PEOPLE of a certain age may remember Sarah Jane Morris for being the counterpoint to Jimmy Sommerville in the Communards. Jimmy’s falsetto, Sarah’s contralto. Many will not.
More Jimmy, Jimmy (Undertones), not Sarah, Sarah.
Yet since those hedonistic days in the 1980s, Sarah Jane has become a tour de force on the live music scene. The contralto is as low – and goose pimple inducing – as ever – but Sarah has matured like a good bottle of red. The result is a book of music steeped in her personal history.
And what a life she has led. A father who went to prison and served tea to the Birmingham Six. A mother who lovingly brought up six sons and Sarah Jane against a backdrop of borderline poverty. And a 25 year marriage to a member of the mad cap Pogues. It is a miracle she is still around to tell the tale.
Now happily remarried to Mark Pulsford (a successful artist), Sarah Jane is producing some of the best music of her career as evidenced by albums Bloody Rain (2014) and last year’s Compared to What.
Music framed by her past. The breakup of her first marriage, the love for her mother – now sadly deceased – and the spark that Mark has lit in her life.
Also, music that portrays her passions. And boy does Sarah Jane have stirring (and strident) beliefs – whether it is railing against sexual abuse and the treatment of refugees, standing up for teachers or being a loud voice for social justice. She is a staunch remainer and a vehement critic of the Conservative Government.
When Sarah Jane sings live, all these passions bubble to the surface. You certainly do not leave one of her concerts without knowing where she stands politically.
Irrespective of this sermonising, Sarah Jane is a class live act as evidenced by her recent two night stint at Crazy Coqs, based at the Brasserie Zedel, a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus and Eros.
Performing with guitarist Antonio Forcione – with whom she co-wrote the music and words to Compared to What – Sarah Jane produced a spellbinding 13-song set, climaxing in a magisterial version of Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind.
With Sarah Jane on stage, there is no holding back. Most of her songs are introduced with a preamble – whether it is confirming her love for Mark (Northern Light), telling us about a friend who imagines a relationship with most men she sees (Awestruck) or the plight of sex workers (Comfort Zone).
These songs are then intermittently sprinkled with sublime cover versions – Stevie Wonder’s Superstition (which she introduces by talking about red heads – she is one – being burnt at the stake for their peculiar oddities) and the Police’s Message in a Bottle.
And Antonio, quite rightly, is given his moment in the spotlight with an amusing version of Henry Mancini’s The Cool Cat where the audience is asked to imagine that there is a drummer playing alongside him. It was rapturously received as was the mastery of his guitar throughout the set.
Sarah Jane wears her heart on her sleeve. One moment, giving her support for Bob Crow (now deceased), the next berating Theresa May while then thanking the audience for supporting the cash strapped arts.
Granted, it is not everyone’s glass of Prosecco – two women sitting at the same table as I was walked out half-way through as a result of her politicising with one of them proclaiming ‘I’ll kill myself if I stay any longer’.
But they were the evening’s ultimate – and emphatic – losers. Sarah Jane and Antonio were rapturously received at the end of the 80 minute set. And quite rightly so.
Compared to most live acts doing the circuit, Sarah Jane and Antonio are incomparable.
Compared to What? Compared to the very best.
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