Two bards, one songbird, a loop pedal and a nod to Taylor Swift add up to Jessa Liversidge’s Shakespeare and Burns show

Jessa Liversidge: Two bards, one songbird; two performances, two workshops. Picture: David K Newton

EASINGWOLD singer and choir leader Jessa Liversidge presents her celebration of song inspired by two bards, William Shakespeare and Robert Burns, from her native Scotland, in York tomorrow and Helmsley next Saturday.

Her heartfelt performance spans traditional folk, pop and musical theatre, sung to her piano accompaniment with judicious use of a loop pedal to layer melodies and sounds.

At each concert, at Theatre@41 and Helmsley Arts Centre, audience suggestions are invited to enable Jessa to improvise a new song around a Shakespeare/Burns quotation.

At both venues, from 4pm to 6pm, she will be hosting a harmony-singing workshop for participants to sing in the evening show. Box office: York,; Helmsley,

The poster for Two Bards And A Songbird

Here, Jessa discusses Shakespeare, Burns, songs, poems and her next show with CharlesHutchPress

What part did Robert Burns and Shakespeare play in your education, being brought up in Scotland?

“I was brought up and went to school in Dundee, and in my younger years we all had to learn a Burns song to take part in a competition called the Leng Medal. This was my first experience of Burns’s songs, and of course we learned several of the poems in school too.

“At this young age, I didn’t really appreciate the poetry and power of his words, and certainly didn’t fully appreciate the speeches from Macbeth and Hamlet as I crammed them the night before my Higher English exam! I wouldn’t have predicted that years later I’d be improvising songs around those same words.”

How did you first come to participate in the Durham Fringe Festival?

“Durham is quite a young Fringe, and I’ve been involved since it started in 2021. Mick [actor husband Mick Liversidge] and I had put a show together inspired by our outdoor lockdown singing and poetry reciting called Fields and Lanes, and this was featured in an afternoon showcase the Fringe put on, alongside aerial artistes and dancers! A great experience and a friendly bunch of volunteers running the festival.

“It has grown since then, and I performed my Songbirds show there in 2022, then Two Bards And A Songbird in 2023. My inspiration to put this show together was a callout by Durham Fringe for Shakespeare-inspired shows, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the First Folio.”

Sum up the show in a nutshell…

“It’s a musical exploration of work inspired by the two bards. Just me, a piano and my loop pedal. Very different, very eclectic!

“I could be singing a beautiful Robert Burns song one moment, improvising around a Shakespeare sonnet the next, looping around with a Taylor Swift song, then throwing in a musical theatre number, such as Sondheim’s Fear No More The Heat O’ The Sun or So In Love from Kiss me Kate.

Mick and Jessa Liversidge on one of their walks in lockdown in 2020 for Fields and Lanes

“I even combine the two bards in two of the pieces. There’s also a fun, but scary element of the show, where audience members pick a quotation from their table for me to improvise around.”

Shakespeare’s plays feature songs; Burns’s poetry has a long tradition of being turned into folk songs, alongside his own songwriting. How has that shaped the content of your show?

“Several of Burns’s original songs feature in the show – Red, Red Rose, Ae Fond Kiss, A’ The Airts – as well as the most famous song Burns actually didn’t write! (Auld Lang Syne, which he heard someone singing, then wrote down!)

“In the early stages of developing the show, I looked at some of the original songs used in Shakespeare plays, but I ended up using a more contemporary mix of songs for the Shakespeare element. His work features such universal themes that just about anything can be said to be inspired by Shakespeare!

“What I’ve chosen is a mixture of pop and musical theatre inspired by his words and stories, songs from musical adaptations of his plays (including some from a fairly recent adaptation of As You Like It, performed in Central Park, New York, featuring hundreds of community performers and music by Shaina Taub.)

“Plus of course the more improvised sections, where I develop my own musical interpretations of Shakespeare’s words, such as Come Away Death and Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day.”

How do you use the loop pedal?

“I love looping! It’s so addictive and fun, and a great, if sometimes baffling, experience for the audience, some of whom have never heard anything quite like it!

“I basically layer up keyboard chords, vocal harmonies, melodies, sometimes even recited poetry, together. Everything is done live, nothing pre-recorded.

The poster for Jessa Liversidge’s new show, A Tapestry Of Life, at the 2024 Durham Fringe Festival

“So, with the Taylor Swift song in the show, I build up harmonies in a chorus first, as part of the performance, then use that within the song.

Here it is:

“It’s great for the improvised sections too, and where I mash Shakespeare and Burns together – so at one point I sing a Burns song (John Anderson My Jo) and layer a suitable sonnet over the top – as a great way of creating harmony and different effects as a solo performer.”

Explain your choice of Burns and Shakespeare works to intertwine.

“The Burns song, John Anderson My Jo, speaks in a light-hearted way of the longevity of love, how it changes over time. Quite ironic as Burns never reached old age sadly. (N.B. I am doing one of the more polite versions of this song!).

