Jess and the Bandits: Carols by Candlelight, The Camden Club, December 11 2022

‘We don’t have white Christmases in Houston!’ sang Jess Clemmons near the end of a magnificent 75 minutes of Sunday night entertainment. Outside the snow was falling in North London while Jess promoted her Christmas releases, including 2020’s My Country Christmas, with secular and religious songs plus a smattering of non-festive tunes.

This was the sixth of an eight-date trot around Britain. A crack rhythm section, Zoe on bass and Robert on drums, kept the beat while the frontline trio of Luke Thomas on acoustic guitar and Eddy Smith on keyboard matched Jess’s vocals. There were delightful solos from Luke and Eddy on, respectively, Love Like That and Smoke and Mirrors, which was particularly enlivened by the organ setting on Eddy’s keyboard. To use a Louis Walsh cliché, Jess made Wichita Lineman her own and is definitely through to the live finals(!)

With vestigial candles dotted around the front of the stage, Jess and the band(its) treated Christmas songs with a mix of reverence (three-part harmonies on O Holy Night, I’ll Be Home For Christmas and What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve) and irreverence: set opener Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Sleigh Ride and a buoyant Let It Snow. Wrapped in Red by Jess’s fellow Texan Kelly Clarkson was a set highlight which makes one think that Underneath The Tree shouldn’t be the only Clarkson Christmas standard. Luke, contrary to what he said, did not murder his vocal parts.

His fiancée (and vocal coach?) Jade Helliwell and Tim Prottey-Jones (plus young son) watched on, while Poppy Fardell ‘floated’ onstage for a smart cameo on a cover of Thomas Rhett’s jaunty Christmas in the Country. Poppy had opened the evening with a smattering of songs from her just-released album Back on My Feet (reviewed here). The opening pair of Beer Budget and Double Denim were blessed with the presence of co-writer ‘Sue McMillan At The Back’, while Poppy namechecked Jess Thristan and Liv Austen who were in the room for Good Girl and All Over Again. Little Girl, a song that shows Poppy can do deep as well as frothy, followed Emilia Quinn’s Child in being addressed to an unborn progeny.

Jess was in her usual hostess mood, even dealing with a tipsy member of the audience by declaring him a ‘British Texan’ unafraid to be loud and unruly. She talked of the difficulties of potty training and sang her recent single which called her kids Emotional Baggage which she’d never want to give up. She also advised fellow mums to download an app which lets Santa call kids and ask if they have been naughty or nice, making it an educational show as well as an entertaining one.

The payment for such parenting tips? ‘Mama’s gotta buy some Christmas presents!’ Jess admitted, pushing fans to the merch table to buy one or more CDs but, alas, not Christmas tree ornaments which had sold out by the time she reached London. With luck she’ll replenish the stock for her UK tour next year: biannual visits in spring/summer and Christmas will be something to look forward to, as will a new album.

My Country Christmas is available to stream and download now.

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