t want to face what’s going on in my own life. In some ways, I find writing quite taxing…but in many ways it’s therapeutic. So for me to really, really think about why I’m doing something or why I’m writing about something, or what’s going on, is not something I generally go towards because I don't want to stop myself writing in a freer way - it’s kind of dealing with my own issues and my own psyche”.
Born in Luton, Dunstable hospital to be exact, Harman spent her infancy a few miles north of London, before a family move southwards to sunny Devon. From an early age, the music bug bit young Harman, first becoming a budding violinist, then on to become a, slightly unusual choice, bassoonist. “I was 8, I was playing the violin at the time and I tried out the bassoon…my then teacher, who would become my bassoon teacher for like, 10 years, let me try it out and I could reach all the notes - it’s quite a large instrument. Basically, I’ve got really big fingers (laughs)…I’ve got really long hands - long fingers and big hands and I always have. Inside I was a little artist and a little show-off, I wanted something unique and cool AND be the kid that was doing something that no-one else was doing.” She continues, “To be honest, I don’t know, but I probably could have done it professionally - purely on the basis of, yes I was good, but there aren’t many people who play the bassoon, there aren’t many bassoonists in the world…it’s not like playing the violin or flute or something…”
So what music was young Jo Harman into? “In my early teens I listened to, basically my dad’s record collection…The Beatles. I was obsessed with the Beatles. The (Rolling) Stones, David Bowie, Moody Blues - The Moody Blues were my Dad’s favourite, favourite band. In my early teens, I that discovered black music…I think the first black singer that I came across, that really kind of ‘floored me’, was Ella Fitzgerald. From there I listened to a lot of Jazz, but then discovered soul music and that for me was ‘everything’. Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight and Bobby Womack and Isaac Hayes and all those kind of guys – that changed everything for me completely - soul music obsessed, basically”.
Album “People We Become” and single “When We Were Young” are out February 3rd through Total Creative Freedom
You can read more from our interview with Soul/Blues goddess in the current issue of Blues & Soul Magazine - click the link below to order straight from our shop or read on for high street retailer details.
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Exeter Phoenix - Devon Feb 2 | Broadwater - Wiltshire Music Centre Feb 3 | Paradiso - Amsterdam Feb 9 | Dorchester Arts - Dorset Feb 11 | Junction 2 - Cambridge Feb 14 | Musician - Leicester Feb 16 | Jazz Cafe - London Feb 19 | Trades centre - Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire Feb 22 | Band On The Wall - Manchester Feb 23 | Brewery Arts Centre - Kendal, Cumbria Feb 24 | 1865 - Southampton, Hampshire March 3 | Apex - Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk March 9 | Joe’s Pub - New York, USA March 28 | Artrix - Bromsgrove, West Midlands March 31.
Words LEE TYLER