THIRTY five long years have passed since the Communards had chart success with ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’. It was the best-selling single of 1986 by a country mile (one of my all-time favourites) and rightly so.
Thankfully, both Jimmy Somerville and Sarah Jane Morris, comrades in arms at the Communards, have continued to enjoy musical success, albeit independently. Both are still making albums (Morris more so than Somerville) and occasionally they hook up to remind the world of the great music they once created.
On Thursday, at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, Morris proved yet again that her deep soul-searching voice – supported by an overwhelming passion and thrilling stage presence – will always captivate audiences. It reaches depths that other musicians will never reach in a multitude of lifetimes. It’s the musical equivalent of floating on the Dead Sea.
Occasionally, her vocal range sends shivers through tired bones and tingles nerve endings. All rather stimulating. All quite joyous to experience. The show (the first of four over the course of two nights) also highlighted the fact that despite gently hitting her 60s, she never stops experimenting. Morris is like a torch that refuses to burn out. Indeed, she continues to shine brightly. As the Bangles would say: an eternal flame.
Thrillingly, Morris is constantly reinventing herself. Constantly acknowledging some of the musical greats (the likes of Janis Joplin and John Martyn). Constantly making music, assisted by Tony Remy (her right hand man who manages to make a guitar purr) and Martyn Baker ( a drummer extraordinaire). Both were on stage with her at Ronnie’s, joined by Henry Thomas on bass guitar (wow) and Marcus Bonfanti (guitar) – the ‘youngster’ who can also play a bit (another wow).
Morris’s 13-strong set highlighted her versatility. There were extraordinary covers (versions) of some of the vast – and wonderful – music that John Martyn created in a shortened life riddled by drug and alcohol abuse. Songs that feature on the widely acclaimed album Sweet Little Mystery, a joint project between Morris and Remy.
So the audience were treated to the likes of Couldn’t Love You More which set an upbeat tone early on for the night; Head and Heart (Morris’s favourite Martyn song): and One World (littered with lyrics that apply to the strange times we live in – ‘it’s one world like it or not’.) Fairy Tale Lullaby (the opener) and Over The Hill were also rapturously received.
There were also a couple of songs from her latest album, Let The Music Play, made with Italian producer Papik – Todd Rundgren’s Hello It’s Me and a captivating Lovely Day (Billy Withers) which was one of the night’s highlights. By the way, Morris is hugely popular in Italy.
With Feel The Love (opening track on album Bloody Rain), a work in progress song about Janis Joplin (written in lockdown), and Love And Pain (all about divorce), there was just time for a triumphant finale – John Martyn’s Don’t Want to Know (‘bout Evil).. ‘I only want to know about love.’ ‘A positive to take home with you,’ she said. Too right.
With Morris doing two shows on Thursday and Friday night, it was still light outside when the first of the four finished. ‘We should be having cream teas, not enjoying dirty blues,’ she joked as she finished her set.
With 27 years of headlining at Ronnie Scott’s, Morris is ingrained in the jazz club’s DNA. ‘Keep music live,’ she pleaded as she walked off stage to a standing ovation. Absolutely. Watching Morris live is one of life’s pleasures. Put it on your bucket list.