A wee change of plan…..originally I had intended to go with a full week of guest postings reflecting on 2017, but I’m going to intersperse those that I’ve received with posts of my own as well as other guest contributions that aren’t necessarily about this past 12 months.
All of my own contributions will have one thing in common, namely that they will feature a singer or band from around these parts that I feel have provided something special in 2017.
The Just Joans are well-known to many aficionados of indie-pop; I’ve only featured them once previously within these pages, back in January 2016, when I posted a review of a live gig. As I said at the time, they have long been a very firm favourite of my dear mate and gig-going companion Aldo who fell for their charms at one of the Indietracks festivals at which the band first played as far back as 2008. I described them in my review as ‘shindie’ with the first two letters being short for shambling…..but I wasn’t using the word in any derogatory way as every one of the six members of The Just Joans is a talented musician in their own rights.
Between 2007 and 2016, they released a bunch of EPs and one album packed with knowing songs that reflect on everyday life, evoking ancient and recent memories on what makes us all laugh, cry or shake our heads in bewilderment. They are fronted vocally by the brother/sister combo of David and Katie Pope, with he being the main songwriter. They are a band who pride themselves on singing in their local dialect with many of the songs namechecking and referencing local landmarks; but somehow, while everywhere else in the world celebrates pop performers who sing in strong, local dialects, here in Scotland it is often the case that they are labelled as having some sort of lack of talent or ability, which is something that has been thrown every now and then at the Just Joans. I’ve always thought it ridiculous that lazy journalists and writers proclaim them as a novelty band, refusing point-blank to consider them as not worthy as the likes of Altered Images, BMX Bandits, Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Pulp and The Vaselines with whom some of the most obvious musical and lyrical comparisons can be drawn.
One thing, however, that I’ve always felt about the band is that they haven’t quite ever put out something that you can point to as being a definitive example of what they are all about. Every EP, and the debut album, have songs that are memorable classics in one form or other but they also all contain material that I’ve felt would have been better left behind at the demo stage rather than making it all the way onto a physical release…but their philosophy, and it is an admirable one, is that the songs, once worked into some sort of shape deserve to be shared with the public at large.
In short, they are the classic definition of a cult group who aren’t that bothered about fame and fortune, happy enough to be appreciated by a discerning but loyal fan base.
This year saw the release of their sophomore album, You Might Be Smiling Now; I was lucky enough to be handed an advance copy of the songs and so gave them a few listens while I was away on holiday last month in Lanzarote which allowed me to be more familiar with them in advance of the gig to mark the album launch back in Glasgow on 2nd December. And while I found myself thinking a couple of the songs seemed sort of unfinished, the overall impression was that this was, by far, their most mature, ambitious and worthy release thanks to a more expansive sound encompassing extensive keyboards and what sounded like the occasional use of strings and horns, while the lyrics went deeper and further into some new areas that I hadn’t previously thought they were capable of.
In short, this turned out to be the most surprising release of 2017 that has catapulted The Just Joans way up the list of enjoyable and must listen to acts to have come out of Scotland in my lifetime.
Oh, and it’s also worth saying that the album launch gig, promoted in a typically understated and low-key fashion in the upstairs part of an old-fashioned pub on the south side of Glasgow with a capacity of probably now more than 60, was an absolute stormer of an event, with the set drawing on the best of the new and older material. It also provided a huge treat with the main support act turning out to be the aforementioned BMX Bandits, albeit they had to draft in a temporary backing acoustic guitarist to help them on the night….someone by the name of Norman Blake….he showed a fair bit of talent and so I’m suggesting you keep an eye out for him in the future….
The new album is available from here.
This is one of my favourite songs from it:-
Tune in again on Thursday for another 2017 recommendation from myself, but before then, there’s a great guest offering coming along tomorrow.