Bessie Turner, The Moth Club, London, 5th March 2022
When I said I was going to see Bessie Turner, my boss asked if he could join us. He's cool, he likes his music, he's good company, so I said yes of course.
But in my head, I immediately went into a panic and transformed into Terry Scott, the titular Terry in Terry & June, a sitcom from my childhood. This says more about me than my boss.
Each week, I would sit with my parents and we would laugh at Terry's farcical attempts to impress his boss, Sir Dennis Hodge. Each week, these attempts would end in disaster, though June would be there to save Terry.
Photo: a still lifted from Terry & June - hope this is ok to use BBC!
With Mrs JO'B still away in Australia, I would be without my 'June". The risk was clear - my trousers will fall down, a food processor will explode over my shirt, I will sit in a chair that collapses….the fates that every interaction Terry had with his boss were almost inevitably going to befall me...it wasn't looking good.
Sadly, my boss double booked himself and can't make it. A shame as this is a fun gig, but my inner-Carry On / 70s sitcom anxiety can subside for another day...
Instead I am here with Simon and Alex, both music industry veterans and curious to hear the marvellous Bessie. Ms Turner hails from Suffolk, home of the omnipresent Ed Sheeran, who she has supported and has been releasing songs independently since 2017. She’s collaborated with Bill Ryder-Jones and members of The Vaccines and Superfood. Good connections.
Early singles like Big Sleep were folk-pop, but her sound has evolved, is heavier, more indie guitars bellowing away. Rushing from recent EP Themed Nights makes me think of Belly and Pip Blom. She describes her music as “indie-jazzy-pop-noise”, but that misses the catchy pop hooks underpinning melancholic lyrics.
She’s playing The Moth Club - if you haven’t been, the venue is tiny (220 capacity), with glitzy gold ceiling and contrasting wood paneled walls. Moth stands for the Memorable Order of Tin Hats and it was a military veterans‘ club. Though it’s now a venue of choice for up and coming indie bands, it still has lists of past Rotary Club presidents on its walls and slightly disorientating paintings of old soldiers.
I arrive alone as my companions are delayed by the dreaded words “rail replacement service". Oh dear. But the nice man on the door and I chat - he’s another plastic paddy, both his folks and his wife coming from Ireland - his mother and my father are from Limerick, He gives sweets to each arrival as he stamps their wrists - what a lovely chap he is. He’s in a Bauhaus t-shirt, a band that bypassed me - I wonder if Bessie’s gone ‘Goth’? I will have to wait and see!
The support band, Daria, is not my cup of tea, but I am impressed by her fabulous dancing, her multi-tasking of playing keys, programming the music, singing and also dancing in sync to a video screen of herself dancing either at home as an adult, as a child etc. It's innovative and a great watch. The music grows on me as her set proceeds, and she gets a rapturous response. Dancing to a video of a rotating asparagus still baffles me though and I would avoid the overuse of sound effects - she sailed dangerously close to Ross from Friends (the episode of the sitcom where Ross rediscovers his music rather than the artist of the same name).
Daria is quickly followed by the main act - I am relieved to say Bessie hasn’t turned Goth and the tiny stage is devoid of swirls of dry ice and too much hairspray. Instead she is backed tonight by 2-piece band (bass and drums), very much of the “indie genre” we know and love. She tears through her small but growing catalogue of songs.
Donkey is a tale of playing board games while drinking in a pub, then eventually losing it on one of those late, late nights. We can all relate to that unplanned night out and the peace we find when it’s finally over.
Stranger Things has an almost nursery rhyme feel to it, and her voice reminds me of Australian singer Stella Donnelly, all smooth tones but with a soaring edge and a barbed lyric. Pickles and Opaque are just great - her music is sharpening and improving with each release. Bessie is chatty and funny between songs, though she seems to assume that most people there are local friends who have travelled down from Suffolk. But my take is there is a growing following, not just her mates.
The band leave the stage for the encore, but rather than walk off and come back two minutes later, Bessie stays alone. She warns us she may not quite remember the lyrics and guitar line for this song, so bear with her and plays Words You Say. She's previously described the song as being "about your head bubbling over, the simmering disappointment after relying on someone who's let you down". Tonight, stripped back and solo, it's less angry than the recorded version on 22:22, her 2018 mini-album. "You didn't make it easy" she sings and the disappointment is more fragile and raw tonight. It's a pleasing closer.
Bessie is funny, thoughtful (raising money from the merch stand for Ukraine) and regales the audience with her tendency to chat too much, her excitement at playing live again and possibly needing another drink! As my companion says, a night out with her would be great fun.
My only thought is a few more songs, a bit less chat to keep up the momentum of the show, which it never quite maintains. But we leave smiling and it's been fun.