Interview: Jo Harman. Dirt On My Tongue.

Jo Harman is supremely confident. She has a recently released debut album intriguingly entitled Dirt on My Tongue which has already sent reverbs through the music industry. One of Harman’s unique traits is her ability to sing in many styles, daring to take on the traditional aspects of roots music even before the days of Blues and Soul and entering into the rarely visited territory of Gospel.

Jo Harman and her band performing at London BluesFest 2015 at the O2 Brooklyn Bowl on 7th November 2015 (Simon Reed)

The first book of favourite Gospel Songs was published 140 years ago by Philip Bliss, laying out the form of rudimentary harmonies led by a Soprano voice and accompanied by tunes which allow the soul to loose itself in this music sung and played with repetitive chorus. With her soulful performances on both ‘I Shall Not Be Removed” and ‘Sweet Man of Moses’ Jo Harman’s songs would easily qualify for inclusion in Bliss’s classic of 1874.

Jo Harman will be one of the head line acts at the upcoming Hilton Music Festival on the weekend of August 10th and 11th in beautiful Shropshire but prior to her Arena performance at this years Cheltenham Jazz festival I engaged in conversation with Jo in order to get to find out a little more about what sits a little deeper under her skin.

When I pointed out that Jo did not seem to have a ‘Dirty Tongue’ I enquired how she came up with such a name for the album ’Well, I will let you figure that one out for yourself’.

o Harman @ Cheltenham Jazz. Photo by Tim Price.

Jo Harman @ Cheltenham Jazz. Photo by Tim Price.

Jo, this is your first album isn’t it?

Yes, this is my debut album; this is what we have been working towards for a while, what we have been building up to for a couple of years basically. I have got my head round as to who I am, bit more as an artist, I feel I have been developing up until now, we‘ve been finishing the album and now I am ready.

 Would you put yourself more in the Blues end of things or bordering on Jazz?

To be honest, I wouldn’t, I mean the blues scene has been amazing and the people in that area have been really, really supportive, honestly I cannot thank the whole blues scene enough, my songs have been played on the radio and the DJ’s, seems like we have a xylophone concert going on, ah, just wanna buy it!….(laughs as we get competition from a full blown xylophone gig being played right next to us)…..

Didn’t you support the Average White Band on their recent Tour, and how did that go? 

Yes, we supported the Average White band about a year and a half ago; yes, it was brilliant, really good but going back to your previous point, I am not jazz, I’m not out and out blues but my music is very much rooted in the Blues…..

So this album, “Dirt on my Tongue” what has inspired you to call it that because looking at you know you certainly don’t have any dirt on your tongue, do you?

No I know I haven’t, I checked this morning!…..(Laughs)…so, it’s a line from one of the songs but I’ll let you figure that one out, but the reason to give it that title we did um and ah about it for a while.

Have you written all the songs? Are they all yours?

Yes, except for ‘Fragile’, entirely, there are no covers, the songs are written by me and Mike (Mike Davies; Singer, songwriter and producer who  goes under the artist name of Mi’das) with some input from John McKenzie on bass

Is this the ‘Fragile’ song written by Sting?

No, that was written by the very cool James Maddock and he is quite wonderful. (Fragile, incidentally, is a very beautiful song, written and sung for aching hearts: ‘Fragile is a Key. Fragile is a Door where I wrote your name. A breath on the cold window, but now it’s gone’

OK, the only other Fragile I know is the classic Album by Yes, from 1971

Oh, I don’t know that one, maybe I should look it up!

Ah, that is a generation thing, but that interests me as you are very comfortable engaging with styles of music from way before you were born. Anyway, which would you say is your strongest track on the album?  I mean, the opening track “I Shall Not Be Moved” is a pretty bold statement in itself?!

I don’t like to say what I think is the strongest, what I prefer, my viewpoint on all these track changes all the time, so it depends how I’m feeling at the time, same with anything though, with any album I have listened to, my favourite songs will change over time, after a while I may get a bit bored with some of the songs that have been around for a while, but then there are new ones always developing, like on any album right?

You have a Double Bass in there with Phil?

Yes, with Phil Mulford who has been amazing, he has his own quartet and brings a lot of traditional experience.

And you have a Gospel Choir?

Yes, very Gospel, there are a couple of very Gospel infused tracks in there and a lot of me reviews compare me to a Gospel style.

Thank you Jo Harman on behalf of Rockshot 

You are welcome, I appreciate that.

Did I figure it out in the end? 

The Lyric ‘Dirt On My Tongue’ is part of a song written by Jo Harman called “Cold Heart” which is a Gospel influenced song featuring a classic Hammond organ , Harman soars and pleads ‘she does not to wait in vain’ but is always in pure harmony with the accompaniment . There is real spirit to this track which showcases exactly what this album  has in sheer abundance; passion.

When asked me to figure it out for myself, I may have found the answer: ‘Dirt On My Tongue’ is almost a musical play written by Jo Harman and her Company, a term for a band which is rarely used in today’s music world, reviving images of minstrels travelling around, spreading their own gospel, in a delightful way.

The video shows “This Is My Amnesty” played, directly after the Rockshot interview at Cheltenham Jazz to a limited audience. The song is written by Jo Harman and Mike Davies. Wearing his hallmark flat cap Davies is incredibly talented and down to earth, not only playing guitar and keyboards, but also engaging in perfect harmonies with Jo’s pitch perfect voice. Clearly, these two are only just ‘scratching the surface’ of their song writing partnership. Apologies to any Vinyl lovers out their but from time to time you need to get both your perfect albums and back scratched.

Jo is one of the headline acts at the upcoming HILTON MUSIC FESTIVAL – Shropshire’s all new festival for 2013 at Grange Fruit Farm, Hilton, and Near Bridgnorth set in the beautiful Shropshire countryside.

HILTON MUSIC FESTIVAL has grown over the months from simply an idea into a whole new festival weekend with an amazing line up of national and internationally acclaimed musicians supplemented by some of the best local talent. The original concept was to bring an eclectic mix of artists including blues, roots, jazz, acoustic, folk rock and much more to this part of the West Midlands.

Rockshot Review by Tim Price   

Interview Conducted May 2013 




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