Before she’s sung a note, Jessica Lynn breaks what she calls her 'cardinal rule’ when she tells us that she’s been ill all week and has a fever.
The New Yorker apologises for feeling rundown and that her voice might crack or fail to reach the right notes. If she hadn’t mentioned it, those of us seeing her for the first time would have probably been none-the-wiser.
Then it’s straight into the perky country-pop of Turn It Up, dancing around and flicking her waist-length hair around with abandon.
We’re told, jokingly, this is the rare ‘sick set’, which in reality means a couple of the more vocally demanding songs have been switched out. And yes, there are occasions when you can hear her reaching for a note and there are a few coughs between numbers.
But given that the following night's show in Maidstone has already been pulled because of her illness, we should be grateful she's playing at all. Her determination that the ‘show must go on’ here in Portsmouth seems genuine and endearing.
However, with her family literally behind her – dad Peter is on bass, mum Victoria is on backing vocals and husband Steve plays lead guitar – she still delivers a spirited performance.
Songs like the upbeat and chronically catchy Let’s Don’t and Crazy Idea are a little more rocking than their slick recorded versions, but a bit of grit does them no harm. And heart-tugging ballads like You Wouldn’t Know have more of that traditional Nashville twang to keep the country purists happy.
Pedal-steel player Bob is the band’s secret weapon. Relegated to playing in front of the stage because of the lack of space on it, he is soon dubbed ‘The Prince of Portsmouth’, and is the subject of much on stage banter. A long-time family friend we learn how he taught Jessica to tap-dance when she was four. With a bit of encouragement from the audience he is showing us a few of his moves.
They finish with a brace of covers – a rollicking run through of Elvis' That’s All Right and Chuck Berry's Johnny B Goode. The latter starts off with a gentle country swing before building to a full-on singalong that sees Bob finally take centre stage while Jessica jumps behind the drum kit, mid-song. It's a fun finish.
At the end of the hour-long set, the band gets a well-deserved standing ovation, and the audience clearly want more, but Jessica looks shattered.
But if this was her firing on less than all cylinders, full-strength must be truly impressive. And with the current popularity of country on this side of the pond, there’s no reason why Jessica couldn’t emulate the chart success of others here.
Portsmouth’s own Lily Garland provides support, and shows why she’s previously won The Guide Award for Best Solo Act.
An extremely accomplished vocalist in her own right, she’s got another pair of powerhouses backing her in the shape of Jodie Vinall and Lyndsey-Marie Vincent.
But her own songwriting shines too – with originals holding their own alongside the covers.
The one new song she debuts, Rise Above The Ashes is a full tilt southern-rock stomper that sees Lily really let rip. If the rest of the new material is this strong, we're in for a treat.