There have been few rises more meteoric than that of blues star Jo Harman’s. Born and raised in Devon, Jo took time out to travel India following the sad passing of her father; partly to recover from the loss and partly to hone her music. Despite the sadness, it proved to be an inspired move.
In 2011 Jo began attending The Brighton Institute of Modern Music and in 2013 released her highly acclaimed, debut studio album, Dirt On My Tongue, which went on to win seven nominations at The British Blues Awards.
In February 2017, Jo’s second studio album People We Become hit the shelves, which has again received wild enthusiasm from critics and fans alike. Produced by the legendary Fred Mollin and engineered Dave Solley, the album was recorded in Nashville and has seen luminaries such as Huey Morgan of the Fun Loving Criminals saying on his BBC Radio 2 show: ‘Sometimes you hear a voice that leaves you speechless!’
“We’ve had some amazing reviews from people who really seem to get it,” Jo said recently. “I never set out with what other people might say in mind, but rather just make music for myself, so if other people get what it is your doing then it’s always great.”
Silky smooth and exquisitely produced, Jo Harman has delivered a tour de force that sets her creative bar – and that of her peers – unbelievably high for future projects. The album has a beautifully crafted and deliciously rounded feel which is at once very big and natural, yet intimate.
“One of the main reasons I wanted to work with Fred was that he seemed to understand what I wanted to do and knew I wanted to make a Jo Harman record. I didn’t want a producer who would come in and change what I had in mind for the album, but who would instead add to the vision I had; somebody to help support the vision. The kind of music I like to listen to is kind of timeless, sincere and heartfelt, which is the feeling I wanted to get across on People We Become.”
The album was also quite tricky to make. “Obviously travelling to Nashville to record it and to do it in such a short time when compared to Dirt on My Tongue, were challenges that needed to be overcome and I think I had around three emotional breakdowns,” Jo laughed.
“Having a shorter timescale can be a double-edged sword. You can’t hang around making decisions about this, that or the other and you just have to plough on. Yes you really do need to get shit done so it acts as a motivator, but the stress factor is increased which means you have to find a way to live with what you’re doing in quite a short space of time. So it’s got its ups and downs, like anything I guess.”
Some of the songs are massive in their sound, with The Reformation being just one example.
“Most of what you hear on the album was already in place before we got to Nashville and Fred’s just added his magic sparkle. Lend Me Your Love and Silhouettes of You are pretty big with regards to sound, too, with lots of different layers. A lot of the arrangements were pretty much fully formed before we started, so it was more about enhancing what I’d already done. ”
“Dave Solley, too, is just a fantastic engineer and his contribution in mixing the finished album has been incredible.”
“Those bigger songs are quite anthemic and it’s hard to reproduce what’s on the record. Nevertheless they’re still a lot of fun to perform and they’re going down well when we sing them live.”
Jo’s style is very definitely her own and one that is quite unique. However when reviewing the album, little reminders of early Elkie Brooks and, perhaps because of the piano, Beverly Craven crept out. My bad, apparently!
“I didn’t listen to either Elkie or Beverly, I’m afraid, but my manager’s brother is going out with Beverly! I was much more into Aeretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin.”
“My father absolutely adored music and had a huge record collection which I would listen to. The Moody Blues were his favourite band, but he also loved David Bowie and The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. None of my family are particularly musical – oh, my granddad used to play the cornet, if that counts? – but I was just always very drawn towards music when I was growing up. I was playing instruments in school from the age of eight or so and got into the classical thing early on. Then as a teenager I’d write songs with my friends. I surrounded myself with music from a very young age, but didn’t necessarily play musically to any great extent.”
Jo plays The North Wales Blues & Soul Festival in Mold, Flintshire, this weekend, headlining the closing day with the likes of Stevie Nimmo, John Verity and Greg Coulson also appearing; a performance not to be missed if that which went viral over the internet is anything to go by. Nearly 50 thousand views and hundreds of shares were recorded in less than 48 hours. Even Rag N Bone man shared the performance.
“I’m really looking forward to the festival, it should be great fun, and I hope to be able to see some of the other guys who are performing as well. It isn’t always the case that I get the chance and it depends on where we have to be next, whether we’re staying … and how hungry we are; if it works out nicely then yes, great, but as a fan. As a musician, you’re always looking at it from a more professional level, maybe, but first and foremost it’s for the music.”
“As for the video, well, it was really cool if a little bit nuts! It was filmed at the Ribs & Blues Festival in Raalte, Netherlands, a brilliant free festival held back in June in the town centre. We randomly placed Papa Was A Rolling Stone into the set at the last minute. I’m nothing like as much of a control freak when we’re playing live as I am when it comes to recording and like to be pretty spontaneous on stage, which is helped by the fact I have such fantastic musicians up there with me.”
“I don’t think you can tell, but I was actually reading the lyrics from the floor, but I’m pretty good at covering stuff like that up! I was checking out the lyrics because I still can’t get my head around them, even though we’ve played it a few times now; it’s more of a rap than anything. It’s always good to spice things up, though, and I like my shows to keep fresh.”
Keeping things fresh is another beauty of the new album. One of the tracks on People We Become is When We Were Young, recorded with Michael MacDonald.
“Fred was kind of the intermediary in setting it up, but it wasn’t a contrived thing to have Michael involved. It was a really, really amazing experience working with him though and I think the song absolutely works.”
“I recorded a cover version of one of Michael’s songs a couple of years ago. Then, when I met Fred, who is good friends with Michael, it sort of established a happy connection. Fred sent him my version of I Can Let Go Now and we just corresponded for awhile. I can’t tell you how incredibly warm and supportive he is and to have such an absolute bloody legend on my album is just, well, amazing really!”
Jo Harman’s album, People We Become is available now. http://joharman.com
Jo will be appearing at The North Wales Blues & Soul Festival, Mold, Flintshire, on Sunday August 6th. For details: http://www.nwbluesandsoul.co.uk