Keeping It Live

This week I stayed out late for live music and I would do it every night of the week if Jesse Terry was in town. Two years ago, I heard him sing in York. He and his guitar were squeezed into a makeshift stage in a tiny venue that held only about 20 people. When I say ‘venue’, I inflate it, making it sound like the ideal spot for gigs – it was actually a café. But a café so intimate that it felt like he was singing to each one of us, one on one, like modern day troubadour. It really was ideal.

Jesse is American, he exudes positivity, and (without casting aspersions on Americans) with him you can tell it’s real. He smiles constantly, through ridiculously blue eyes, so much so that you can’t but smile back. That night, back in York, I remember he expressed his gratitude in the most authentic way: he was truly grateful to be singing to only 20 people on a damp night in the north of England, far, far from home. He was genuinely thankful to be doing what he loved – and what he loves is to sing. It can’t be an easy way to make a living: on the road – or, as he would describe it ‘living out of my car’. But this man is living from his heart. I promised myself I’d go back and see him when he was next in these islands. So, when I hear that he is coming to Edinburgh, I am excited. I tell A. all about it. She is coming with me. Memory is an unreliable thing, though, and I wonder if he’ll live up to my expectations. He sure as hell did.

You’re a great listening audience’, he tells the quiet but appreciative group gathered in the Edinburgh Folk Club (or ‘Edinbro’, as Jesse calls it). It’s his first time here, and clearly no one had told him about this city’s distinctive, sedate character. I reckon it was a little more boisterous in Glasgow last night! He was right, though, we were good listeners, taking in every note. He sang mostly his own songs: lyrical, gentle, rockin’, joyous, funny. He talked too, sometimes introducing a song with heartfelt, unedited, engaging stories of how they came about and what inspired them: his much loved deceased grandmother, his wife, a random encounter on a train, exotic travels, toxic affairs.

I’ve given up on trying to classify music, it seems to mean less and matter less the more we try to box artists into a particular genre. Jesse was singing in a ‘folk club’ (and folk is one big wide church), and was introduced as a singer of ‘Americana’, whatever that means. I could definitely hear the influence of the Beatles, who he says are his heroes, and I could hear echoes of Jackson Browne (who, endearingly, he has named his dog after) in some of his thoughtful, rolling tunes. But Jesse is just himself. He has, in keeping with the name of one of his songs, ‘let the blue sky go to his head’, and long may his blue eyes look up to the blue sky. He sang mostly his own superb songs. One called ‘Stargazer’, which speaks to every dreamer within us, has stayed in my head. Pursue your dream, the song encourages us, with the line ‘you weren’t born to rust’. The last thing I want to do after hearing Jesse Terry is to rust. So whatever your own personal ‘music’ is – be it painting, or hammering wood, or welding metal, or running up hills, or writing poetry – get up and do it, and don’t you dare rust!

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