It has been a meteoric rise for James Bay, the talented 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Hitchin. James has won many of us over with his gravelly yet soulful voice, luscious melodies and alternative pop/rock storytelling songs. Consequently, he has earned a Brit Award for ‘Critics’ Choice’ as well as going straight to number one with his debut album Chaos And The Calm.
On a somewhat chilly April night, with much feverish anticipation, I made my way to the O2 Academy in Cowley. An hour before James set the stage on fire, the Norwich boys from the support act Port Isla helped to warm up the sell-out crowd with their lively alternative pop tracks that complimented the expressive style of James’ performance. James finally rocked up on stage in black skinny jeggings, T shirt and his trademark hat, followed by his accompanying threeman band.
Strikingly, at first glance, his chiselled looks much resemble a young Johnny Depp. The set was ostensibly simplistic, only a big banner displaying his name in thin lettering helped to decorate the backdrop. The opening number ‘Collide’ was a high octane, fast-tempo track that immediately set the stage alight. “I can’t bear to let you go/ So keep on throwing your sticks and stones,” he howled grittily. Love is a central theme in his songs; hopeful, dying and painful love. ‘If You Ever Want To Be In Love’, ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Scars’ were eagerly lapped up by the crowd, with the enthralled audience singing along enthusiastically.
He gave softly spoken introductions to the songs, always rather polite and humble in his manner of speech. The crowd livened up to ‘Best Fake Smile’, a chirpy, rock’n’roll-tinged track that had us dancing on our toes and clapping fervently. Almost all the tracks from the debut album were performed on the night. His voice at times was reminiscent of James Morrison; his style was a putative combination of Mumford & Sons meets Bruce Springstein meets Damien Rice. ‘Hold Back The River’ ended the gig on a delirious climax to everyone’s pure delight as we belted in unison. It was a ravishingly raw and mesmerising gig that left us craving more. James’ performance was delivered with panache and confidence that surpassed his age, a sure sign of a burgeoning musical career ahead. It’s hats off and big thundering claps to this Hertfordshire musical maestro.