‘Mama’s night out!!’ cried the effervescent Jess Clemmons, who hoped her two infants were sleeping back at the hotel while she and her Bandits tore through an hour of terrific country-inflected popular songs to a welcoming crowd.
Before Jess, Harriet Rose and her band warmed the audience up with 45 minutes of fine tunes. A Northern lass who has broken from Small Town Chains – as per her set closer which ran into Folsom Prison Blues – Harriet’s pure voice and fine strumming sounded great. Her songs reminded me of those of Miranda Lambert, most obviously the one where she sung about moving out of her family home.
She’s yet to put out a physical release, but Harriet has plenty to make an album or EP. There were ballads with wire-brushed drums which suited the venue’s café-like nature, but there were also two uptempo tunes on which Harriet proved she could rock out too. In a certain light, she looks ten years older than she is, which I’ve not really seen with any other performer. The variety of her set will hold her in good stead, and I’ll catch her at Buckle and Boots next Saturday afternoon. One to watch.
Jess and her pickup band were on great form: Luke Thomas on guitar, Eddy Smith on keys and bassist Zoe Parr, the night’s big discovery who was visibly enjoying her performance. She also plays the flute, making her a gun for hire. The band’s short tour began up in Pitlochry and they worked their way down the UK to London via Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham. Matt Spracklen, MC-ing the evening, noted that he played one of Jess’s songs on his first radio show on Country Hits back in 2019, which reminded me in turn that UK radio has supported Jess for years.
There were so many familiar songs in the set, including the fierce pair of party starters My Name Is Trouble and Ready Set (‘ready set rock, ready set roll’), which prompted someone in the front row of seating to drink on each recital of the line ‘ready set drink’. Kiss You Now, Kings of Summer and You Can’t Stop Me all sounded terrific, with Jess performing the tracks with facial expression and hand movements. There was no finer example of her skill than White Lies (‘black coffee’), probably her best song, and two songs about bullets – The Bullet and Bulletproof – made a pretty pair.
Two albums and an EP were available at the merch table and it is stunning how many great songs are on them that Jess has written. The next EP will include a song called Emotional Baggage, with pictures of motherhood which were so vivid that one could see a treatment for a music video. It’ll be a smash to rival the video of Nitty Gritty, which preached happiness and comfort in one’s skin and is still a timely message.
Two well-chosen covers added a cherry onto the night’s cake. Wichita Lineman is a tough song to sing because every line leads to a tough chord change (songwriter Jimmy Webb is performing it in London this week too), while Mama Told Me Not To Come set the Randy Newman classic to a honkytonk rhythm. Credit goes to Musical Director Luke, who peppered the songs with short, sharp solos.
It was a pleasure to be reacquainted with Jess Clemmons, who was one of the best performers I encountered when I fell for country in the mid-2010s. Now back in the States full-time, she will visit the UK (her inverted commas ‘home’) for tours and festivals. Maybe she’ll get the kids on backing vocals one day!