WITH her shock of white-blonde hair and outrageous costumes, top guitarist Jennifer Batten is used to playing to millions of adoring fans.
As Michael Jackson’s lead guitarist she toured the world’s stadiums with the King of Pop at the height of his career, lending her distinctive style to his Bad, Dangerous and HIStory tours.
Now Tyneside audiences are in for a treat as she brings her one-woman show to the somewhat more intimate surroundings of The Customs House in South Shields.
“I love it,” the guitarist says of her move from stadium to stage.
“It’s a lot more satisfying for me as a musician. I get to play my own stuff and really stretch myself, and when people like it, it means a lot.”
And fans of her flamboyant stadium flair will not be disappointed, as the woman who famously covered herself in thousands of swarming bees for a music video proves that she is still thinking big when it comes to theatrics on this latest tour.
Guitar aficionados are promised a multimedia extravaganza as she performs in front of a selection of specially commissioned art films. The footage includes a 12-minute tribute to Jackson, featuring clips inspired by some of his best-loved hits.
After her first big break, when she beat more than 100 guitarists to be selected for his band, Jennifer went on to join Jackson in his half-time performance at the 1993 Super Bowl.
The event was watched by one and a half billion people worldwide – the largest audience in television history.
Looking back on the highlight of her career, the 52-year-old musician and author describes it as a ‘one of a kind’ moment.
Of her feelings on hearing of her former collaborator’s death, she says: “It was very sad. I found myself getting very angry at how he had been treated over the last 13 years. I can’t imagine anyone who could have got through it.
“I feel really blessed to have had the chance to perform with him.”
Each song in the guitarist’s set will be accompanied by a video to complement the sweeping electronic sound of her latest album, Whatever.
Jennifer – who when not touring lives in Portland, Oregon – came up with the idea when thinking of ways to make her largely instrumental music more entertaining for live audiences.
“It’s not enough to just stand and play for 90 minutes,” she says.
“So I put the word out and ended up with a bunch of different film makers with a wide variety of styles. There’s everything from CGI animation to extreme sports footage, to a little mini movie, and even old public domain movies cut together and edited in a very creative way.
“I told all the film-makers I wanted them to have 100% creative freedom and just have fun with it.
“I wanted them to listen to the tracks and just react with visuals.”
And after seeing the results she was inspired to give it a go herself.
“It takes around 50 hours for each film. It’s a lot of work, but if I don’t love it, it won’t happen. I try to take you on a different journey with each song.”
Her own journey began in New York state when, as a girl of eight, she first picked up her sister’s coveted guitar. Little did she know that she would go on to tour the world with her childhood hero Jeff Beck and collaborate with him on the albums Who Else and You Had It Coming.
“To play with him was more of a challenge musically. I had much more responsibility and learned a lot,” she says.
Now on her third album, her solo career has spanned the genres, from 1997’s world music-influenced Momentum to the electronic soundscapes of Whatever. And the queen of the electric guitar says even an acoustic album is not out of the question for her next venture.
“You never know,” she jokes.
Jennifer Batten is at The Customs House, South Shields, on Wednesday, 8pm. Visit www.customshouse.co.uk or call 0191 454 1234.