Shot! Joy Crookes live in Brighton

Sometimes you just instinctively know when something is special. My first exposure to Joy Crookes was on Spotify. I’d never heard her before, indeed I’d never even heard of her. But the cover of her just released debut album Skin was so striking I felt compelled to give it a listen.

Skin cover art by Carlotta Guerrero

Immediately, on hearing the first few seconds of the first track, I knew she had something special about her. Yes, she sounded a lot like Amy Winehouse. Although I was never a fan, having your voice compared to hers can’t be a bad thing, but as well as her vocals, it was the songs that impressed me. I played the album all the way through and have kept returning to it since. It’s up there with the best releases of 2021.

That same evening, I was shooting Paloma Faith in Brighton and got speaking to a fellow photographer. He mentioned he’d just come from photographing Joy Crookes. I couldn’t believe she’d played a gig earlier that evening and was even more pissed when he told me just how good she was — both to shoot and as a performer. It turned out she was playing a showcase for Resident, Brighton’s favourite independent record store. Fortunately, I also learnt she’d be returning to Brighton in a few weeks. I knew I had to see her for myself.

Concorde 2 is arguably Brighton’s coolest venue. Its 600 capacity, standing room only, means it’s either hosting artists on the way up…or on the way down. My favourite venue, the Dome can accommodate around three times the number, and having easily sold out Concorde 2, it’s where Joy Crookes should have been playing.

That being said, the 23-year-old South Londoner’s career has really taken off in the last few months and her Brighton gig was the first night of the UK tour promoting her just released debut album.

Now you can’t really say she’s an overnight success as she’s been plugging away for quite a few years. She herself has said her album was five years in the making. And, like so many musicians, Covid got in the way and put a hold on her plans. Not only was the album delayed, but the pandemic forced her to miss out on a massive opportunity only a few ‘unknown’ artists ever get: She was going to support Harry Styles on his European tour!

Despite the setbacks, one gets the feeling success was always going to come to Joy Crookes. Born in Lambeth, the product of an Irish father and a Bangladeshi mother, she’s not just blessed with exotic looks and an effortless voice, but with a powerful desire to succeed. She not only has something to say and a gift for storytelling, but she writes her own songs and produces her own music.

On top of that, she has a strong sense of self-promotion. One only has to take a look at her album cover or watch any of her recent videos to realise she has everything an artist needs for a hugely successful career. She’s just been shortlisted for Best Newcomer in this year’s MOBO Awards and her stylish aesthetic has even landed her a feature in this month’s Vogue!

Having watched a number of her live performances on YouTube, what was also obvious was she was a natural on stage or that she has no trouble recreating the sound of her album, a record that The Guardian said was a masterclass, describing it as “vibrant, urgent and brimming with life.” The very same words could also be used to describe Joy herself.

The vociferous reaction when she took to the Concorde 2’s stage seemed to take her by surprise. Mainly young girls, most I assume seeing her live for the first time, greeted her like she was someone of the stature of Dua Lipa. I shouldn’t have been surprised they were jumping for joy, because she has all the makings of a future star. If there were any first night nerves, I didn’t see them.

What I did witness was a charmingly confident young woman who sings as effortlessly as she smiles. Her smoky voice adds character to her jazz-infused songs, that are clearly relatable to her audience. With their retro stylings, songs like Feet Don’t Fail Me Now, Poison, Trouble and When You Were Mine already feel like instant classics.

Yes, there’s more than a touch of Amy Winehouse about her vocals, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she goes on to become an even bigger star. A cliche it may be, but on the evidence of this performance she certainly lived up to her name. It was a genuine joy to have been there to see the emergence of a very special talent.

Setlist: I Don’t Mind | Trouble | Wild Jasmine | To Lose Someone | Unlearn You | 19th Floor | Poison | Don’t Let Me Down | Skin | London Mine | Darkest Hour | Power | Kingdom | Feet Don’t Fail Me Now | Two Nights | When You Were Mine

Footnote: Perhaps the best way to judge just how good a singer is is when they interpret someone else’s song and immediately make it their own. To do that you need more than just a distinctive voice, you need to have distinctive phrasing too. On this performance of Frank Ocean’s Lost, Joy Crookes proves she has both.

Behind the shot: These images were taken using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the M Zuiko 1.8 75mm lens. I was only able to shoot the first three songs from the pit. The challenge as always was to come away with a set of interesting portraits that were different from those taken by all the other photographers shooting her. Photographed in Brighton on 6 November 2021

About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens. With no concerts or major events taking place during lockdown, Gary turned his attention to creatively capturing the landscapes of West Sussex. On the writing side, he also penned deep dives into some of his favourite songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople. Most recently, he has written a biography of Robert Palmer and the story behind Whitesnake’s ‘Still Of The Night’. All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians.

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Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people

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Gary Marlowe

Gary Marlowe

Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people

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