Listen back to Joni Mitchell and James Taylor’s touching performance for BBC’s John Peel Sessions, 1970
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to revisit perhaps one of our favourite performances of all time as Joni Mitchell and James Taylor share an intimate audience for a very special session.
Playing together at London’s Paris Theatre in 1970, Mitchell and Taylor share some warm and sparkling moments as they perform a wondrous set for the BBC. Recorded originally as part of the legendary John Peel sessions, the performance is a spellbinding insight into both Mitchell’s work and the touching friendship and love that she shared with her counterpart Taylor.
During the performance, The pair share centre stage and offer one another the chance to perform their songs and providing what might be the most comforting and gently beautiful concert you’re likely to hear. In dark times, it’s a joy to listen to something so deeply connected and warming.
At the end of the session, Taylor performs a softly sumptuous song about Mitchell, ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’ which may be the reason for the small giggle at the top of the recording. Joni would also provide backing vocals for the track when it was finally released on 1971’s Mud Slime Slim in return for Taylor’s work on Mitchell’s seminal LP Blue. It was a genuine working relationship which emboldened each member of it.
The recording is a wholesome and golden-rich session that lights up any room. It’s littered with tidbits of the New York scene of the time, highlighting the powerful creativity coming out of NYC and Greenwich during such an industriously creative period in time.
Taylor suggests that ‘Steamroller’ was written because “we didn’t wanna be left of all that [blues scene in NYC]” and his performance is tinged with a wonderful troubadour tone and gravel-heavy vocal rattle. Entertaining the crowd with archetypal blues ad-libs and shining folk ballads. “Look at those magic fingers boogie up and down those silver frets,” Taylor says with a wry smile.
Listening to the session it’s no wonder that Taylor inspired his own set of songs of adoration, becoming a muse for many a musician in his time. While Carly Simon’s ‘We Have No Secrets’ and ‘Jesse’ are wonderful tracks, Joni’s own ‘See You Somewhere’ and ‘Just Liks This Train’ are our favourites.
As Open Culture reports, she later told Bill Flanagan of Musician Magazine, “I wrote a song for James Taylor that mentioned his suspenders. And then on his next album, he went and wore his bloody suspenders on the cover! Well, then the cat was completely out of the bag!”
The session, which is now available below as a Spotify playlist, which can only be a bootleg recording of the Sunday Show, was loved by so many people it’s fair to say that John Peel wasn’t too impressed with either artist. “I have never been a great admirer of Joni Mitchell’s work, feeling that the considerable promise of her earlier work had disintegrated into a James Taylor-like welter of self-pity and self-indulgence.” But that did change with her 1975 album The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, which he said was “magnificent”.
Peel may not have been a massive fan but sometimes people are wrong. Peel is very wrong here. The session is something of lilting beauty and the indulgence here is warranted as every note feels heavy with poetry and sodden with sentiment.
The below bootleg even has Joni another song about a rock leading man, this time it follows ‘For Free’ and it’s ‘The Circle Game’ and the moody attitude of Neil Young. “There was a friend of mine who had just left a rock and roll band to become a folk singer” she goes on that Young had felt over the hill after the age of 21. It all adds up to a quite wonderful afternoon listen.