Live Music + Gig Reviews

Corinne Bailey Rae @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

5 April 2006

Corinne Bailey Rae This time last year nobody had heard of her. Tonight, Corinne Bailey Rae’s first headline tour took in London and some of the thousands of new fans her eponymous debut album has made her.

Alarmingly, she appeared on the venerable stage of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire clad in beige. Was she making a point about those who, despite her voice and winning charm, dismiss her as just a little bit… dull?

Since a feted appearance on Jools Holland’s show with a solo performance of Like A Star, Leeds lass Bailey Rae has been ruthlessly targeted at the MOR market of supermarket shelves, Radio 2, coffee houses and people who care to buy semi-disposable Swedish furniture. The plan has worked, of course – the record topped the charts in its first week of release.

So now comes the burden of expectation. She’s no longer like a star but actually is one. Consequently, tonight she appears with a backing band of no fewer than nine musicians, including melodica, flute, backing singers, guitar, bass, synths and a drummer behind a glass screen. Just in case it got a little too loud.

When she strapped on her guitar and let Like A Star loose like the proverbial genie, showcasing an undoubted talent for expression and subtlety, it was a cold (choux pastry) heart that wasn’t warmed by her charm. More of this kind of audience intimacy would suit her well, for she’s good at it. The voice is compelling, the smile charming, the banter engaging. So much so that when signature hit Put Your Records On followed it was almost like breaking a spell – a strange way for her biggest hit to date to be greeted.

Better was Butterfly, one of the album’s lovelier songs, but two palpable steps were taken backwards by her audience as she announced her intention to play a Led Zeppelin cover, Since I’ve Been Loving You. She’d been in a Led Zep type band in Leeds, she explained. What followed certainly sounded more like Corinne Bailey Rae than Page and Plant. She made the song her own, and that’s just how it should be.

An encore was of course demanded and Choux Pastry Heart was offered – as with the rest of the set, charmingly, warmly, competently, yet with a niggling feeling of too much, too ruthlessly soon about it.

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