LIKE a good port, songstress Sarah Jane Morris ages quite magnificently. The equivalent of a Cockburn’s vintage port, but gorgeous on the ear rather than on the throat.
Although it is more than 30 years since Morris was helping The Communards to chart success, her voice remains extraordinary, reaching depths that few others dare plunge to. A born entertainer – on occasion self-deprecating – who knows herself and continues to experiment musically, often to thrilling effect.
She is both passionate and compassionate, never failing to let her audience know where she stands on women’s rights, the plight of people fleeing from despot regimes, and Brexit (vehemently anti).
Ending a three-night residency at Ronnie Scott’s (London) on Wednesday January 9, Morris yet again demonstrated her versatility as she applied her magic dust to the music and lyrics of the late great John Martyn who died 10 years ago. A project that has already spawned a five track EP (Sweet Little Mystery) and that come May 14 will see a full blown LP launched at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London. Indeed, the remaining tracks will be laid down this month.
Morris aficionados will know that one of her long standing signature tunes has been Martyn’s I Don’t Wanna Know ‘Bout Evil. At Ronnie Scott’s she did not let them down as she completed her set with a rousing, all embracing version of the song, the audience up off their seats to sing and clap along.
But it was the tenderness and originality of Morris’s interpretations of other Martyn classics that made the hairs on the back of the neck tingle as if a gentle and warm electric current had been mysteriously applied by Ronnie Scott’s attentive staff.
‘Martyn was an outsider, a non-conformist,’ she said in paying homage to the great man. ‘A bit like me.’ Yes, but Morris is not self-destructive although having been married for a while to a member of the Pogues, she has viewed similar behaviour from close up.
Some of the covers were sublime. An aching version of Solid Air (‘one of the hardest songs to cover’), an upbeat Head And Heart and a sensual I Couldn’t Love You More – a song given added zest by super backing vocals from son Otis Jack Coulter and Lilybud (Elizabeth Dearsley). Call Me was zany (Morris is rather good at zany) while May You Never was dedicated to Mark Thomas who will be directing the Sweet Little Mystery show in May (showcasing the new LP).
Martyn’s music was interspersed with an imaginative cover of John Lennon’s Imagine (no war in my name, just peace in my name, just love in my name) and Jimi Hendrix’s Up From The Skies. There were also tracks from Morris’s exceptional 2014 album Bloody Rain (Feel The Love) and 1995 album Blue Valentine (Fragile). There was even a brief throwback to the disco sounds of the mid 1980s with a thrilling version of The Communards’ Don’t Leave Me This Way. Pulsating. Dance inducing. Hip rolling.
Magnificent support was provided by guitarists Dominic Miller (Sting et al), Tony Remy (Morris’s right hand man) and Tim Cansfield (super vocals on Piece Of My Heart) and Henry Thomas (bass) – with Martyn Barker performing with his usual aplomb on drums and percussion.
Backing vocals, led by the effervescent Lilybud (a voice with a great future) and ably supported by Otis Jack Coulter and Jasper Hill, enriched rather than detracted. Young, happy to be on stage, and darn good.
This was a night to remember. An evening when Morris bared her soul. A songstress bang on form.
More Cockburn’s vintage port please. Rock on May 14.