“I then layer Shakespeare’s sonnet 104 over the top, which speaks, “to me, fair friend, you never can be old”.

“Another features a short segment from the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Julius Caesar that I was lucky enough to be involved with this time last year: Ghosts, used with permission of the composer, Jasmin Kent Rodgman.

“This haunting, repetitive piece is used in one of the battle scenes – and as a nod to the more pacifist leanings of Burns, I recite his Logan Braes over the top.” 

Jessa Liversidge leading one of her choir workshops

What will the workshops involve? Who can attend? Is there a charge?

“The workshops are open to all voices – anyone who enjoys singing and wants to get more involved with the show. We’ll work on some vocal technique and fun warm-ups, then learn some of the material from the show – which the group can then get up and perform alongside me in the evening, in between enjoying the rest of the show as an audience member.

“I will tailor each workshop to whoever comes along. I am used to working with all ages and abilities and just love bringing people together to sing! It’s such a joyous way to connect with others. 

“Both venues are offering a combined ticket for the workshop and show, only £5 extra for the two-hour workshop.”

Have your performed Two Bards And A Songbird in Scotland?

“I’ve been up to my native land for a couple of weekends performing the show in Dundee and Fife. Quite a moment, having not performed there since I was at school! And even then, I was never a singing soloist in those days, only really finding my voice in my mid-twenties.

“One old school friend who came to the Dundee performance said, ‘you were a violinist at school’! Lovely, though, to be able to have some family members come and support who don’t usually get to witness my antics in real life.”

How did you find your voice in your mid-20s, and was that part of the inspiration for encouraging others to do likewise in your choirs?

“My vocal journey has been a long and winding one! I’ve always enjoyed singing, but as I reached my 20s, I found I was limited in what I could do as a soloist, so decided to have some proper vocal training.

“I could be singing a beautiful Robert Burns song one moment, improvising around a Shakespeare sonnet the next,” says Jessa of her Two Bards And A Songbird show. Picture: Andrea Denniss

“I spent ten years training with York’s Jacqueline Edwards, finding my full range and surprising myself with what I could do. Then since having my own children in my 30s, I have built up my freelance work around singing, and sharing the joy of singing with others.

“I’ve undertaken so much more training in the past ten years or so, from vocal health first aid to vocal cross-training (all the different techniques and characteristics of singing in different genres), and now I feel so lucky to spend my week singing with, and for, such a wide range of people of all ages and abilities.”

Describe your new Carole King show, A Tapestry Of Life, premiering at next month’s Durham Fringe Festival?

“Like many, I’m a huge fan of Carole King. Her songs (a bit like the bard himself!) focus on those universal themes everyone can identify with: life, love, loss. My sister, Andrea Brown, has recently written a book of poetry with that very title.

“As we were born in the 1970s, when Tapestry was released, I came up with the idea of A Tapestry Of Life. It will be the classic Carole King songs, interspersed with songs I’m writing from Andrea’s poetry. Lots of them about pretty moving and emotional family events, and situations and journeys that will resonate with a lot of people, I’m sure. Quite scary for me as I am quite new to songwriting!

“But the words are so beautiful, I am very excited about performing this combination of old and new.”

What drew you to the music of Carole King?

“I first got to know some of the best-known songs, such as You’ve Got A Friend and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, then decided to explore further. I love the messages behind her songs, the catchy and moving melodies, and how the songs mean so much to people. These songs were released over 50 years ago but the themes and messages are eternally relevant.”

How have you found the experience of writing songs? 

“It’s a whole new world for me. I really only started writing songs in 2020, and even then, that was only short rounds and partner songs to teach to my choirs. I’ve dabbled a little but not often had the confidence to share much of my own writing.

“My sister Andrea has always been the poet in our family. She’s written poems for events at work and home, and even wrote and recited beautiful poems for our parents’ funerals.

“I am used to improvising short melodies, and layering up harmonies, like I do in Two Bards, but this is a different ball game! I’m loving the process of putting these moving words to music and linking the themes of the Carole King classics to the themes of these beautiful poems.”

Jessa Liversidge, Two Bards And A Songbird, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow (16/6/2024), 7.30pm, and Helmsley Arts Centre, June 22, 7.30pm. Box office: York,; Helmsley, 01439 771700 or

Jessa Liversidge, A Tapestry Of Life, Durham Fringe Festival, The Pemberton Rooms, Durham University, just off Palace Green, July 25 to 28, 4.30pm. Box office:

Preview show at Easingwold Library on July 17 at 7.30pm (doors 7pm). Suggested entry donation of £8; all profits in aid of community library funds. Bookings: email or ring 07526 107448 and leave a message with contact details.

Jessa Liversidge: the back story

SINGER and positive and encouraging singing leader, experienced in working with singers of all ages and abilities.

Runs several choirs, including HAC Singers, Easingwold Community Singers, Singing For All and York Military Wives Choir, as well as teaching singing privately and teaching music to young people, lifting the spirits of hundreds through song each week.

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