Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Jessie Desai Tops the Bill in Birmingham

Singer-songwriter Jessie Desai kicked off her low key headline tour at the super cool Muthers Studio in Birmingham, heading up an ensemble of emerging talent much to the delight of an appreciative audience. 

Jessie’s hard edged pop-folk songs are inspired by the likes of Ed Sheeran, Ken Yates and City and Colour and she has been featured on BBC Introducing and BBC West Midlands.

First up was Lewis Roche, running through a selection of R&B favourites. Next, the brilliantly inventive Sweaty Wednesday brought catchy tunes, energetic guitar, quirky lyrics and wry humour with hints of Jason MrazLloyd Cole and a sprinkling of post punk Brit pop. Third was Francesca Riley enjoying her first stage appearance with another selection of covers. Four member new wave folksy alternative punk band Laoku were fourth in the ensemble, mixing spirited originals with a few Britpop covers.

Jessie Desai took to the stage with her typically self-effacing, almost shy demeanour, belying the heart-twisting precision of her lyrics, the forceful range of her guitar skills and her confident, relaxed stage presence. Her tantalisingly short set of just nine songs teased at upcoming releases and further tour dates and featured seven of her own songs and two covers chosen with a sense of deference to the original artists. A beautifully bouncy, gently joyful version of Ray Charles’ 1956 hit ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So’ and ‘Quiet Talkers’ by Canadian artist Ken Yates gave a glimpse into Jessie’s influences and balanced her own acoustic compositions seamlessly.

Outgrown’ is a rolling lament to endings. ‘Electricity’ follows ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So’ and features a clear musical connection between the two songs. ‘Same Light’ is a song about putting someone on a pedestal, a prime of example of Jessie’s songwriting style which juxtaposes sad lyrics against catchy, upbeat melodies which both build in intensity with a quietly relentless pace. At several points throughout the evening, Jessie suggests that the audience don’t listen to the sad words, just enjoy the music. That’s difficult, because the words are so wonderfully crafted.

Postcards’ is a light, almost frothy song inspired by a holiday which leaves plenty of space to showcase Jessie’s gentle dexterity on the guitar. ‘Rewind’ is a song which follows what is by now Jessie’s familiar approach to both subject matter and melody, combining a pleasant, easy to hear tune with heart-tugging lyrics delivered by Jessie’s softly piercing voice.

Home’ is a story of loneliness delivered with an angst-laden sense of urgency, one of the few studio-recorded songs that Jessie has so far been able to get onto Spotify and other platforms. She promises more to come, very soon and says that more music, including demo versions, is available on Soundcloud.

When Love Calls’ reveals the difficulties of the modern dating scene with its constantly shifting tides of etiquette and expectation. It’s a nicely crafted, gentle song which again shows off Jessie’s ability to create enticing, relevant stories that weave their way into the listener’s own life experiences. “But how will I know when love calls / And knocks down all of these walls / And how will I know what’s wrong from right / What if I miss the whisper in the night”.

Who Am I’ ended the set with the audience joining in with the chorus on a song that questions identity itself. A fitting question to end the show. Who was she? Jessie Desai.

Peter Freeth

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Images: Peter Freeth

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