Photos by Iain Fox (@iainafoxphoto)
For Jessica Lea Mayfield, the last twenty four hours have consisted of a tediously long flight from Nashville followed by a swift appearance in the 6Music studios in London and finally a long, equally dreary journey up the M6 motorway towards Manchester and a date in Gullivers. The Ohioan’s previous visit to the UK was at least five years ago, although even Jessica struggles to remember specifics. There was an End of the Road festival slot in 2010 and possibly other dates following the release of second LP ‘Tell Me’ in 2011. It certainly seems to be the case that most in attendance this evening have never seen this musician perform before and there is an eager sense of anticipation that surrounds this rare UK outing for the twenty-eight year old.
The excitement is unceremoniously dashed however when we’re informed by the tour manager that Jessica and the support band have both received electric shocks during soundcheck and have decided the recent re-wiring of the stage has made it too dangerous to perform this evening. It’s devastating news. Support act Sprinters decide to call it a night straight away, leaving Jessica to make a decision. Dashing off to the van, the tour manager returns with an acoustic guitar and we’re informed that this evening’s show will thankfully go ahead as a completely unplugged affair and we all blow out a collective sigh of relief. Considering the raw, minimalist style of much of her material however, how is this all going to this work? Considering most people will have discovered JLM based on the accolades that followed the release of her more orthodox acoustic Americana debut ‘With Blasphemy, So Heartfelt’ there really was no reason to be concerned at all and in fact, what follows is one the most satisfying and fortifying live music experiences I have had in quite a while.
JLM bounds on to the stage in a pink ushanka hat which clashes brilliantly with her bright green hair, surveys the eager crowd before her and explains how shit went down this evening. With no microphone or percussion, the show requires absolute commitment from the crowd and when ‘Wish You Could See Me Now’ opens proceedings those still nattering at the back are quickly silenced. Latest record ‘Sorry is Gone’ frankly addresses the domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of her former husband and what follows is an utterly mesmerizing display of musicianship under very difficult and intense conditions accompanying a level of lyricism that is very rarely fashioned in such a starkly honest manner. It’s also worth pointing out that this was one of the funniest, lighthearted concerts I have been to in a long time and it was the unexpected, informal and spontaneous conditions which contributed to this wonderful atmosphere.
‘Meadow’ is a disconcertingly melodic insight into the relationship on record and a highlight of the entire album. This evening it is simple in form and redolent perhaps of how these songs must have sounded when they were originally written and demoed during such a tumultuous period in Jessica’s life. What enhances this intimacy even further is the wonderfully subtle harmonization provided by the faithful crowd and JLM seems stunned by the crowd’s polite support and encouragement under these unexpected conditions. “Does anyone have any requests” she asks. ‘Kiss Me Again’ is the swift reply. “I haven’t kissed you before” she replies… “but I will” and she beckons the man on to the stage and plants a big kiss on him before performing the plaintive opener from her debut record.
The show continues in this relaxed and improptu fashion; after polishing off her wine, JLM drinks the cider of a fan on the front row before disappearing behind a curtain to prompt the applause required for an encore which consists of more fan requests. Although ‘Sorry is Gone’ reminds us all of the incredible emotion behind the lyrics when she sings “But I deserve to occupy this space without feeling like I don’t belong. I’m done excusing myself”, the ultimate character of the evening is an incredibly positive and joyful one. I hope that we don’t have to wait another decade for the return of Jessica Lea Mayfield because tonight was just electric!