Joan Baez in Manchester

Joan Baez 9

I’d heard the Johnny Cash joke before, but it’s good enough to repeat a few times. Joan Baez at the Bridgewater Hall last night was as wonderful as we’d expected. Joan started by pointing out that it’s now 50 years since she began singing in public, and she’s a little surprised that we still come to hear her sing. Nothing surprising about that, Joan, but count me out from having been a fan that long. I’m just not old enough, and I can’t often say that these days.

In the early seventies it was a given thing to be a Joan Baez fan. It went with all the political stuff at the time, when we were all hopeful it would get better fairly soon. Well, Joan is still singing, and things are different, but not as good as we’d hoped. Christmas in Washington came early in the concert, and feels very relevant right now with the Presidential election and everything. The Swede in me likes the reference to Joe Hill, and for good measure we then got the Joe Hill song immediately after.

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The musicians on this tour are brand new, but they seemed to have things under control, with the possible exception of Joan’s guitar tuning which needed some assistance. She also had one false start, but is so professional that she just laughed and started again. Most other singers let their background musicians take over with a few instrumentals, while they rest their voice. Joan lets the boys rest, while she sings on on her own. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is magical done by Joan. Not everyone sounds good without backing, but Joan very definitely does.

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Not having an interval, now that the audiences who have hung around for the last 50 years have got older, could be worth reconsidering. I heard one man explaining his weak bladder to the door attendant…  Joan, on the other hand, drank from spotted mugs, which got replaced throughout the concert. Tea?

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“Old age” for Joan means that she still sings ballads, but they no longer have to be sad or have someone dying in them. Her new ballad was a happy one. And the fans are not all old. One very young man approached her halfway through by coming up to the stage and giving her a present, and receiving a kiss in return. Must remember that for future concerts.

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Another joke, about yoghurt this time. What’s the difference between Turkish yoghurt and America? The yoghurt has a living culture. Well, yes, but while America has Joan Baez, there is hope. She finished far too early, with Jerusalem, which just makes me want to stand up and sing. And no, it’s not that Jerusalem, from the proms.

Joan Baez 6

Two extra songs; Imagine, followed by The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Straight back to my teens with that one. Come back soon, Joan.

Meanwhile, check out her website, which is one of the best I’ve seen.

(All photos by H Giles)

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4 responses to “Joan Baez in Manchester

  1. I was bitterly disappointed by this concert for several reasons: the sound engineer had got the balance wrong so the instruments drowned Joan’s voice; the incessant guitar tuning got more and more irritating; and we were home and in bed by 22:10! I’m not a JB fan but when we saw her in 2006 (my first), I had a great time. This time the tickets were a b’day present for my OH, who is a fan, but I feel I wasted my money on a shoddy expensive present I can’t return. I know and her fan base are getting on a bit – but a concert that finishes at 21:00! I didn’t feel as though I’d had a night out. Joan solo was great, but how come London got Thea Gilmore as well

  2. I don’t agree with you about the instruments, but that could be a simple matter of taste, or even sitting somewhere different from you. The tuning was a little weird, but I prefer people to fumble sometimes, rather than too much perfection.

    Like you, I’d have loved an extra half hour. The drawback with having someone else as well, though, tends to be that not only do you have to sit through someone you may not be so keen on, but it’s seen as an invitation for the main act to be shorter still. Many years ago I went to a concert where the audience got so impatient with the one who went first, that they booed him. He departed very upset (he was a big name), and I’ve always felt a bit ashamed, even though it wasn’t me who did the booing.

  3. Did you see the editorial about Baez in the Guardian a few days ago?

  4. Yes, I did. I’m glad to see them writing about her, because Joan Baez is more than just an entertainer. And I don’t know why, but I tend to bracket her with Sara Paretsky. I suppose they are both influential ladies with sensible opinions, who use their singing and writing to spread their thoughts on the state of things.

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