The Black feminist punk band sell out their Glasgow show.
Punk died six years ago according to Joe Corre (the late Dame Vivienne Westwood’s son). Though he lambasted its transition into a “marketing tool” used by the music industry, the success of Big Joanie’s UK headline tour – Glasgow being their 3rd sold out show – suggests a radical alternative is alive and thriving.
Big Joanie are a Black feminist punk band. Its three members – Stephanie Phillips on guitar, Chardine Taylor Stone on drums, and Estella Adeyeri on bass – charmed veggie bar-turned-gig venue Mono with an eclectic mix of songs from their recent album, Back Home, and overtly political exclamations in between. Chardine, easily the most charismatic of the three during this performance, told us that Big Joanie’s last time in this venue was to an audience of 30 people, while Glasgow as a city will always have a special place for the band both musically and politically. She explicitly mentioned The Vaselines as an influence, but her stand up drums (placed directly in between Stephanie and Estella, perhaps also a gesture of equality) nodded to The Jesus and Mary Chain, while the scattering of roses on stage referenced, even if unintentionally, Scottish post punk band The Flowers.
Opening with the folk-like Cactus Tree, as the songs in Big Joanie’s setlist developed in intensity, so did their nonchalantly warm interactions with the crowd. While Stephanie and Estella’s vocals were initially drowned out by the guitar and bass, this was quickly resolved, allowing the infectious rage of the chorus in Happier Still – a song about recovering from depression – to resonate. Big Joanie’s music is not tuneless; though the screams and screeches of It’s You encapsulate the anger typically associated with punk, Confident Man is more indie, while the synth refrains of Sainted are like those on New Order’s Substance 1987. Intense moments, with the whole crowd moving around, were fleeting and distinct enough to be memorable (closing the encore with the upbeat In My Arms was a genius move), but the highlight was easily their cover of Solange’s Cranes To The Sky: the crisp sound system allowed the dissonant harmonies of an extended instrumental to mesmerise, while noise nerds were evidently delighted with the helicopter bass at the end.
While some of Big Joanie’s music is innately political (It’s You is about the housing crisis), much of the band’s Black feminism came to the fore with their dialogue. Chardine celebrated the Scottish Parliament recently passing the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, with the audience erupting in cheers. Background chatter got the better of her emphasis on the importance of joining a union, but this was perhaps her most important interjection: while class consciousness may be inherent among some musicians, explicit references to the trade union movement are not. The room fell silent as she asked us all to look after each other, referencing the mental health and addiction crises fearlessly and openly.
Looking around at the crowd (though as my +1 pointed out, the necessity of wearing a coat for a Glasgow performance slightly obscured their outfits), the range of people in attendance was impressive. Some were expectedly clad with tattoos and leather, but there were equal numbers of old white Glaswegian men, who cheered and embraced being the subject of disdain in Confident Man. Purists may question whether the overwhelmingly laid back and positive vibes of the gig were punk at all, but speaking to Estella after the performance, she described punk as being about “DIY: so what if people aren’t going to offer spaces for us, we’ll make them ourselves”. Chardine on stage, and Estella in her remarks to The Glasgow Guardian, emphasised that people can be whatever they want to be, but instead of parroting a conservative account of individualistic success, Big Joanie create spaces that are both collectivist and enabling. The band met at one, the Black feminist organisation Imkaan, and helped organise another: the Decolonise Fest. With a lineup of support acts all headed by women of colour among a predominantly white audience, they can assuredly add their Saturday night in Glasgow to that.
Anger has its place in solidarity movements, but so does quiet confidence, aspiration and determination. Big Joanie do things their own way: they’ll call for a general strike, they’ll refuse to be cornered into one musical genre, and they’re always their authentic selves. They epitomise everything punk should be, and that should be celebrated.