I forgot to ask Jo Harman whether or not she has a trophy shelf, I suspect she hasn’t. But if she had she now has a new trophy to dust. Jo was voted Female Vocalist of the Year at the British Blues Awards on Sunday at the 25th Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival in Colne, Lancashire.
She was reticent to talk about the award, not because she was unappreciative but because Jo’s honest style of singing and song writing does not aim to win awards, it aims to win your heart.
Jo does not come from a long line of musicians, but her Mum knew early on that she had a singer in the family. Note I didn’t say “blues” singer. For one we don’t like putting singers in genre-boxes, nor does Ms. Harman. For two, Jo’s genre is pure Harman, albeit blues fuelled. Take her song “Sweet Man Moses”, it is gospel, plain and simple yet “Bless ma Soul” starts with a pure 60s funky riff and whether this lady has a full band behind her or just a guitar it is the voice you remember.
So did Jo spend her teenage years miming to a hairbrush? Eh, no! She was playing bassoon in a youth ensemble. Why the bassoon? Why not, it was different and her long fingers lent themselves perfectly to the instrument. It also taught her a lot about working with others in harmony.
Some think she has been an overnight success. Not so, Jo is a hard working gigging musician who has played up and down the country and across Europe. “Yeah,” she says, “who was it said it takes years of hard work to become an overnight success”!
But her debut studio album received critical acclaim not just from the music press but also the mainstream press, the Daily Mirror saying of her “On course to be the finest female soul and blues vocalist in the UK “ “Yes,” she said “it’s always a good feeling when you create something and people enjoy it and say nice things about it. Of, course a first album is relatively easy, you can do anything you want to, and people have no expectations. And in a way that makes a second album more difficult but you just have to get on with it and be true to yourself.”
Do you find it difficult being a woman in the music industry? “Yes and no. There are times when you get idiotic comments from… well, idiots. For the most part people accept me, but I have to admit, not being “another bloke with a guitar” often works in my favour!”
We then spoke about the differences between audiences in the UK and abroad. “Yes, they do differ. The Dutch are amazingly polite but they will all queue up afterwards to buy CDs. In France there is the language barrier but I can really connect with my music.”
Jo’s UK tour starts on 31st August in Surrey, you can see her in our region on 20th September at Norwich Arts Centre, tickets £12, doors 8pm