Julia Deans singing Joni Mitchell

Both Sides Now: Julia Deans

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Hawke's Bay Arts Festival /
27 October 2019, Spiegeltent /
By Tryphena Cracknell 

…And so once again you are fightin’ us all
And when I ask you why
You raise your sticks and cry, and I fall
Oh, my friend
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum…

Half a century after they were penned, Joni Mitchell’s lyrics still hold currency, and Julia Deans’ mid-gig a cappella of ‘The Fiddle and the Drum’ felt hauntingly apt ringing out through the Spiegeltent.

Deans put it to the audience, “This is not a tribute show. There’ll be no blonde wig and no chain smoking… Just the five of us and our interpretation of Joni’s beautiful music”.

Since it was developed about three years ago, the band has performed Both Sides Now around Aotearoa, so it’s a well-polished performance. To a pretty much full tent, Deans and her talented group of musicians led out with a high energy ‘Chelsea Morning’ before easing into some of Mitchell’s velvety smooth ballads like ‘Blue’ or ‘Little Green’ and then shifting back up a gear, with Deans taking up her own guitar to rock out. She is such a consummate performer, compelling an intense vibe and leaving the audience truly spellbound in many of the songs.

The crowd seemed part die-hard Joni Mitchell fans (overheard as I was leaving, “There was one song where she just got the lyrics completely wrong”) and part Julia Deans fans (whispered in the seats along from me “She’s really so beautiful isn’t she?” and later a bellowed, “You’re amazing!”)

Wikipedia tells us that Mitchell’s voice shifted from mezzo soprano to contralto in the mid-1970s and this extensive vocal range and her penchant for rapid low to high swoops means that playing from her songbook can be demanding. There were some songs that Deans’ voice definitely sat more comfortably with – with occasional vocal strain in some of the more complex melodies. Her speaking voice was husky not for chain smoking, but due to being under the weather. Sipping on water throughout, she later explained that she had been ducking behind the piano to suck a lozenge between songs. It was testament to Deans’ skill as a performer that she managed to keep the energy high, bring out the high notes and hold the stage.

There was clearly going to be no other song to finish off the night but ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, “…a song I think you’d be disappointed if you didn’t hear”. A few of the otherwise sedate audience even drew themselves to sing along, and there were a few joyous clappers. The crowd finally took to its feet to thank the band.

…You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot…

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