James Bay‘s is a name you might by now have noticed. With the music industry blundering along at what seems like a faster pace than ever, Bay’s rise to prominence has happened in the blink of an eye. Since the release of his debut EP The Dark Of The Morning back in July 2013, photos of the big-hatted, long-haired young man have been popping up all over the internet – almost as often as his tracks have been heard on Radio 1. More recently, he has been the runner-up in the still-prestigious BBC Sound Of 2015 poll, and was also awarded the annual BRITs Critics Choice Award. With previous winners including Adele, Tom Odell and Emeli Sandé the question tonight is whether anyone could ever live up to this level of hype?
This sold-out far corner of Camden is brimming to capacity, and when Bay eventually takes to the stage he is greeted by a rapturous response from a crowd that is ready to be blown away. Yet this is not quite what they receive. It visibly takes a while for Bay to get comfortable during opening song Craving, and there are times when his voice cracks or doesn’t quite reach the notes he’s aiming for, leaving you wincing. It isn’t until he plays Running that things really step up a gear, and he manages to regain the attention of the crowd, who sing back every word of the love song at the stage in something of a communal singalong. Things begin to look up.
He’s in his element like this, when he’s playing solo. When everything else is stripped back, there is a glimmer of something more interesting, another side which we should see more of. As he sings Scars, a different mood flickers in the air and you can see why he got the A&R bods at Universal all excited in the first place. He ticks so many boxes; a strong voice, pretty face and penchant for writing easy-on-the-ear love songs. However, strong music moments are few and far between. And what fills the rest of the set time is just a little bit…well, boring. Bay is a tentative performer who plays by the rulebook. He hardly speaks between songs and there are times when it becomes difficult to differentiate the songs, as one heartfelt guitar-driven song merges into the next.
Still reeling from the glimmers of promise, you really pine for him to quicken the pace and knock your socks off. He evidently has the talent, and some songs that really make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. He also has the doting fanbase, many of whom already know the words to all the songs. But there is the overwhelming sense that he is still on a journey of exploration. The many accolades he’s already accumulated have evidently put a strain and a pressure on the young artist, who still needs time to grow and explore his talent before he’s completely comfortable on the stage.