James Bay – Albert Hall – Manchester – 11th April 2015
Under the glow of the Albert Hall, Manchester saluted the latest in Britain’s ceasless conveyor belt of internationally acclaimed troubadours. Ed Sheeran. Ben Howard. Hozier. The perpetual ecstacy – habitually shaded with seeds of wretched satisfaction – crafted by British artists at present is unparaleled across the globe. And it’s this allure that Hitchin born songwriter James Bay radiates; unshackling acoustic touched pop. The 24 year old is already lionized by his contemporaries and the public; his celebrated debut ‘Chaos and the Calm’ topping the charts, the Critics’ Choice award from the Brits and a knockout single. A rarity for a newcomer. But considering his beatnik, shabby air, there is little not to embrace with Bay.
Typically his music highlights his voracious attitude on constructing discernible melodies. His voice is almost celestial; augmenting into quaking patterns of towering utterances that easily collocate with passages of alleviated ambiences. ‘Collide’ exemplified this as meanders of pulsating organ pumped out across the 1900 strong room. ‘When We Were On Fire’ was flooded with Adele stylised charging acoustic progressions and heightened the spirited aura exuding from within. The hooks were simple; but aloft a reluctant ensemble, that for all its beauty was still bitten with bursts of harshness.
Bay’s songs occasionally do not demonstrate how broad his vocals can be. ‘If You Ever Want to Be in Love’s chorus exploded; jerking piano entangling with sporadic impromptu winding vocal murmurs, Bay’s voice only truly flourished at its climax when he screeched out its final phrase. ‘Running’ had a similar attraction; his voice rarely sounding better than “when you think you’re on your own, I’m still coming home” carefully stunning the crowd into soft chants back.
Naturally on appearance Bay could effortlessly have gone unnoticed within any mid 00s independent alternative band. His music compliments this. ‘Get Out While You Can’ feels as if it came straight from a ‘Only By the Night’ era Kings of Leon bible – resonating sharply with the Libertinesque brashness on his guitar. And his inaugural single ‘Let It Go’ – instantly identifiable as a crisp classic, its hook line poignantly depicting the fractious impact love has on most individuals – evoked glimpses of RY X’s ‘Berlin’ throughout its intro. He really could be a one man pop reincarnation of Bloc Party.
‘Hold Back the River’ defined Bay. The standalone anthem that is coloured so carefully by Bay’s towering vocals, it is without doubt a track that will be used tirelessly throughout the years. It conjures all manner of emotion; harrowing losses, but the inevitable rise after the fall.
He – like the other singer songwriters we have – is on a wave that refuse to wilt. Bay is now close to becoming our new megastar. All he needs next is a spot on The Walking Dead soundtrack and he is laughing.
Words by Clive K Hammond