British singer-songwriter-guitarist-hat enthusiast James Bay is a musician grounded by both a formal musical education, attending the Brighton Institute of Modern Music, as well as by old-fashioned skill-honing on the road, performing at virtually every venue imaginable. While it may be true that a musician doesn’t need to study to be something of a ‘genuine artiste’, it certainly provides a songwriter with the foundations to write songs that go beyond the basic four chords. Having said that though, developing a charisma and performance-style that is uniquely your own by playing shows to vastly different audiences, is an experience that school can’t give you. Born and bred in Hitchin, a small town north of London, Bay’s music is an affecting combination of practiced artistry with visceral emotion, and stirring vocals.
Bay’s latest single Hold Back The River, from the EP of the same name, showcases his distinctive melodic guitar writing and warm, highly charged vocals. The blues-kissed track’s perpetual build up culminates in spine tingling vocal layering, as Bay is accompanied by a rousing arrangement of gospel harmonies. Its anthemic chorus is completely infectious and fosters an intimacy between performer and audience, supported by the track’s simple, familiar and cosy ensemble instrumentation. Hold Back The River is an accessible track grounded by a self-assured songcraft, and while not entirely ‘visionary’, it definitely provides an intense sincerity missing from today’s straightforward folky populism.
Against this backdrop of musicianship, confident, comprehensible song writing and vocal talent, it’s not surprising that The Brit Awards recently announced James Bay as the winner of the 2015 Critics Choice Award. Also just off the back of supporting Hozier on his fall U.S. tour, Bay has perfectly timed the announcement of the 2015 release of his hugely anticipated debut album Chaos And The Calm, likely to push Bay and his omnipresent hat even further into the spotlight.