Jo Harman + Mike Farris

Saturday 5th November 2022

Jazz Café, Camden Town, London

It was a night of big voices in Camden, although sadly not all of them were confined to the stage; why do some people think live music is designed to be a background to their inane chatter? (Even the venue seems to have conceded defeat and has painted over the instruction to “STFU” which used to grace the pillar behind the stage!).

Leaving aside that gripe, it was a fine night of music which allowed me to finally hear Mike Farris in person, having been a fan since someone aware of my love for Southern Rock suggested that I should listen to the bizarrely named Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies (who featured MF as vocalist). The Wheelies had been dormant for some years until some reunion shows in the USA a few months ago (somebody book them for a UK visit!) and MF has been ploughing a rather different furrow in recent times.

Like Jo, his work can often be found in the Blues racks, whereas both of them could easily be filed under Soul instead; indeed, there’s also more than a hint of Gospel in Mike’s delivery. When I first heard his most recent album (‘Silver & Stone’, 2018), it sounded like it could have been a late 60s Stax or Hi classic.

Given that Mike was one of the overseas artists who had to abandon a UK tour and hightail it to an airport when Covid reared its ugly head, this current visit has been his first opportunity to properly promote that 2018 album; five of his first half dozen songs were taken from it (if he’d had a few copies to sell, I think they’d have flown off the merch table…).

‘Let Me Love You Baby’ and ‘Snap Your Fingers’ both featured nice solos from Stevie Watts on keyboards and Nat Martin on guitar, as Mike borrowed Jo’s band for his set; special mention also to Martin “Magic” Johnson on drums and the hugely impressive Andy Tolman on bass.

After ‘Jonah & The Whale” (from ‘Shine For All The People’, 2014), Mike returned to the latest album for three more cuts: the audience offered limited support as his choir on ‘Are You Lonely For Me Baby?’, before we were taken to church for ‘When Mavis Sings’ (a tribute to Ms. Staples, of course). ‘Tennessee Girl’ was written for Mike’s partner of 27 years; nice to know that relationships can and do survive the trials and tribulations of the music business!

To sign off the set we got a pair of covers; first up was William Bell’s 1967 Stax single ‘Every Day Will Be A Holiday’, followed by a fine version of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ ‘Swingin’ (from ‘Echo’, 1999), which fully lived up to its name.

After a short interval the band returned, this time with Jo at the helm. I’m fairly sure that ‘People We Become’ was launched at the same venue in 2017 and she chose ‘No One Left To Blame’ from that album as her opener. This was followed by my personal JH favourite, ‘(This Is My) Amnesty’ from 2013’s ‘Dirt On My Tongue’.

I first heard ‘Amnesty’ performed live at a Bluesfest at the Royal Albert Hall (a fine set which thankfully received an album release) nearly a decade ago, but hadn’t realised that, with the sole exception of Nat, the rest of the Jazz Café band had also been on that Bluesfest stage with Jo all those years ago.

Jo returned to ‘People We Become’ for her next song, although ‘Lend Me Your Love’ had previously appeared on ‘Found A Place’ in 2015. A long Stevie Watts solo on organ then introduced ‘Through The Night’, which, as far as I know, has only so far appeared on ‘Live Anthology’, a collection of recordings from 2010 to 2013.

Bass and drums then took a short breather while Jo treated us to ‘Has Anybody Seen My Boy?’, which is scheduled to be her next single. Two previous singles followed: ‘Cloudy’ from 2019, which had appeared on ‘Found A Place’ four years earlier, and ‘When We Were Young’, which originally benefitted from Michael McDonald’s additional vocals in 2017.

Jo closed out her set with ‘Say That You Want Me’, from her 2020 ‘Signature Soul’ EP, before inviting Mike back on stage to join her for the encore, which comprised radical reworkings of a pair of classics in ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (Simon and Garfunkel) and ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ (Ann Peebles).

Two fine voices and a very tight band sent everyone home smiling. More of the same please!

Setlists:

MF – Let Me Love You Baby; Snap Your Fingers; Jonah & The Whale; Are
You Lonely For Me Baby?; When Mavis Sings; Tennessee Girl; Every
Day Will Be A Holiday; Swingin’.

JH – No One Left To Blame; (This Is My) Amnesty; Lend Me Your Love;
Through The Night; Has Anybody Seen My Boy?; Cloudy; When We
Were Young; Say That You Want Me.

JH + MF – Bridge Over Troubled Water; I Can’t Stand The Rain.

Gary Smith