James Bay – Hoxton Hall, London, UK (26th Jan 2017)

Last Thursday saw acclaimed musician James Bay play an intimate gig to 100 lucky competition winners and their guests. The venue was east London’s Hoxton Hall – a quaint and historic performance space within a community centre – and the gig was in conjunction with charity organisation Wateraid.  

James Bay’s talented musicianship and exceptional vocals can’t be appreciated in full until you’re in a room with him. And in a room so small this could only be amplified. 

Bay had no accompanying band for the set. And it was soon evident that he can work well with both a full band playing to thousands, and as a one man show in a room full of 200 visible faces, being able to fine-tune the performance to reflect the environment. Throughout the night Bay seamlessly alternated guitars between songs, moving between softer acoustic renditions to more upbeat songs played on his electric; all songs delivered solely by Bay’s expert guitar playing and his powerful, melodic vocals.

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Songs such as ‘Scars’ and ‘Clocks Go Forward’ were favourites among the crowd and were sung with flawless, soulful vocals and played with ardour. The stripped-back, casual nature of the set also enabled Bay to swap a couple of his more energetic live-favourites for some less commonly played ones. This included lost gem ‘Hear Your Heart’, which was sung beautifully with delicate vocals.

Though palpably excited, the small audience started out slightly self-conscious amid the intimate setting. But as the night progressed the atmosphere very soon became dynamic – with seemingly every audience member singing along to each song, immersed in every lyric. With the small crowd being so fully engaged and in sync with Bay himself the gig felt very much like a team effort rather than a static, one sided performance. The intimate setting also allowed for playful to-and-fros between Bay and crowd members, and inside jokes developed between Bay and the crowd. Bay at one point even stopped playing ‘If You Ever Want To Be In Love’ mid-intro, to humbly add to his previous response to an audience member, before restarting the song. This contributed to the gig being so very unique, and one that the attendees, and even Bay himself, are likely to remember for a long time to come.

Despite the tremendous performance, Bay candidly admitted to not being accustomed to playing such a stripped back show, especially having not played live at all for a while. Bay did make a few slip-ups, one unluckily right before the pivotal bridge of fan-favourite ‘Let It go’. But any foibles only added to the authenticity and humility of the performance. With Bay and the crowd laughing together after the ‘Let It Go’ slip – and the audience then proceeding to cheer him on – a trusting relationship was built between him and the crowd. The night only continued to prosper under this unique bond that had been created.

Towards the end of the set, when Bay took to covering ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ – originally sung by Alicia Keys – his vocals became truly goosebump inducing, resonating deeply. I struggle to recall the last time I was so enthralled by a live vocal performance. And the only competitor to Bay’s vocals were his profound guitar skills. ‘How is he doing that?’ was heard among the crowd whilst he showcased the true scale of his musicianship in a moment featuring just him and his guitar.

Bay of course didn’t forget to remind the audience of the underlying purpose of the event. Early in his set, when reaching for his Wateraid branded mug of water, he took the opportunity to tell the crowd; ‘This is a cup of something that a lot of people in the world don’t have. Just water’. He went on to thank the crowd, who donated for the chance to attend the event, and relayed Wateraid’s projection of clean water being available globally by 2030, thanks to fundraising events such as the one he was playing. He also highlighted that further donations would be appreciated.

Without the need for the theatrics of an encore on such a low-key evening, it soon came time for Bay to end the 80-minute set. He ended with aptly titled up-tempo hit ‘Hold Back The River’, before leaving the audience to bask in the afterglow of having attended such a special event among such talent that is James Bay.

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