It was time­ly and fit­ting to hold a trib­ute to Joni Mitchell at Llais 23, the Fes­ti­val of Voice, tak­ing place at the beau­ti­ful Wales Mil­len­ni­um Cen­tre in Cardiff. Joni remains one of the most tal­ent­ed and unique artists of the past few decades, and her vocals and extra­or­di­nary tal­ent for writ­ing poignant and poet­ic lyrics puts her in a class of her own. 

The con­cert focus­es on Both Sides Now and Trav­el­ogue, the artist’s ful­ly orches­trat­ed albums. Both Sides Now saw Joni Mitchell sing a selec­tion of clas­sic songs, main­ly from the 1930s and 40s, togeth­er with two of her own com­po­si­tions. The col­lec­tion forms the nar­ra­tive of a love sto­ry which starts with love at first sight and ends with heartbreak.

Per­form­ing were five con­tem­po­rary vocal­ists: Char­lotte Church, Lau­ra Mvu­la, ESKA, Geor­gia Ruth and Olivia Chaney, accom­pa­nied by the BBC Nation­al Orches­tra of Wales with Vince Men­doza­’s orches­tral arrange­ments from the album, and con­duct­ed by Antho­ny Gabriele. 

Char­lotte Church opened the evening and imme­di­ate­ly cap­ti­vat­ed the audi­ence with her ren­di­tion of You’re My Thrill, con­vey­ing the heady emo­tions of instant attrac­tion with clar­i­ty and pas­sion. All five artists brought their own style and unique inter­pre­ta­tion of the mate­r­i­al to the stage. The man­tle of the final song, Both Sides Now, fell to ESKA; her reflec­tive, mature and mea­sured vocal approach set against the exquis­ite orches­tra­tion of Vince Men­doza­’s vibra­to string arrange­ment helped the song to hov­er in the air, alive with tension. 

With the for­mal­i­ty of the first sec­tion over, things became a lit­tle more relaxed for a selec­tion of songs from Trav­el­ogue. Church’s ver­sion of Wood­stock was one of the high­lights of the evening; beau­ti­ful­ly paced, loaded with dra­ma, and with the orches­tra­tion designed to enhance its mys­ti­cal qual­i­ty. Anoth­er tri­umph was ESKA’s Heji­ra. Recre­at­ing the orig­i­nal Mitchell-Jaco Pas­to­rius inter­play as an orches­tra-backed ver­sion can­not have been easy but this did work in part to ESKA’s steady and hyp­not­ic vocals. 

The infor­mal­i­ty of the third and final seg­ment allowed the artists more free­dom of expres­sion. The orches­tra was replaced by a band who formed a small clus­ter on the stage with the five vocal­ists, bring­ing a feel­ing of inti­ma­cy to the show. Olivia Chaney both played the piano and cov­ered the vocals on Blue, this was a sen­si­tive per­for­mance that recalled Mitchel­l’s 1971 album ver­sion. And pop­u­lar local singer and broad­cast­er Geor­gia Ruth also ref­er­enced Mitchel­l’s ear­ly peri­od with a joy­ful ren­di­tion of Morn­ing Mor­gan­town.

For the penul­ti­mate song, Lau­ra Mvu­la per­fect­ly recre­at­ed the jazz-inflect­ed moody sen­su­ous­ness of Hiss­ing of Sum­mer Lawns, her warm, smoky vocals bring­ing a hyp­not­ic qual­i­ty to the track. And for those who were secret­ly hop­ing all five would sing togeth­er because, yes, we’d like to hear those five spe­cial voic­es in har­mo­ny, hopes were realised when Carey drew the show to close.

LLAIS 23 Cardif­f’s Inter­na­tion­al Arts Fes­ti­val

Main pho­to, Lau­ra Mvu­la, ESKA, BBC Nation­al Orches­tra ©Pol­ly Thomas
Olivia Chaney, Geor­gia Ruth, Char­lotte Church ©Olivia Rosen

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