MENTION the name Joni Mitchell and many people still think of folky pop hits like Both Sides Now and Big Yellow Taxi from the Sixties and yet there was so much more to her than that. She has remained a highly influential singer-songwriter and versatile musician down the years in a whole variety of genres.
Sheffield based jazz singer Rosie Brown has long been an admirer and has devised a show exploring her music and life which is being premiered next week at the Lantern Theatre.
Where Light Falls: Songs about Joni Mitchell is the result of a collaboration with Argentinean born guitarist Alejandro Sancho and Latin Quarter lyricist, Mike Jones, which created a “rich biographical body of work in song”.
The Canadian-born artist’s music reflects her complicated personal life, says Brown. “The songs reveal the conflicts, joys and trials of this all too human musical icon from her battle with childhood illness to the baby she gave up for adoption. We looked at the love she walked away from to fulfil her artistic dreams, her life as a painter and her conflicts with fame.
“I was interested in female artists who were bucking the trend of singing limpid love songs and Joni was a pioneer; she is an inspiration to me as she spans both the jazz and pop worlds’ and gains respect from both. She was also one of the first women to write with a confessional voice and created a new emotional vocabulary for pop music.”
And yet Mitchell found it hard to move on from the mainstream. “She was pigeon-holed as a singer-songwriter and when she moved into jazz and fusion she paid a huge price,” says Brown who has researched her idol’s life and music intensely. Fans and the media gave her a hard time – “Rolling Stone once printed an underground map of all her lovers” – but she was welcomed by musicians, collaborating with jazz luminaries such as Jaco Pastorius Pat Metheny and Charlie Mingus with whom she wrote lyrics to his music.
“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is a killer of a tune to play and her words are phenomenal,” says Brown. “They are full of metaphors and she wrote in a cinematic style,” observes the singer.
Where Light Falls is not a concert of covers, nor is it a biography, Brown stresses. “We play these songs and in between I will explain the background. It’s a real show, though, Simon Gedge has designed a backdrop and we’ve also had design input from Lali Abril in Barcelona.”
That underlines the international element of the collaboration. Composer Sancho is now based in Copehangen and so a lot of work was done via email and Skype and it was necessary for Brown to go Denmark to make the original demos.
As to the whole work process, she explains: “Mike and I would map out the themes together and he would go and write lyrics and I work on the music, writing a few melodies, and then work with Alejandro once we had the lyrics. It was very much a collaboration.”
Where Light Falls: Songs about Joni Mitchell premieres at the Lantern Theatre on Friday March 9, and Saturday before moving to The Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool on the Sunday.
Rosie Brown will be accompanied by Jamie Taylor on guitar, Richard Hammond on bass, Simon Stafford on keys and Canadian Katie Patterson on drums