There’s a lot about James Bay that reads quite dubiously on paper.
In a post-Britpop age, anyone who picks up a guitar would normally be strongly advised against donning a brimmed hat when indoors (for outdoor head accessories should be very carefully considered to avoid any sartorial (or literal) nods to those times). Similarly, any home counties chap who’s not old enough to remember Charlie Daniels Band’s ‘Long Haired Country Boy’ when it was released might have a long hard think before attempting that hairstyle. Indeed, if that someone then suggested a chorus that includes the lines ‘Why don’t you be you / And I’ll be me?’, I’d be thinking things are pretty dubious indeed.
But things are not actually dubious at all for James Bay. Maybe he’s just got the right bone structure in his face, maybe he’s just found a great conditioner, maybe he’s just got an incredible singing voice and other beautiful songwriting turns in all of his two EPs. Certainly, everything’s working pretty well.
For his sold out Hold Back The River tour, Bay has found the perfect place between acoustic solo work and a full band show. The whole thing balances momentum and grace beautifully, in particular the tour’s titular single, where I think I felt a little swoon shudder through the crowds at the first falsetto chorus. Bay really can sing.
Admittedly, I think the biggest swoon from the crowd was in reaction to his story about a girl he lost once ago, and recovered very recently, writing several songs about her and taking her on tour (to man the merch stand, which is at the back of the room). He tells it far better than I’ve recounted here, both through inter-song chat and the songs themselves. I hope she enjoys hearing it every night.
I leave the Brudenell with my heart warmed entirely, and another clichéd reminder not to judge anything so quickly. Bay’s live show feels far from anachronous and far from dubious; it feels like the start of a very exciting future.
Alice Lawrence/Photo Ryan Ohare
By Alice Lawrence