It was a long haul. In February when I interviewed Layla Zoe at the Harmonie she was at the start of a Blues Caravan tour that would take her round the world, and so it did, only ending recently in France. Whilst it was great to see her trading vocals with Ina Forsman and Tasha Taylor, Layla with her own band and particularly with Jan Laacks can’t be beaten. Friday saw Layla, with Jan and two newcomers on bass and drums, back in Bonn.
I must admit to wondering if the Firegirl’s fiery tonsils would be somewhat dimmed by the gruelling BC schedule. It didn’t take longer than the first lines of ‘Backstage Queen’ to allay my fears though as Layla proved she is very much still a frontstage Queen. Sporting a long pin-striped jacket she certainly looked ready for business. Whilst I’m on the subject of appearance, the band has changed substantially since last year, with Hardy Fischötter and Gregor Sonnenberg being replaced by a hard hitting Dirk Sengotta and a funky Daniela Krüger to make a rock steady backbeat. Bulgaria born Krüger who appeared last year on tour with Till Bennewitz also fronts her own band in Luxembourg and certainly adds to the visual chemistry of the band as well as playing a mean bass.
They all take a backseat to Layla though, who commands the stage as ever, singing and talking straight from the heart, whether it be over public tragedies such as the many indigenous women who ‘disappear’ from the highway in her native Canada (Highway of Tears) “something that shames me as a Canadian” she confides to us all, or private tragedies such as the death of her close friend Marsha Meidow who tragically died of a brain aneurism in 2010 (Sweet Angel) The lyrics here are poignant:
“I can feel her walking beside me, protecting me from darker days. I hear her voice in answer, all I have to do is pray”
It’s easy to hear that powerful voice and forget that there’s an excellent songwriter at work here too. Layla is also able to take the songs of others and stamp her own identity on them as a beautifully duetted (with Jan Laacks) version of Jagger and Richard’s ‘Wild Horses’ showed to pin-drop effect when it came to a well deserved encore.
Did I mention how much I love to hear Jan Laacks? For me the best guitarist in Bonn these days and I have it on good authority from longer residents here that he might well be the best ever guitarist from Bonn. Laacks has that gift missing from many a good ‘axe-hero’ of knowing just how far to push the packet note playing wise. Enough to get every last ounce of emotion out of a solo without lapsing into melodrama. The Michael Caine of the guitar world. A musical raise of the eyebrows that says all that needs saying – no more and no less. He even took over singing duties briefly and sounded pretty convincing there too.
It’s impossible to do anything other than share a stage when Layla Zoe is on it though. The Firegirl has a presence that commands attention and once she opens her mouth and begins to sing, the stage, indeed the whole world, is hers to command for the time it takes to tell a story and share an emotion or three. There’s a good reason that the best Layla Zoe release by far is the live one from Vervier – on record Layla makes music, on stage she makes magic.
To quote Layla’s own words on (Workhorse):
“I’m your workhorse, my old man the Blues making me stay”
Long may he do so.