YORK’S unstoppable force for the joy of singing, Jessa Liversidge, will present Songbirds, her celebration of female icons through the decades, at the reopened Joseph Rowntree Theatre on Sunday.
She will be accompanied at the 7.30pm concert by Malcolm Maddock on piano. “Malcolm and I launched the show a year ago in Tollerton, then performed it at Helmsley Arts Centre in January,” says Jessa.
“Both shows received a fantastic response from audiences and we were all set for an April performance at the Rowntree Theatre, but it was not to be.
“However, we were able to put together a live-stream highlights version at the end of July, but we can’t wait to perform to a live theatre audience together again this weekend.”
Jessa has devised such one-woman shows as her tribute to wartime women, ‘Til The Boys Come Home, and a musical theatre compilation, Some Enchanted Sondheim. Songbirds, her late-2019 addition, is an eclectic mix of vintage pop, musical theatre and comedy from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
“The show came about as I wanted to pay tribute to some of my favourite female musical icons, even though they come from a wide range of styles,” she says.
“So, one minute I may be in full, high-energy Victoria Wood flow, performing some of her most well-known songs, like Barry And Freda, with all the verses…moments later, I could be totally still, lost in a Kate Bush or Karen Carpenter song, and then I’ll go straight into theatrical mode for Sondheim’s Send In The Clowns.”
In the past few years, Dundee-born Jessa has become a huge fan of Carole King. “Through the lockdowns of the summer, I collaborated with Gary Stewart, a fantastic solo musician, as well as a member of Hope & Social and his own Graceland band – who happens to be our neighbour – to create some socially distanced Carole King and James Taylor collaborations,” says Jessa.
“Now, there are five Carole King songs featured in Songbirds and so many more I would like to do. Maybe a full tribute show is on the cards next.”
Songs by musical heroes from her teenage days, fellow Scot Annie Lennox and Alison Moyet, will feature too.
“I haven’t abandoned musical theatre completely,” says the York Musical Theatre Company regular. “I’ve included Julie Andrews and Barbra Streisand in my list of icons, and songs such as Feed The Birds and The Way We Were are featured, as well as The Sound Of Music and On A Clear Day.”
Looking forward to playing once more with Malcolm Maddock, Jessa says: “Having worked together so much, we have a wonderful collaborative relationship, and Malcolm is such a sensitive and responsive accompanist.
“We’ve performed live together for the filming of the St Leonard’s Hospice Light Up A Life service – now available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/xkWheW34xB8 – and that was such a special moment, especially in the beautiful setting and acoustic of Selby Abbey.”
Sunday’s stage at the JoRo will be very simple and intimate. “The stars of this show are the songs,” says Jessa. “I will not be doing impressions of these legends or presenting tribute acts.
“What I aim to do is perform this massive range of songs in a way that is loyal to the original but also true to my own style. Every single song in this programme I love performing for different reasons, and I hope that passion comes across to the audience too.
“But unusually for December 20, this will not be a festive show, though Malcolm and I have found a way of including at least one festive-themed song in the evening while staying true to the Songbirds theme.”
Jessa and her husband, fellow performer Mick, have played their part in the reopening of the JoRo theatre in Haxby Road, York. “In September, Mick and I performed our Fields And Lanes show there as a test for their Covid safety procedures,” she reveals.
“We were really pleased to be able to help the theatre in this way, and it has allowed the theatre to finalise their procedures and guidelines, enabling them to reopen and make the theatre visit as safe as possible for all guests and performers.
“It also allowed us to test out our outdoor poetry and song-based show in an indoor setting and it worked really well.
“So, in 2021, we’re excited to be working together on a Fields And Lanes project for Helmsley Arts Centre, involving members of the community in workshops, leading up to a performance in March.”
Jessa advises: “There’ll be very limited places on these workshops as we hope to work very closely with people on their singing and poetry interpretation skills – and the final performance will be available both as a live theatre show and a live stream. Details will be on the Helmsley Arts Centre website from January.”
Meanwhile, this ever-busy people’s champion has been trying to keep all her singing groups going online amid the strictures of the pandemic. “This has been a particular challenge for my Singing For All group,” she says.
“I set up the group as a Community Interest Company in the summer – something I’d been meaning to do for a while – and, after nine months of drastically reduced participation due to the Covid situation, with so many of my members not being online, Singing For All is struggling to keep going.”
Aware that the “magic of Christmas would have to be a bit different for everyone this year”, Jessa decided to do a daily Singing For All Advent Singalong throughout December.
“Every day, I go live on Facebook and sing a festive song or two, while saying a little about how special Singing For All is, with a virtual busking hat so that people can help if they are able to. The Advent Singalongs can be found on my Facebook page and YouTube.”
On Saturdays throughout this month, Advent Singalong and Field Sing are being combined, with the festive songs being sung outside despite the inclement weather. Take a look at December 12’s results at https://youtu.be/lMUKkR7RR9s and at Jessa’s website blog on her busy festive diary at https://jessaliversidge.com/index.php/news/
Turning to 2021’s diary, Jessa says: “My hopes for next year are that I can somehow continue to keep singing and helping others find the singing joy, however I can. With any luck, at least some of that may be with live audiences and choirs.”
Tickets for Sunday’s show are on sale at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/