Mersey Wylie, Tori Cross, Jasmine Johnson: Studio 2, Liverpool

By Shaun Ponsonby
Wed 28 November, 2018

An astonishing performance to launch her astonishing EP, Mersey Wylie puts on an empowering night at Studio 2.

Mersey Wylie has made no secret of the themes that resonate through her debut EP, The Skin I Live In.

She spoke openly about it with us a number of weeks ago in one of the most rewarding interviews we’ve ever published. So, to walk into Studio 2 for the EP’s launch and find cards bearing lyrics focussing on her struggles with mental health scattered throughout the venue only added to the feeling that Wylie is a woman making a grand statement.

When she made it to the stage, she did so with a small choir – presumably from Sense of Sound – to perform the gorgeous introduction to Can’t Let Go. It evokes a feeling of The Beach Boys’ Our Prayer; a harmonic rollercoaster of emotions that probably couldn’t be expressed with mere words. Just sounds. The complexity of it means it would be impossible to perform without the choir, meaning this will inevitably be a rare performance of it. Wylie looked thrilled to be performing it and kicked her set off in the most dynamic of ways.

As expected, the EP was played in full, but Wylie took the bold decision to include upcoming material in the set. Though different in theme, it still fit nicely with the songs she was there to promote and ensured that despite the obvious influences of classic soul and jazz, she is a forward thinking artist.

The only cover of the night was a surprising inclusion and shows the breadth of her influences; Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Performed low key, she completely removed the song from the (admittedly delightful) image of Parton, and recast the song musically to underline the darker connotations of the lyric.

Of the new songs, the one that really stands out is Woman. Perhaps that tonight’s show features three incredible female performers is part of the reason for that. Whether or not this was a conscious effort from Wylie, it was a powerful statement without being explicit.

Opening the show to an already packed house was Jasmine Johnson – a young up and comer who hasn’t performed too many gigs, but this fact would have been lost on most of the crowd. Playing only acoustic, she was confident and assured.

She also somehow managed to match the theme of Mersey’s EP, with the one song featuring the line “Playing Russian roulette with my mental health” being as honest and striking as any of Wylie’s words. A transformative cover of Angie Stone’s Wish I Didn’t Miss You was icing on an already delicious cake.

Like Mersey, Tori Cross also has a song called Woman, a fact that Wylie was amused by on stage – and really only did more to underline an added feeling of girl power to the proceedings, though the highlight of her set was undoubtedly Headstrong, the studio version of which being a collaboration with Jalen N’Gonda.

Like Johnson, Cross was also playing acoustic, but gave off a very different vibe.  Johnson seemed a tad more soulful, whilst we felt Cross lent a little closer to an almost jazz influence – at least in tonight’s set up. Yet both complimented Mersey Wylie perfectly in their own way, and helped make this one of the most empowering and classiest gigs we’ve seen in a long time.

Pictures by Graham Smillie