When an artist is booked into a multi-roomed venue, and the location is upgraded to the Main Room due to demand, there is a significant buzz occurring. MetalTalk despatched the James/Inglis duo down to KK’s to experience Elles Bailey and absorb the atmosphere. Here’s what they sampled.
KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 14 March 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: John Inglis
The past couple of years have seen Bristolian soul rocker Elles Bailey experience a meteoric ascendancy, including headline appearances at festivals. This tour has finally given her the opportunity to take her most recent Shining In The Half Light album out on the road with yop billing and just in time to see Friday’s release of its expanded Deluxe Edition with nine bonus tracks, many of which aired this evening. This evening’s stop-off hit the sizable span of the KK’s stage, following in the wake of similarly rising blues-rock artistes.
As the strains of The Stones, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It) faded, Joe Wilkins’ slide heralded opener The Game. “I always dance to the beat of my own blues” was both a statement of intent and an instruction to the audience. Joe’s swampy guitar and Jonny Henderson’s Hammondesque tones, together with Demi Marriner’s gospel-like accompaniment, propel the parable ‘Stones.’
One of the many impressive things about this performance was how Elles took the time to explain the inspiration for each song, placing each within a certain phase of time. Such narratives continued throughout, giving a perfect insight into modest pieces of musical history. It was this informal engagement that created a perceptible sense that Elles had just invited a few close friends around for a chat, a catch-up and a bit of a jam in the process. That’s truly how it really felt.
Introducing the third number, she explained that after having experienced a demanding 2019, she just wished that the whole world would stop spinning and we all know what happened next. “Careful what you wish for,” she cautioned. “And as the train it leaves the station, it’s heartache all over again,” soon had the dreamy beauty of Colours Start To Run lowering the mood. “Was it easier in black and white,” she enquires. “These days, the colours start to run.”
Referring to her favourite number from 2017 debut, Wildfire, she wanted to transport us to Alabama and, in particular, a sound that emanated from the legendary Muscle Shoals studios. Any artist who has an appreciation of soulful Southern music regards this place as a Mecca, and somewhere they hope their career aspirations lead.
Perfect Storm featured some delightful bass from Matthew Waer, but the vocal interplay between Elles and Demi during the song’s crescendo elevated it to an even higher plane. Such a perfectly crafted song that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the works of artists who now haunt its hallowed corridors– “C’mon c’mon, move on, they were riding, yeah they were riding, riding, riding away.”
Reflections on Lockdown Season III followed with the wistful Spinning Stopped, only this time add the crazy world of recent Motherhood into the mix. Is there a more delicate line than “Tiny Toes and skin like dew. Eyes as deep as the ocean blue,” she recites above a gentle acoustic?
The next song was “dedicated to those who inspired hope in a time of hopelessness, showed love in a time of fear and reached out to make connections in a time of isolation.” The titular track, Shining In The Half Light, saw Elles take to an additional stage centre keyboard which at some point drew blood from Elles’ Hand. Rather like the Kukri, is it considered unlucky to put a keyboard away without drawing some claret? Furthermore, did I hear a few notes of Floyd’s High Hopes bubbling under and more evident as she signed off?
Halfway House is Elles own favourite from the current album. “An end of love song or one about Brexit?” she remarked. Lyrically it could apply to both. Some beautiful mid-section Hammond from Jonny accompanied by more haunting slide from Joe. Praise must be given to the most respectful audience here. As Elles held them enchanted, there was no irritating background chatter. I could have heard a pin drop behind me. This wasn’t just during this one number but throughout.
Such an evocative slide introduced Cheats And Liars. A buoyant arrangement contrasts with what is an acerbic attack on the morally bankrupt and self-serving so-called ‘Representatives of the People’. Its hook should be sung with venom to whom it is addressed.
Hole In My Pocket was initially driven by Matthew Jones’ quirky drum pattern before the latter segment ignites, then races down the home straight, giving everyone a jolly good workout.
A totally random piece of inter-song audience interaction occurred here. An encounter which one day may be made into a short movie entitled ‘When Elles Met Phil’. Difficult to put into words, but those there, know exactly what I mean. Such a hysterical and unforgettable moment.
No show would be complete without a few covers given the ‘Full Elles’. First up was John Martyn’s shuffle Over The Hill with CCR’s Long As I Can See The Light hot on its heels. The former got the tails wagging again, while for the latter, Elles invited everyone to illuminate the place with their mobiles. Jonny had since migrated to the now infamous ‘Keyboard of Blood’, delivering yet another lavish run. Not to be outdone, Joe’s spatial licks were reminiscent of Need Your Love So Bad. As the old blues meisters used to say – ‘Less is more’.
The swamp blues of Medicine Man’ is Elles’ equivalent of Death On Two Legs, about the sharks in the music business who promise everything yet deliver nothing. Like many artists before her, she learned the hard way.
Inspired by such events as flying over hurricane hit Georgia, seeing forest fires on the West Coast and a worldwide Refugee Crisis, Help Somebody is very upbeat despite its theme, definitely one to get you a movin’ and a groovin’. With the chorus line of “try a little tenderness and a whole lot of love,” she references a brace of classics from the worlds of soul and rock ‘n’ roll. In the closing stages, she even ventured into the audience, but alas, no offering of the microphone to the punters was forthcoming. Good decision for both medical and musical reasons.
Rather skilfully introduced as “this is our last song, then the ball is in your court,” how could you not want more after the perfect soul rock epic Riding Out the Storm.
They returned to the stage with a song Elles described as “One of the best songs of the 21st Century”. Her rendition of Mary Gauthier’s Mercy Now, minus the talents of Demi Marriner, was truly mesmerising. A song of desperation but not a loss of hope, which was so extraordinarily touching yet uplifting. It did move me sufficiently to generate a tear, and I would be genuinely surprised if there weren’t a few more shed amongst those feeling the lyrics.
As Elles had earlier explained, all her shows are a rollercoaster ride, so to conclude on the Mark 1 Rock ‘n’ Roll lyrical themes of Sunshine City was a no-brainer, but what better song to bring a perfect set to a close?
“Give it up for this amazing band,” exclaimed Elles as they took their final bows. The audience rose and roared their approval, a performance they will always remember.
To conclude, someone once referred to a gig as ‘This One Sacred Hour’, and it is evenings like this that elevate the devoted onto a higher spiritual plane. This was just such an experience that nourished the heart and soul and epitomises why live music is the gift that keeps on giving.
Vocals – Elles Bailey
Guitar – Joe Wilkins
Keys – Jonny Henderson
Bass – Matthew Waer
Drums – Matthew Jones
Backing Vocals – Demi Marriner
Elles Bailey – Setlist
- The Game
- Colours Start To Run
- Perfect Storm
- Spinning Stopped
- Shining in the Half Light
- Halfway House
- Cheats and Liars
- Hole In My Pocket
- Over The Hill (John Martyn cover)
- Long As I Can See the Light (Creedence Clearwater Revival Cover)
- Medicine Man
- Help Somebody
- Riding Out the Storm
- Mercy Now (Mary Gauthier Cover)
- Sunshine City