Lily Allen, what have thou wrought? Her particular brand of confessional, hook-laden song-writing has cast a long shadow over the last decade of female musicians, more recently adapted by the likes of Kate Nash into a an acoustic call-back of sorts to the first generation of sixties singer-songwriters.
It is refreshing, therefore, to find an individual who is aware enough of their influences to work around them without letting them dominate their work. The Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM) displayed just such a range of talent at their Live and Lyrical night at Komedia where individuals and bands played one song each in quick succession.
It’s rather novel to experience music in this way: all the craftsmanship associated with the pacing and ordering of a setlist goes out the window and instead there are wildly varying ability and genres on display.
What is interesting, however, is the revelation that not every musician in Brighton is a white guy with dreadlocks and an Apple Mac churning out twelve-minute tracks with bass that makes your ears bleed. There are in fact intelligent, thoughtful songwriters with something genuine and interesting to say, and who know how to play actual instruments; although there is of course still the skinny jeans and trilby crowd, with artfully tousled hair and a tendency to sing in a strange mid-Atlantic accent.
Among the forerunners in this new wave of Brightonian musicians is Jess Allen, a young woman who has been playing and performing since she was 15 – even though she only began singing because she wanted to take part in a school talent show and was told she couldn’t play guitar if she didn’t sing as well.
With a list of influences ranging from modern artists like Damien Rice to more canonical figures like Carole King and Elliot Smith, it is obvious that she has educated herself well in the history of acoustic troubadours. She sings with a peculiarly English, almost Kinksian take on things, and the popularity of acoustic guitars and hair among her backing band bear the hallmarks of a classic English folk band.
However, Allen rejects this label, consciously leaning towards a more pop-orientated sound with the backing of electrical instruments – a fact which at times can overwhelm her somewhat delicate singing.
Indeed, one can at times see what could be a more interesting band, one more in touch with its folky roots, beneath the occasionally heavy-handed instrumentation. Nonetheless, the smart, witty lyricism and all-round above-par ability of the band makes Jess a genuine pleasure to listen to, and certainly one to watch.