On the same night as the BBC Question Time leaders’ special during which the country’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson was not only challenged on racism but also refused to apologise for his having used racist and homophobic language in his newspaper columns in the past, it seems entirely fitting to be catching Big Joanie. The self-defined Black Feminist Sistah Punk trio are strident campaigners for the empowerment of black people from both within and beyond the LBGQT+ community. And through the strength of their political beliefs, words and music they are bringing to us the most powerful of messages, embracing difference and promoting inclusion.
On this their biggest headline tour of the UK and Ireland to date and with a general election now less than three weeks away, Big Joanie – Chardine Taylor-Stone (drums), Estella Adeyeri (bass), and Stephanie Phillips (guitar and vocals) – are also encouraging people to register to vote (if they haven’t done so already) and when they have done to then put their cross against their local Labour candidate’s name in the ballot box come the 12th of December. Taylor-Stone rightly fears that we are “approaching a fork in the road and if we go down the wrong path we may never come back.”
Big Joanie’s music is a stirring clarion call for positive action. They harness the attitudes of punk, controlled anger, and rebellion with the overwhelming spirit of community and deliver their politically-charged messages through some killer tunes that balance powerful melodic chords with deft harmonic construction.
Influences as diverse as female punk pioneers The Slits, the American guitar-playing, gospel-singing force of nature that was Sister Rosetta Tharpe, black girl groups from the 60’s such as The Crystals and The Chiffons, and the iconic R&B trio TLC from three decades later all coalesce to inform the Big Joanie sound. Their 2016 single ‘Crooked Room’ – inspired by a quote from the black American academic Melissa Harris-Perry’s book, Sister Citizen – is a sublime slice of polemic post-punk. ‘Down Down’ – like the bulk of tonight’s setlist, taken from their debut album Sistahs – is a short sharp shock of surf-rock. And that record’s lead single and tonight’s concluding ‘Fall Asleep’, with it’s fantastic ricocheting beat, is just a really great pop song.
Photos: Simon Godley