Big Joanie concluded their UK tour with a sold-out show at Manchester's Deaf Institute on Tuesday night in support of last year's second album Back Home. The Black Feminist Sistah Punk quartet ensured their messages of inclusion and empowerment were conveyed to a receptive crowd. Support came from GHUM and Chemtrails who impressed the audience with their sets.
Chemtrails open the evening and there's already a healthy crowd in for the now five-piece line-up. Focused around the dual lead vocals of Mia and Laura. It's a rarely used approach to have two leads singing concurrently and with very different vocal styles it works exceptionally well giving power and punch to accompany the heavier moments in the set and depth to the parts where the melodies become central. Musically unwilling to stay still their set is varied in pace and draws the audience in as it progresses, the energy on stage transmitting outwards across the Deaf's dance floor. They finish with their most recent single Eternal Shame, hopefully a preview of their third album that should hopefully see them headlining rooms like this.
It's three years since we last saw GHUM and in that time they've released their debut album Bitter and the set pulls heavily from that including the Spanish language song Perro. The audience may not understand the words of that particular track but the intensity of the performance, like the rest of the set, leaves no doubt as to the cathartic power of their art. The four-piece sound like a finely-honed machine musically, locked in together as the best bands do, with Laura at the front a firebrand leader giving them an edge and an unpredictability, hair flying around and living every single word she's singing but like our headliners, they're very much a gang that have fought hard and fast to get to this point. The now packed room love them.
Big Joanie are an irresistible force of nature, the sheer weight of goodwill from the floor to the stage a sign of how far they've taken on the system and the business in the ten years since they've formed and won. Proudly declaring themselves a "black feminist punk band" but also reminding us that the solutions to and benefits of eradicating racism and sexism ultimately make the world a better place for all of us, their message is a powerful one for everyone to listen to and a reminder that the keys to the door of rock and roll aren't solely held by white men and dictated to by those in high-up industry positions. In wider social perspectives, Chardine urges us all to join a trade union and to fight for our rights and a fair deal and to take the power back from the politicians.
Musically, the punk categorisation doesn't really do the variety of their sound justice in the live arena. Some of the songs have far too much rhythm and too many grooves for that. When guitars and drums are swapped for synths and drum pad in particular, the songs move from rock and roll through R&B and dance flavours to soul, aided by the richness in Stephanie's vocals, Estella's softer harmonies and the harder edge in Chardine's backing vocals. It's a rich mix that makes trying to pigeonhole them a fruitless exercise.
The set draws heavily from last year's album Back Home with ten of the thirteen tracks drawn from it with the addition of Fall Asleep and It's You, which ends the main part of the set and teasingly dedicated to "men who are shit in bed" with encouragement to learn and get better as well as their cover of Solange's Cranes In The Sky. Chardine explains to us at the end that the cover was specifically chosen because the vulnerability of the song was a very powerful message to them to ensure that they express that side of their characters, and that it's perfectly OK to not be outwardly strong all the time. These songs and the struggles represented in them are part of being human and real - and Big Joanie cover all the emotions and experiences, good and bad, highs and lows, that if people can't relate to them from their own lived situations, can at least understand them. They make the connections that only music can often do.