REVIEW – Sally Barker @ Town Hall, Devizes – Saturday 13th November 2021

Joni & Sandy at Devizes Arts Festival

Andy Fawthrop

The Devizes Arts Festival continues!  Following Thursday night’s bash at The Corn Exchange with Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, it was time for my second event in DAF’s mini-programme.  This meant a change of both venue and of genre – this time it was folk music at The Town Hall.….

Sally Barker has been around the folk scene for decades, working solo, in duets and various collaborations/ groups (The Poozies, the reformed Fotheringay, The Sandy Denny Project).  She has toured extensively, and played as support act to most of the UK’s folk aristocracy at one time or another (Steeleye Span, Gordon Giltrap, Roy Harper, Richard Thompson, Taj Mahal, Richard Digance, Fairport Convention, Bob Dylan, Robert Plant).  More recently, in ‘The Voice UK’, she was Tom Jones’ finalist on the BBC TV programme in 2014, reducing Sir Tom, and viewers alike, to tears with her flawless performances.

Her focus for much of this time was on singing her own material, but in more recent years (for a variety of reasons), she has tended to focus on playing and interpreting the songs of both Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny.

And thus it was we got the show entitled “Joni, Sandy and me”, wherein Sally gave us many of the songs of those two fabulous (but very different) famous female artistes.  Sally herself summed up the distinction between the styles of the two songwriters early on her show.  Denny, she said, tended to use “closed lyrics” and “subterfuge” (where you had to look carefully beneath the obvious words to find out what she was really saying), whereas Mitchell was much more like a painter (where the use of bold colours and images made the meaning much clearer).

Aside from the between-song commentary on the style and historical background of the two singers, Sally illustrated what she was saying by singing the songs themselves.  I was impressed by the way she switched easily between Joni and Sandy, her voice conveying just the right level of emotion, vulnerability and fragility in each song.  Some numbers were delivered (to my ears at least) as straight and faithful copies of the songs as I remembered them, whereas others were subjected to much more in the way of re-interpretation.  Either way, it worked for me – Dandy and Joni are two of my favourite artists, and there was absolutely nothing here to spoil it for me.

For this show (compared to the recent WHO offering in the same room) the lighting was much better, highlighting the artist on stage and dimming the background for the audience.  The sound, good when it was working, suffered a number of glitches which were annoying.  The room was at best two-thirds full, and I can’t help thinking that it might have been sold out if there been a little bit more in the way of advertising by DAF.  But that’s a minor quibble – overall an enjoyable and well-received performance. 

Devizes Arts Festival continues for the next week, with a large range of events, including several fringe (free!) events at various venues around the town.  See www.devizesartsfestival.org.uk/ for further details and booking information.  Of particular note will be a rousing finale dance night with Motown Gold this coming Friday 19th November.  Some tickets still available.


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