When I first saw Elles Bailey here in Edinburgh, nearly six years ago, I reckoned she was a promising young artist. Nowadays though – blimey, when she and her band come onstage and get cracking with ‘The Game’, it’s clear that that promise has absolutely been fulfilled. The song is a gutsy belter, the band are cooking, and Bailey is a commanding presence, a vibrant performer both vocally and visually.
And that, really, is the story of the night. This is Bailey’s first UK tour since releasing Shining In The Half-Light a year ago, and that game-changing album is inevitably the backbone of the show. They roll out the pulsing, rolling ‘Stones’ to keep the momentum going, with Joe Wilkins making his first delivery of gritty slide guitar, then turn down the heat for the reflective ‘Colours Start To Run’. Now, you could stick a pin in the track listing of . . . Half-Light and be sure to find a cracking song every time, but this ballad is a real gem, with a chorus that rolls one hook into another, while Wilkins gives it an extra lift with a spiky solo.
Bailey is celebrating the tour by releasing a Deluxe edition of . . . Half-Light that includes four newly recorded tracks, and all of them get an outing tonight. ‘Spinning Stopped’, a product of Bailey becoming a mother, is a simple lullaby which she delivers with assured simplicity. ‘Hole In My Pocket’, in contrast, is a sturdy animal with an offbeat, lurching rhythm and an explosive coda, emphasising the range of Bailey and co, as they rock out in style. If their cover of John Fogerty’s ‘Long As I See The Light’ is played pretty straight, embroidered by some jazzy piano from Jonny Henderson, they achieve the unlikely feat of transforming John Martyn’s ‘Over The Hill’ (now 50 years old, fer chrissake) into an upbeat opportunity for dancing – an opportunity Bailey grabs with enthusiasm.
A few older songs get an outing, the pick of them perhaps ‘Perfect Storm’, her tribute to the music of Muscle Shoals on which Wilkins coaxes out subtleties on guitar, and the loping, shuffling and soulful ‘Help Somebody’, on which Bailey undertakes a brief stroll through the crowd.
The real highlights are the newer songs, especially ‘Shining In The Half-Light’ itself, on which Bailey makes the most of the strong melody, over elastic bass from Matthew Waer, and swooping, moaning, e-Bow inflected guitar from Wilkins, en route to a drum thumping conclusion.
‘Cheats And Liars’ is by turns magnificently brooding and angry, as Bailey vents her spleen about government dishonesty and offhandedness during the pandemic. ‘Riding Out The Storm’ is an irresistible set closer, with another great chorus and some slinky organ and guitar tag team work from Henderson and Wilkins.
They come back for two contrasting encores, with Mary Gaulthier’s emotive, politically charged ballad ‘Mercy Now’, which Bailey recorded on her Ain’t Nothing But album, and then the emphatic finale of ‘Sunshine City’, a grooving and rocking justification for hip-wiggling if ever there was one, bringing the night to such an exuberant close that Bailey even casts her trademark hat to one side.
Throughout all of this Elles Bailey is really quite marvellous. Her voice is terrific, with great range and depth, and the versatility to tackle every facet of her genre-crossing repertoire with style. She always had the gift of being likeable, but now her performance seems that much more mature in every respect, whether it’s her look, her movement, or her relaxed chat between songs.
It was no surprise to me that The Caves was packed for this show. It seems to have happened almost casually, but all of a sudden Elles Bailey has become a star of the British roots music firmament. Next time around she’s going to need bigger venues.
Headline 2023 Tour
3rd – The Globe, Cardiff
4th – The Phoenix, Exeter
9th – O2 Academy 2, Liverpool
10th – The Social, Hull
11th – The Firestation, Sunderland
14th – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton
15th – The Crescent Arts Centre, York
16th – The Caves, Edinburgh
17th – The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (co-headline with Chantel McGregor)
21st – Komedia, Brighton
22nd – Junction 2, Cambridge
23rd – 1865, Southampton
1st – Lafayette, London
14th – Arlington Arts, Newbury
15th – Trinity Centre, Bristol
18th – Rescue Room, Nottingham
19th – Sheffield, Corporation
Elles Bailey Discography
Road I Call Home
Ain’t Nothing But
Shining in the Half Light