Jess Robinson on her new show Impressive

Sensational singer and impressionist Jess Robinson rocks into Pleasance with a full live band

Feature by Ben Venables | 04 Aug 2016
  • Jess Robinson

Adele has been causing Jess Robinson problems. The kind of problems that take a toll on an impressionist who is trying to find her – or is that Adele's? – voice.

"Her voice is so, so, so different to mine," Robinson tells us. "And as people know her so well I can't get away with a half-baked attempt at it."

For the woman with a thousand voices, there's something a little surreal about the idea Robinson still has to learn new ones. That's a compliment to her powerhouse performances, which always make her impressions look easier than they are, but it is also an idea we're a little ashamed of. It implies, in comedy, it's 'just' an impression, something people can either do or they can't. In other words, it suggests the impressionist is simply lucky in the vocal range they were born with.

"Kate Bush was the first one I ever learned to do," she says, with some understatement. If this seems to confirm Robinson simply had a gift, as if Bush's distinctive voice came to her easily or by accident, it shouldn't. Even that first impression was built on a 'second nature' developed through practice: "I had already been training as a classical singer."

Impressions can mean hours, even countless performances, to get to a point where Robinson is happy with her take on someone else's voice: "Some take ages and I have to persevere, or it develops over years and I don't notice at first. My Shirley Bassey voice is a million times better than it was five years ago."

Has anybody's sound defeated her? In Robinson's case her nemesis seems to be Nina Simone. "I just can't," she says, "she has such a deep, resonant voice." Robinson says this with the tone of someone who does not enjoy giving up on a challenge. Moreover, Robinson sets a very high bench mark for when a new voice is ready for performance, or at least one of the Robinsons does: "I do practice all my impressions on my mum because she's one of my most critical people. But I know if I can get an impression past her it means it's OK."

On Fringe 2016 show Impressive

In her new show Impressive, Robinson performs with a full-live band for the first-time, a "wish come true". Although she knows it'll take a full band to replace Kirsty Newton (Robinson's usual musical partner who has an extraordinary comedy CV, collaborating with such giants as Rich Hall). "Kirsty is doing her own show at the Voodoo Rooms, which I urge you to go and see." And although they'll both be in Edinburgh, Robinson says, "We'll miss each other and we'll talk on the phone everyday."

However, it seems the band might pass the bar set by Robinson's mum, and also seem to have comedy covered. For instance, the bassist is one Laurence Owen, who conquered the Fringe last year and picked up a Malcolm Hardee award.

Impressive also retains Robinson's randomly combined, mashed-up impressions, where the voice of Sonia Jackson from EastEnders might be picked out to perform something as devilishly unsuited to the trumpet tooting Walford nurse as Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger theme. Then again, Sonia singing Bassey is nothing on her recent challenge: "In a preview Sonia's name was drawn to sing Cats. We'd never done that combination before. Just the idea of it was so funny we really should put it in every show."

Jess Robinson: Impressive, Pleasance Courtyard (Forth), 3-28 Aug (not 15 & 22), 8.30pm, £6.50-12.