Big Joanie, Central Library, Coventry, 22 October 2022
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
I’ve been to hundreds of venues in cities around the world to see bands, but I have never been to a library. To see a band, that is. I have been to an actual library.
I've not seen a band in one though. Until now. Libraries for me are sanctuaries of silence. Being shushed on one of my (to be honest rare) visits to the library at Exeter Uni stands out in my mind. I felt embarrassed and irritated. I knew I was in the wrong. But still, I hated being chastised.
But this gig means we can make as much noise as we want! The gig has been put on by the Get It Loud In Libraries campaign, putting on doorstep gigs and creative opportunities in libraries. Libraries now double up as “warm banks” to those so crippled by the current energy crisis and alongside food banks, this is the only way some people can manage. We live in terrible times, with an even more terrible government.
So it’s nice to see someone embrace some greater creative presence here tonight. Our gig this evening is set up on a small-raised stage, just in front of the graphic novels section and the science fiction range. The main act tonight is Big Joanie, a band formed some ten years ago as part of the DIY punk feminist groups that were challenging the lack of intersectionality in indie music.
With a few singles and one album under their belts, they have done well, with support from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Jack White's Third Man Records. They are now signed to US label Kill Rock Stars (home of Sleater-Kinney, Huggy Bear, The Gossip and The Decemberists) - they have come a LONG way!
We miss support Rachel Aggs, as we are catching up with friends to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and the need for beer and chatting wins. Shame on us as she is great, and the albums I have by two of her many bands (Sacred Paws and Shopping) are fabulous. However, 30 plus years of friendship wins out.
But we are prompt and front and centre for the main act. With some appropriate understatement, they take the stage (it is a library after all). But the understatement soon evaporates, as they launch into Cactus Tree, from forthcoming new album, Back Home, swiftly followed by recent single Happier Still. Both tracks belt along, sort of Nirvana meets Poly Styrene, via Courtney Barnett (who they are supporting in London next month).
Their between song banter is charming, funny, inspiring and honest - a call to arms for the DIY music they champion. They are charmingly shambolic whilst swapping instruments, self-deprecatingly mocking their clumsy "switcheroos". Lead singer Stephanie Phillips moves from lead guitar to percussion, whilst Estella Adeyeri moves from bass to lead guitar. Chardine Taylor-Stone plays drums throughout, in a Mo Tucker / Bobby Gillespie style. It's primal and effective and the strength disguises how funny she is through the between song banter.
They play a short, tight set, with Confident Man, about men who are bad in bed (which Stephanie suddenly remembers there are children in the audience and corrects herself, saying she means "pillow fights"). Sainted is an ode to spiritualism, reflecting on the need of the African diaspora to hide their own religious beliefs behind Catholic saints (Santeria and orishas). They laugh about filming the video in Tottenham, whilst trying to make the location look more glamorous and dramatic.
They cover Solange's Cranes In The Sky, a song dealing with unaddressed sadness, but played with vigour and drive. It's You is basically a "it's not me, it's you" belter - I love them.
They finish with recent single In My Arms and that's it, no encore. They don't need one, it's a taut, tight and great show. We meet a friend of my friends afterwards, who tells me that The Specials played here in 1979 (I think a balcony collapsed at that show - we are safe tonight!). He also tells me that that Chuck Berry recorded My Ding-A-Ling live here (though it turns out he's mixed this up with Lanchester Poly, now Coventry Uni).
I am interviewed by some students that are working with the Get It Loud In Libraries campaign, and I share my view of this fantastic gig, whilst bemoaning the lack of a bar! They are charming, professional and have been taking cracking pictures throughout (far better than mine, I am certain).
It's been splendid. Mrs JO'B and I will see them again on 13th November, with Courtney Barnett. And my copy of the new album is on order from the band's site (https://bigjoanie.com). Check them out if you like your music short, sweet and to the point. And sung brilliantly,