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Jess And The Bandits + Luke & Mel

Venue: Sage Hall 2
Town: Gateshead
Date: 2/5/16

I have to be honest and admit that two years ago I saw Luke and Mel open for James House and wasn't impressed. However, I am very glad I got the chance to see them again as it was like watching a totally different duo! They were relaxed, at ease, singing their own material and clearly enjoying taking us on a pit stop tour of their music, as they accompanied themselves on guitars. Mel has a striking voice and they have great harmonies; a sound which on first listen could very well be mistaken for a USA country band. When they sing two part duets, Luke gets to show off his fine vocal skills also. Their banter with each other and the audience was very relaxed and more than once had everyone giggling. Songs such as Greener, Save It, Bad Habit, the very country, life affirming, Enjoy The Ride all had the audience rapt. Together with the stunning song which recently won them a BCMA award, Something About a Woman, we were left with no doubt that these two are on their way; via, I'm pleased to say, SummerTyne which will see them back at Sage in July.

Speaking of SummerTyne, it is hard to believe that ten months ago I had never head of Jess And The Bandits. Then they appeared at SummerTyne on a double bill with Callaghan and, well, let's just say they made an immediate and lasting impression. They then got to close the festival on the Sunday night and blew me away, along with most of the audience who had just come out from The Shires! I then got to see them in the Live Theatre, following the success of which, I was so excited that they were back at Sage, where it all began.

I wished I had known it was a standing gig as I'd have worn more appropriate footwear. However, I managed to squeeze in at stage front and my Dad managed to find a spare seat, thanks to a helpful member of staff, so all was good. Despite throbbing feet, I enjoyed getting to dance along to the music, which frequently invites you to move!

For those who don't know, Jess - Jessica Clemmons - is from Houston, Texas, whilst the bandits (Ricci, Louis, Dave and Steve) are all from England, brought together by a fluke of circumstance. It was clear, more than ever, from the moment they arrived on stage, that they're are a forced to be reckoned with. Full of confidence and with tons of personality, Jess owned the stage and had the audience in the palm of her hand. She has an incredible voice, switching effortlessly between country, pop, blues and jazz. She goes without flinching from soft and vulnerable vocals, to a real powerhouse of sound, which brings to mind the likes of Carrie Underwood and Wynonna. The band are one of the best I've seen in recent years; tight, cohesive,intuitive, with a charm all of their own.

Most of the songs feature on the newly released deluxe edition of their CD, Here We Go Again. It is impossible to pick favourites but personal highlights included Nitty Gritty, which has by now surely become an anthem for women, What If, which is clearly personal, My Name Is Trouble, Single Tonight, and a stunning version of Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman, inspired by Terry Wogan. I suspect he was in the room as this beautiful rendition was delivered; Jess has an amazing gift with covers, she remains true to the original yet makes them all her own. A difficult juxtaposition,which she makes seem easy. Having had the chance to interview her earlier in the year, some of the songs resonated in a different way this time. (the interview is on e Fatea site so you can read her answers. )The new songs which feature on the deluxe edition were clearly a hit; Kiss You Know allowed her to show her playful side and I Don't Dance, another stunning cover, allowed for her and Steve to perform a stunning duet, which immediately made me think of The Shires. Here's to Us,in spired by the chaos of the world, offered a reminder that sometimes we just need to have fun and enjoy life. This would make a great summer radio hit. The sheer energy Jess puts into her performance and the way she connects with her audience is a joy to watch. She draws you in to her space with her hands, much like Eve Selis, Eddi Reader and Joan Baez, so you feel like you are on stage with her. Mid show she paused to shout out to a ten year old boy, Frankie (hi,if you're reading this!) who was at his first gig ever. She was clearly touched he had chosen hers and watching him singing his heart out, I felt quite emotional, taken back to seeing Neil Sedaka at 8 and the moment, aged ten myself, when halfway through High Calypso, John Denver made me fall in love forever with live music. It was magical watching Jess do that for him in Hall 2, not to mention how lovely they were with him and his family afterwards.

Speaking of afterwards, Jess and the band took time to speak to people, sign autographs and just hang out. They are genuinely lovely people and genuinely appreciate people coming out to their gigs. For the first time ever that I've seen at Sage, there was a spontaneous round of applause when they came out to the mercy table; surely a sign of the unspoken connection they make.

A wonderful night over all too soon. Thank you Jess And The Bandits for a wonderful night of music and for just being yourselves. I know you love come to play up here and we love having you, so come back soon. We'll be Ready Set to say Here We Go Again. In the Meanwhile, Here's To Us; all of us present in Hall 2, and to a night of memories made.

Helen Mitchell

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Nitty Gritty

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