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Country at The 229

FSA Presents – Jess & The Bandits

With – Holloway Road, Acoustic Journey & Lisa Wright

17th June 2016, 229 The Venue, Great Portland Street London.

By Helen Pocock

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So, on a day when the weather really could not make up what it was doing – raining, sunny, drizzle, cold, hot, torrential rain pour, jumper on, jumper off, back on again & off!!!  I travelled to London to see 4 of my favourite acts on 1 stage in 1 evening!  Now I know I shouldn’t have any favourites and I should be impartial, but I do and I am not!!

The Venue is great.  It is literally central London, yet it is cosy & intimate.  It is between Great Portland Street tube station & Regent Street tube station.  Staggering distance from the first, wobbling distance from the 2nd!!

Lisa Wright started the night off.  I have only seen Lisa perform live the once, at FSA Fest October last year, but she ABSOLUTLEY blew me away then.  Her voice is so pure, clear & beautiful.  Speaking to her afterwards, the person is the same as the voice!  I haven’t seen her since, so I had high hopes.

Lisa started with Can’t Take That, she was accompanied by Rob Gulston from Holloway Road, who was playing guitar.  Next song was Small Cruel Town, during which it became very apparent that Lisa has become a lot more polished in the 8 months since I last saw her.  Her voice is still pure and beautiful, but now she has more confidence and it showed.  The only thing was, in this track she was somehow drowned out and you couldn’t really hear her lyrics.  Next up was a song that was written by Lisa and Rob, In The End.  I remember seeing this on Facebook, Lisa has asked Rob & Jack Cooper (aka Holloway Road) to help her move, instead they sat & wrote music all day!!  She had to call in some different friends the next day to help her actually move!  This collaboration is really interesting as Jack & Rob’s style is very different from Lisa’s, but it works!

At the end of the track Rob managed to ‘lose’ his guitar connection!  Technical fault.  Lisa asked the audience to help her out & help her sing Joleene.  The crowd joined in, with Andy Jones (Acoustic Journey) singing loudly, trouble was he was singing Joe lean!!

Technical issue sorted relatively quickly & Lisa went into Could Have Been.  Lisa must have been fazed by this issue, but she didn’t show it, the show was back on track!  She is comfortable on stage & it shows!

She introduced the next track saying ‘Have you noticed all my songs are sad songs?  Well, this next one is called Before I Die!’  After this track she said my brother asked why I always sing sad songs, why can’t I write happy songs.  I took on board what he said & this next track is Back to You.  It is another sad song!!  This song got to no 6 on the iTunes Country Chart!  Rising Strong finished Lisa’s set.

I don’t usually like slow tempo or sad songs, but Lisa has such a beautiful voice, she is well suited to them and they suit her!



Photo credit Andrew Jones – Acoustic Journey.

After a very short break it was Acoustic Journey’s turn.  As I say, it is no secret I love these boys.  I have seen them perform 6 times in just 15 months, a record for me!  I haven’t seen any other band 6 times, let alone in such a short space of time!

They started with Drive, followed by Trucks and Whiskey.  Next was You & Me, which Jonsey explained he & Ben have been friends since school and had met girlfriends at a similar time and so this track was born.  British Summertime followed, I love the sentiment of this song and us Brits complaining that it is summer & it is raining & then when it stops raining it is ‘Muggy as hell … all we need is a good old rain’!!  Real Good Feel Good (the title track to their 2nd EP) followed.

Jonsey then thanked Wayne Hadlow and Jessica Roberts from FSA Presents for putting the show on and inviting them to play.  They also told Lisa off for not brining any CDs with her, I had told her off as well & told her I was going to name & shame her!  2 of our party would have bought her CD if she had had copies with her (I already have mine!)  Curiously this is the 2nd gig I have been to where I have told the artist off for not having CDs with them.  Any artists reading this you MUST ALWAYS have copies of your CD with you, ALWAYS!!  Even if you only sell 1 copy, it is one more copy than the zero you sold as you left them at home!!

