“I’m not drunk enough to do this,” she says, a hint of anxiety in her voice as she stands before the microphone, pulling the neck of her guitar towards her, and then slowly lowering it down once more.
Outside, beyond the relative comfort of the quiet pub and its wooden floors, the rain falls heavily, darkening the lonesome streets, the gutters swelling with downpour.
She looks at the music stand before her, silver tainted by the glow of hanging fairy lights above her head, and begins to play.
The first song is a cover of David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes, her fingers moving gently between the strings, her voice slightly too soft at first, but slowly rising until it is full of the all the urgency demanded of the words she now gives voice to.
Let’s not pretend this is anything other than a public love letter of sorts.
Unsigned and yet absurdly gifted, Jess Davidson is seemingly the best keep secret of these quiet, little Thursday acoustic nights at this unassuming pub with its Watford postcode and patronage of friendly locals—and whilst most small town acoustic evenings are ostensibly little more than protracted circle jerks, there is something of a sense of camaraderie and respect amongst the musicians playing here tonight that is more than admirable.
Yet despite the closeness of the community, it is Jess who shines brightest, nervous as she may seem.
“The downside of being a hipster is that your top button strangles you,” she smiles, fussing with buttons between songs and briefly talking back to other musicians and members of the small audience surrounding her.
She lifts her guitar again, and begins to play Video Killed the Radio Star, a song so steeped in sickly oxygen deprived nostalgia that it was already vacuum packed upon its release in 1979—and yet for all of the trite sentiment, Jess’s voice still rises and falls with the sort of earnest belief lacking in the original.
It strikes me that it is easy to see her charisma as a performer, and yet the only time she seems truly vulnerable is when she sings; in the expressions of her voice, and the emotion in her voice.
Her third song is an Earth, Wind & Fire song that I do not pretend to know the name of, despite recognising the tune, and I begin to become aware that if it was anyone else, I would probably have been looking at my phone at the merest mention of such a band. Such is the presence and playfulness of Jess’s performance however, that I do not.
The final two songs follow in quick succession; firstly I’d Rather Dance with You by Kings of Convenience, and lastlyPunky’s Dilemma by Simon and Garfunkel.
The last vestiges of her nervousness are now disavowed, and despite my personal apprehension regarding the former band, and mild ambivalence regarding the latter, her voice and presence carry both songs beautifully—something I am almost reluctant to admit; as if someone has just had the last word in an argument and I have yet to understand.
The night concludes with an unplanned-planned “jam session” involving many of the musicians who have played through the night, and yet still, even when beating the palms of her hands against a drum as part of the rhythm section, it is Jess who commands my attention.
Again, let’s not pretend this is anything other than a public love letter of sorts.