James Bay at the London Palladium
With the looks of a male model, riveting vocals, undeniable musicality and astounding wordcraft, Brit winner and Grammy nominee James Bay quickly became a household name and amassed throngs of adoring fans all over the globe.
Ahead of supporting Ed Sheeran MBE during the European leg of his tour, the singer gave his beloved fans a one-night-only treat at the historic London Palladium.
Keeping it in the family, supporting Bay was fellow artist and older brother Alex Francis, a BST Hyde Park and Isle of Wight festival veteran, whose charisma, talent and soulful tracks wowed the crowd. As his baby brother rightly remarked later in the evening, “go find all his music … it’s incredible”.
Deafening screams filled the dark till the lights flashed and the opening bars of vibrant pop-rock hit Pink Lemonade sparked throughout the venue. Taken from the performer’s second studio album Electric Light, it propelled the audience to their feet as they started singing every single word, and most didn’t sit back down again. The stage turned as red as the artist’s trademark guitar, and the driving riff of addictive headbanger Craving got everybody high and sure gave them something they could feel.
After watching the talented Mr Bay effortlessly captivating an ecstatic crowd, it’s hard to imagine that only a few years ago he was unknown, living in the small town of Hitchin, and whilst the whirlwind of his meteoric rise has taken him to Nashville, Glastonbury, New York etc., the “what if” scenarios examined in his blues-tinged If You Ever Want To Be In Love (taken from double-platinum debut album The Chaos and the Calm) reflect the possible regrets of roads not taken, which, as a universal theme, had a big impact within the theatre.
Wrote to “explore unity and inclusion”, Us is an inspiring track that was re-released as a duet with US megastar Alicia Keys after their impressive appearance on NBC’s The Voice. Hearing this irresistible anthem chanted by a sold-out Palladium was a magical rush for us all.
The late-night lyrics and silky smooth groove of Fade Out was a noted departure, however this alluring gem of Prince-influenced retro RnB performed live took on a ravishing sensuality as the singer got lost in his music, jammed with his bandmates and delivered some delicious guitar solos.
Alone on stage, Bay and his guitar were a mesmerising pair, as the natural talent of this unique troubadour radiated to every corner of the theatre. Tonight’s concert was the ideal balance of powerful toe-tappers and stripped-down acoustic moments, such as the achingly tender Break My Heart Right from his surprise EP Oh My Messy Mind, released this year.
The artist shared how he loves the ability to instantly “put music out that feels really good”, but one imagines it can be worrying remembering the words to music only just written. Thankfully, he recalled all the delicate and poignant lyrics to this moving ballad, no doubt a wedding song for many decades to come.
The audience went wild as our star strummed the opening notes to his iconic Let It Go (featured in hit TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and Supergirl), then they left wild in the dust as James announced after the first chorus, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Mr Lewis Capaldi,” the venue shaking from the euphoric screams. These two acclaimed singer-songwriters sounded terrific together; it was evident that Bay got such as kick out of hearing Capaldi singing his song that he returned the gift, combining part of his fellow artist’s number one smash Someone You Loved, and it seems the kick was mutual and written all over Capaldi’s beaming face. The whole room was in heaven and this secret surprise guest was glorious icing for his delirious and mind-blown fans.
With its instantly memorable hook and a positive be-true-to-yourself message, Best Fake Smile from Bay’s debut album (produced by the legendary Jacquire King) was the ideal track to sign off on, but having not heard his 2014 breakthrough hit yet, we knew we wouldn’t be parted for very long. Sure enough, after sustained screaming the man in black reappeared alone, but surprisingly didn’t dive into his watery track; instead, he humbly expressed his thanks, correctly deducing, “I know I’ve got your back and I feel like you got mine,” before performing his latest single Bad, one of those instant classics: relatable, impassioned lyrics combined with Bay’s husky, fragile voice with a raw intensity that is simply unforgettable.
Next came the only cover of the evening, a rousing rendition of Emma Franklin’s soulful Piece of My Heart, originally recorded way back in 1967, another musical sibling connection as Emma was the older sister of the late great Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.
“I need you to sing it out so loud, come on.” The elated crowd obliged in a joint a cappella moment before achieving a successful silence for dramatic effect, then the melody of the singer’s breakthrough hit Hold Back the River flowed, the artist giving it his all and evidently loving every moment as he finally declared “London Palladium, I love you” and his enraptured fans demonstrated how much they loved him right back.
Photo: James Boardman
For further information and future events visit James Bay’s website here.
Watch the video for Bad here: