The Songs of Joni Mitchell, Camden Roundhouse review: 'Songwriting shines as artists pay tribute'

The Songs of Joni Mitchell featured artists including Emeli Sandé, Vashti Bunyan, Lail Arad, Sam Amidon, Jesca Hoop, Kate Stables and Eska.

In reviewing a ‘Songs of Joni Mitchell’, there’s a temptation to burrow into the lyrics of one of pop’s most dextrous writers. This speaks to the quality of sound at Camden’s Roundhouse, which last night (April 18) provided the perfect room in which to explore Joni’s music as part of the In The Round Festival.

Guest artists each interpreted two songs, with contributions from backing musicians and a Roundhouse Vocal Ensemble - compèred by BBC 6 Music’s Cerys Matthews.

The performers’ admiration for the work of a singer who turned 80 last year could almost be matched by that of the audience. “It’s really cheesy to say, but Joni Mitchell is ‘in my blood like holy wine’,” says Olivia Chaney after a gorgeous piano rendition of Blue and Amelia, in which Joni perhaps sets herself next to the pioneer Amelia Earhart: “A ghost of aviation, she was swallowed by the sky or by the sea. Like me she had a dream to fly.”

Vermont’s Sam Amidon sang The Boho Dance before being joined by the vocal ensemble for a hymnal take on 2007’s Shine. “It’s just my guitar arrangement and we came up with the harmonies in the office back there,” he says - a low-key description of an early show highlight.

The event was the brainchild of Lail Arad, who delivered Joni’s prescient environmental pop hit Big Yellow Taxi, (“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot”), along with a lovely version of Carey from Blue.

The first half concluded with Eska leading an epic jazz odyssey of The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey - complete with howls from among the choir - followed by a swinging Free Man in Paris.

Jesca Hoop recently produced a superb radio documentary series, Legend: The Joni Mitchell Story, for the BBC. She knows her stuff. Her delivery of Morning Morgantown and Michael From Mountains is laser guided, showcasing the textures of Joni’s phrasing (”There's oil in the puddles in taffeta patterns, that run down the drain in coloured arrangements, that Michael will change with a stick that he found”).

Vashti Bunyan takes to the festival stage herself on Saturday (April 19) for her own show at In The Round, and here gave breathy takes on River and Little Green to a great reception.

While explorations of great artists like Joni can run the risk of taking themselves too seriously, there is a smile on the face of This Is The Kit’s Kate Stables, who has learnt the Blue masterpiece A Case Of You (”Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine. You taste so bitter and so sweet. Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling”) on the Appalachian dulcimer, bringing a human touch. “Joni’s a total badass. She did it all her way against a lot of grains,” she tells us.

A Case Of You was followed by a joyous performance of Raised On Robbery as a vocal trio with Lail Arad and Jesca Hoop (”We were The Andrews Sisters, for a brief moment”). As Cerys suggests, a Joni album by the line-up would be an interesting proposition.

The final guest of the night, Emeli Sandé, gets behind the piano to lend her power to This Flight Tonight and Both Sides Now, appropriately, as a song revisited by artists over the decades, as well as by Joni herself. 

Having opened the show with Woodstock, the Roundhouse Vocal Ensemble returned with a communal The Circle Game, backed by the evening’s performers - a great selection to close proceedings.

The Roundhouse offers creative programmes for young musicians. Find out more via its website.

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