Joss Stone: grooves that could have kept us moving all night long

Intensely in the moment: Joss Stone performing at the London Palladium - Lorne Thomson/Redferns
Intensely in the moment: Joss Stone performing at the London Palladium - Lorne Thomson/Redferns
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Anniversary gigs have become a familiar format in a nostalgia-fixated mainstream. Even so, there was an exceptional quality to Joss Stone’s one-off UK date on her 20 Years of Soul tour.

The British singer-songwriter (now Nashville-based) was just 16 when she released her multi-platinum 2003 debut album The Soul Sessions (co-produced by US legend Betty Wright); since then, she has created nine studio albums, amassed numerous awards and acting credits, co-founded a genre-mashing supergroup, SuperHeavy (alongside Dave Stewart, Damian Marley, Mick Jagger and AR Rahman), won TV series The Masked Singer (disguised as a sausage in 2021), composed an upcoming musical with Stewart, and much more.

Over these breathless decades, Stone has also experienced extreme pressure – veering from industry spite and misogyny towards her precocious talent and transatlantic style, to a nightmarish “murder plot” in 2011. She has endured with astounding grace and good humour, establishing a devoted fanbase, while working on her own terms. On Tuesday night, Stone’s unaffected charisma was as evident as her distinctively rich vocals. She emerged looking super-glam in a slinky robe, yet also greeted the packed house like old mates (“Hiyaaa!”) while she tore through an opening array of 1960s and ’70s covers and original classics, including her infectiously feelgood Super Duper Love (Are You Digging On Me, and the enchantingly chilled Jetlag (from 2004’s Mind, Body & Soul LP).

The ruched stage curtain backdrop recalled an old-fashioned music revue. At the same time, Stone seemed intensely in the moment, backed by a compact yet splendidly punchy backing outfit, including an excellent vocal trio. While her recordings sound slick, her live performance showcases raw power and range as well as immaculate control. Her musical agility and enthusiasm propelled the set through retro melodies and neo soul, a reggae segment (introduced via her childhood memories of hearing Linton Kwesi Johnson’s poetry), and sweetly heartfelt tributes: The Look of Love was dedicated to songwriting giant Burt Bacharach; the heavy blues of I Put A Spell on You paid homage to Jeff Beck.

Back when I first heard Stone on record, I admittedly questioned whether she sang from life experience. But I’d missed the point, because she clearly has lived with these sounds, and her passion truly hits home. Last night, the fiery Music (originally a 2007 duet with Lauryn Hill) earned a standing ovation, and an encore of Some Kind Of Wonderful had Stone throwing flowers into the delighted crowds.

Despite this beautiful seated theatre setting, you wished for more time and dancing space – Stone’s grooves could have easily kept us moving all night long.