This week has seen the only 2014 tour dates in the UK of folk balladeer Joan Baez, someone I have admired for a long time but never seen live until last night. The famous voice might have deepened and lost a bit of its power, but with her accompanists (Dirk Powell on guitars and squeezebox, her son Gabe Harris on percussion, and singer Grace Stumberg) she still manages to weave a powerful piece of magic with songs such as ‘Farewell, Angelina’, ‘Handsome Molly’, ‘God is God’, ‘Imagine’, ‘Catch the Wind’, ‘La Llorona’, ‘Joe Hill’, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’, and others.
Baez has always been involved in political causes, and these were mentioned in passing, along with her participation at the legendary Woodstock festival (‘hundreds of years ago’). The passage of time, too, was noted in her song about her relationship with Bob Dylan, ‘Diamonds and Rust’, where ‘ten years ago’ has now become ‘fifty years ago’. A solo rendition of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ was quietly touching, as was a duet with Stumberg (‘Just The Way You Are’). In the true folk tradition ‘Lily of the West’ and ‘The House Carpenter’ were welcome guests, while ‘Give Me Cornbread When I’m Hungry’ picked up the pace a little, and ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ gave new life to a song which can sometimes be described as over-familiar.
‘Forever Young’ and ‘Gracias a la Vida’ closed a pleasing set, which had been friendly, intimate, and truly enjoyable.