Joss Stone - Manchester Apollo - 12.12.05

London may be burning, but Manchester had it's own pint sized inferno tonight as Joss Stone emptied the Manchester Apollo with wailing fire engines rushing to the venue. The reasons for the evacuation are unclear at the time of going to press, but it certainly provided a lot more excitement than opening act Mattafix who sounded like a contrived mix of Morcheeba and Finlay Quaye.

The story of Joss Stone's rise is one at odds with the current X Factorization of pop, but at the same time it's proof that out of the humblest beginnings a real talent can be found in the strangest of places, well Devon to be exact. Found at a tender age on a TV Talent show rather than be forced to sings Westlife off-cuts she was given the chance to work with Betty Wright and the legends of the soul scene on "Original Soul Sessions", a collection of covers designed to bring these lost classics to a wider market and at the same time launch the vocal talent of stone that defied both her upbringing and age.

Stone is a very British Diva whose vocal acrobats would normally be associated with a Mariah-sized strop, but this Devon gal is still struck by the wonderment at the reception she receives 2 albums into her career. At the start of "The Chokin' Kind" the fits of giggles get the better of her and she struggles to contain herself. That's ultimately her appeal, she can sing songs of heartbreak and loss but she comes with a blank canvass, just an ordinary girl without the troubled upbringing of the soul singers she emulates.

Tonight is brief, but fabulous mixture of the "Original Soul Sessions" and "Mind, Body & Soul" albums with "Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin Me?)" segueing into The White Stripes cover "Fell In Love With A Boy". Although her vocals always defied her age, she's now grown from a young girl into a woman and her vocals are infused with a husky smokiness that add a real passion to the songs. There's also an added resonance to the slower ballads such "Victim Of A Foolish Heart" and "Right To Be Wrong" now that she's gone through the experience of love and loss with Beau Dozier. It's this loss that doesn't go amiss as she introduces "You Had Me" as "a song for my girls...whether you're 5, 15 or 50 there's always that guy who's an asshole, but still love him".

After an unnecessary 20 minute instrumental workout through "Some Kind Of Wonderful" Joss leaves the stage to return for an unexpected patronage to local lad Morrissey. Covering David Bowie's "Under Pressure" she flails around the stage handing out flowers to the baying audience perhaps blissfully unaware of the image that portrays in Manchester.

There are few artists that match up to Joss Stone's vocal talent in the past 30 years and tonight was proof that as well as being able to sing classic soul songs with the passion of the original singers, her own material stands strong alongside side it. Not only that she's a compelling performer who's impossible to ignore and impossible to dislike. Joss Stone is testament to the fact that however you discover the talent if you truly harness it with the right people and vision they can become a truly outstanding artist.

Alex McCann

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