In recent years, James Bay has enjoyed taking risks. From trading the acoustic
guitar and wedding day favourites of debut album ‘The Chaos And The Calm’ for a
whole lot of reinvention on 2018’s ‘Electric Light’ to last years surprise ‘Oh My Messy
Mind’ EP, which was celebrated with a last minute gig at Brighton’s Coalition during the city’s The Great Escape festival, he’s never been one for playing it safe.
Tonight is no different as the Hitchin singer returns to the stage for the first time in ten months. Following on from the release of new single ‘Chew On My Heart’, this evening
sees Bay play a handful of new tracks for the first time. Normally that would be
no big deal, especially within the confines of London’s 320-capacity Omeara, but
tonight is being live-streamed across the globe. There’s not a lot of room for
“It’s such a strange feeling of excitement playing a new song, especially when no
one has heard it,” grins Bay. “It’s a nervous experience but I love the song,” he
continues before launching into ‘One Life’, an uptempo burst of completely besotted romance. The stuttering beauty of ‘Right Now’ quickly follows and is just as drunk in love, the perfect partner to woozy summer anthem of ‘Chew On My Heart’ – and even
more inviting live. Elsewhere he twists ‘Electric Light’ highlight ‘Pink Lemonade’
from a fiery hit of New York cool to a soaring hunk of escapism, covers Whitney Houston‘s
‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ and dials up the longing before
closing with the ever-epic ‘Hold Back The River’.
While most gigs in the time of corona-virus have tried to skirt around an obvious lack
of audience participation – or ignore it altogether – Bay instead makes use of the empty Omeara to underline the threat faced by this venue and countless others across the country. Tonight is a fundraiser for Save Our Venues, a campaign to help stop the closure of venues affected by Covid-19. Hours earlier it was announced that Manchester’s Gorilla and The Deaf Institute would not be reopening alongside Hull’s The Welly and The Polar Bear.
Despite the £1.57 billion government bailout for struggling arts venues, they probably won’t be the only much-loved music venues forced to close their doors and, as Bay explains, “that can’t be allowed to happen. We don’t get to have all the great artists that we love without them at the beginning of their journey. Let’s do everything in our power to keep small venues alive. It’s cool to do [live-streamed] things like this, but it’s not the same.”
And it really isn’t. Tonight, James Bay puts on a warm, charming, and entertaining
show that manages to be both powerful and delicate – but still, he’s under no illusion just
how removed it is from a proper live experience. At the end of the gig, he walks
offstage into the empty space where a crowd should be in complete silence. It’s a
stark reminder that deserted venues like this are the future, unless more is done
to save them.
James Bay played
‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ (Whitney Houston cover)
– Donate to Save Our Venues here