Get Back Up finished Acoustic Journey’s set.  Again this is another favourite of mine, probably my most favourite.  It is basically about getting back on your proverbial bike after you have fallen off.  The whole song is so true about life and not letting it get you down, in particular the line ‘Every day is one more day that someone never had’.  I have lost count of the times I have said to friends You’ve gotta get back up & get back on it’.  Usually when they have had a bad week at the Diet club, or a relationship has hit the wall.

These boys are wonderful live.  Jonsey has such a raw sounding voice that really compliments their songs.  He and Sammons laugh & joke around quite a lot on stage while Ben goes into ‘the Zone’ – he is the adult of the 3!!  Sammons normally plays the Cajun drum (to the uninitiated a box you sit on!) with a tambourine around his foot – a man multi tasking!!  What could possibly go wrong??  The thing with these guys too, they are all really nice guys.  Jonsey’s dad Mike, often comes to the gigs with them & when you see them it is like meeting up with good friends!  They are also not that fussy as to who they are friends with, as long as you are up for a laugh & can take the micky out of yourself!


Photo credit Mike Jones.

Next up were Jack Cooper & Rob Gulston – Holloway Road.  These guys have to be seen to be believed.  Again, I first saw them at FSA Fest in October & nearly fell off my chair when they started.  They had the wrong slot COMPLETELY!!  They were sandwiched between Kim Tink and Frankie Davies, both beautiful singers, but Holloway Road set the venue ON FIRE with their vibrant energy & then Frankie calmed it all down again!  Having them come on before Jess & the Bandits is to me the absolute perfect running order!

Holloway Road are a duo, but they have friends that they call on to come help them play and personally I like it when they have their friends – the more the merrier.  At FSA Fest they brought their lodger to help them out for a couple of songs – Jacob Bryant, from John & Jacob!!  These guys have fun on stage!  Tonight they were joined by a fiddlier, a drummer and a bassist.

They began with Not My First and went straight into their normal energetic performance.  Next was the 1st song they ever wrote Heart is Blue.  This started off slow & easy, didn’t stay that way for long, it was soon cranked up!!  Curiously, they have never recorded this track!  Their latest single Little Harder followed.  Then Knock Me Down and Smoking Gun.  As I say, these guys really have fun on stage & their enthusiasm is catching.  I looked around & although the place was not full (at all) everyone was bouncing!

Jack then explained he was not playing the guitar tonight like he normally does, he then showed his left arm which was in a splint.  He said he was having a nightmare & it was killing him!  Really??  Didn’t look like that to me when he then continued proceeded to bounce around the stage like Tigger on speed!  I am sure I am not the only one thinking he was going to go through the low ceiling (we were in the basement after all!!)  At the start of Good Thing Gone Bad the guys slowed things down, it was just the 2 of them with Toby (on fiddle) playing keys.

The title track or their 2nd EP Roots was next up.  They then did the one & only cover – Ring of Fire Johnny Cash (as if I need to clarify that!)  There are mixed reactions as to whether the UK acts should sing covers or not, I am of the ‘not’ party, but I don’t mind one, may be two in a set.  (Acoustic Journey’s cover of Kip Moore’s Beer Money is superb while I am on this subject!) This was a great cover!  At the end of this track, Jack picked up a bottle of beer from the stage & opened it with his teeth!!  I wasn’t the only one to gasp, think I was probably the only one mumsey enough to tell him off afterwards though.  Wonder how much notice he will take of me?? Probably none, after all, he is rock AND roll!!

We Said So, I Won’t Fall & Sky is Falling Down finished their set.  Curiously the latter has never been recorded either!

Before I switched allegiance to Country music, Kaiser Chief and Pendulum were always my favourite live acts for their energy & the way they had you bouncing from start to finish.  I don’t mind telling you that Holloway Road are nipping at their heels!  I always tease these guys & say if you put a little bit of energy into your performance you would be amazing!  They are energetic, enthusiastic & vibrant from start to finish!  Their sense of humour comes across between tracks with the interaction with the audience.  I really want to see more of these boys and I do think they are gathering both pace and fans.  They have played as a Pop up at C2C two years running now.


Photo credit Andrew Jones – Acoustic Journey.  See what I mean about the low ceiling?

We then had a bit of a gap as Ricci Riccardi (drums & percussion) started to set up the stage & sound check ready for Jess & the Bandits.  It took a little bit of time, but no more than 10 minutes.  When Jess took to the stage the wait was worth it!

I saw Jess & the Bandits last month & reviewed them then so I really do not want to cover old ground, but Jess is superb on stage & the Bandits compliment her perfectly!

We Are Tonight and Trouble started us off.  Jess spotted me & gave me a big wink!  After Trouble she said we don’t bite, come closer!  I never need telling that twice & led the advance, which earnt me another wink!  (Have I said I love Jess??)

Getting Into Something and Kiss You Now followed.  Jess is always beautiful on stage & her nails are always immaculate!

A cover was next & it is a stunning cover.  Lee Brice’s I Don’t Dance which Jess sings as a duet with Steve Williams (Keyboards).  It is a wonderful cover.  Unfortunately there was a rabble at the bar who were making a bit of a racket, this earnt them a big old glare from Jess!  It didn’t distract from how stunning the cover is though & how Steve & Jess have made it their own!

The song that was part of the Evans dress campaign – Nitty Gritty followed.  Jess sings this song with passion & I love it!

There was then another cover – Bonnie Rae’s Love Sneaking Up.  Here’s To Us, a celebration of life & all its joys, living for the moment and appreciating it followed.

After Stop Me was Mama Told Me Not to Come, a song which until I wrote this I thought was a Tom Jones number.  Nope, Tom Jones covered it!  Three Dog Night 1st recorded it in 1970!!  Louis Riccardi (guitar) shared the vocals with this track.


Photo credit Andrew Jones – Acoustic Journey. 

We then had a slight disruption in the proceeding as Dave Troke (bass) took his shirt off.  He had a tee shirt underneath, but of course he got caught up & it took longer than expected.  “When you are ready Dave” quipped Jess!!

If You Can’t be Mine was next.  Jess then introduced the next number which has now grown in poignancy!  Witchita Line Man was first performed for the late Terry Wogan.  When Jess said this there was a big ahhhhhhhh for Terry & you can see these guys had a great deal of respect and love for Terry & this track has now become even more special to them.

Another cover, this time of the Dixie Chicks and Some Days was then followed by Wanted Man and Ready Set.  Jess dedicated the last track Single Tonight to the line dancers.  I was facing forward (of course) so hadn’t realised there were people line dancing at the back.  Good on them!!

Jess owns the stage, she has such presence on it.  The interaction with the crowd is fabulous, especially when it is you she is winking at!  The Bandits enjoy what they do & have fun on stage.  They work together as a team so well.  Half way through the set Jess commented that whoever had set up knew her so well as they had positioned her right under the air con unit which was directly over her head.  Of course, they are a team & they know what to look for & how to take care of each other.



Photo credit Andrew Jones – Acoustic Journey. 

All four of these acts are part of the amazing line up Wayne and Jessica Roberts have got lined up for us at FSA Fest and really should not be missed.

As a side line, FSA stands for Fort San Antonne which is a venue in between Preston & Blackpool.  I have been there twice (from Portsmouth) & it is a fabulous venue.  If we want to see more of these acts & want them to achieve the success they so rightly deserve, we need to support them.  There were only 60 tickets sold for this fabulous gig.  It was advertised, it was publicised, it was pushed, but only 60 of us turned up.  Wayne & Jessica are NOT going to be able to put these shows & gigs on if we the audience do not support them!  It is not even as if it is expensive, we paid £11.00 to see these four awesome acts on the same stage!



Annette Gibbons
Hi, I’m Annette, I have been a huge country music fan since the early 90s those were the days we were lucky enough to have CMT in the UK. I enjoy nothing more than listening to country music whilst having a cold beer (or a moonshine) with friends. I try to as many gigs as I can here in the UK and in the USA; I think of Nashville as my second home and I am lucky to have made some amazing friends in Tennessee. Think Country is something I am very proud of, I just want to share my love and passion of all things country music related with you all.
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