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Sunday, 4 October 2015

Gig Review: James Bay at O2 Academy Brixton

* First published on Kettle Mag.

2015 has really been James Bay’s year. At the start of the year virtually no-one had heard of him. Now, nine months later, everything has changed for the 25-year-old from Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

Over the course of one short year Bay has had a number one album, Chaos and the Calm, received the Critics’ Choice Award at the 2015 Brit Awards, and it has just been announced that Chaos and the Calm has become the biggest album of 2015.

Riding on the success of Chaos and the Calm, his debut studio album, which I also reviewed for Kettle earlier in the year, James Bay is out on tour again. Last week saw him complete a sold-out three-night residency at Brixton’s O2 Academy, before continuing on his world tour, which culminates with another three-night London residency at the Eventim Apollo in March 2016.


Now, for someone who’s currently at the top of the UK music industry, I surely wouldn’t be wrong for expecting a polished, slick performance from a James Bay show. It started off well on Wednesday night, but I was left with the distinct feeling that things weren’t quite going as planned on the technical side. In between every act crew members were scurrying around the stage, trailing wires, fiddling and testing equipment and instruments. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to enough gigs to expect a bit of this. But surely that’s what a soundcheck is for - making sure all the problems are ironed out so everything runs smoothly on the night?


Support came in the form of singer-songwriter Samm Henshaw, followed by the slightly eccentric Elle King. I’ll be honest, by the time I got into the venue I only caught the last song of Samm Henshaw’s set. But Elle King, for all her issues, was a fitting support act for James Bay. Her songs can best be described as a kind of country/pop hybrid, complete with banjo playing and a big dose of shameless American honesty.


So after that, the crowd were well warmed up and ready for James Bay. He was due on stage at 9 o’clock, but it was almost half past by the time he finally came on. By this time the crowd were restless, people kept checking their phones and fidgeting, especially those limited to a tight schedule by trains needing to be caught.


Despite this though, the actual show was great. From the moment he came on stage, silhouetted against the curtain with his guitar and trademark hat, it was worth the wait. The setlist interspersed all the best-loved songs from Chaos and the Calm with new songs and songs not on the album. He also performed several covers, which was kind of a given when you only have one album’s worth of material to pull from.

James was still recovering from a cold on Wednesday, which had sparked thankfully-unnecessary fears about the potential cancellation of the show. But from the energy he showed and the way he was leaping about the stage, you wouldn’t have guessed it. The entire show was performed with high-energy that got the crowd going. Down in the stalls everyone was dancing and singing along, and up in the circle we all defied the ‘no standing’ rule to get up and show our appreciation.


When the encore arrived, James had one more trick up his sleeve. He announced he’d be playing one of his favourite songs, a Faces cover, then proceeded to bring out no other than the legendary guitarist Ronnie Wood to play it with him. Needless to say, this made the crowd go wild, and was the perfect way to top off the night.

If you can, I really recommend going along to see James Bay live. As good as he sounds on the album, he’s even better live. I get the feeling 2015 is only the beginning for the man in the hat.

You can see James' upcoming tour dates and buy tickets here.

Are you a fan of James Bay? Let me know in the comments below! 

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