Fri 4 Feb 2022

James Bay talks independent venues and Neighbourhood Weekender


James Bay

What’s your favourite thing about playing shows here in the North West?

Energy, I’ve always had a great reaction and like an amazing crowd, but what I mean is a know my music might be a bit intimate a lot of the time… it is but I give the set, lots of the set, a lot of energy. I really love it when I get that back. Crowds up here, particularly in Manchester because I’ve played a lot in Manchester actually, have given me pin drop silence when I need it but will really sort of go for it when I need them to.

I’ve seen you play Albert Hall as well and even though that’s a big crowd, it’s so intimate and focuses on you and you can feel the energy.

And I’ll be honest that spread of dynamic like everybody’s going crazy and everybody’s super silent, that’s a hard thing to achieve but I’m going for it. When a crowd gets that and gives it that’s the greatest night. Albert Hall, I’ve had some fantastic shows there. I love that venue.

Castlefield Bowl too…

Yeah! I had a good couple of nights there a long time ago. Castlefield bowl is crazy. I’ve always had a good time up here. I do love coming to Manchester and the Northwest in general. Don’t love the football teams I’m not gonna lie, I’m a Newcastle fan it’s a whole thing… Carry on!

Next one… who else are you excited to see at Neighbourhood Weekender?

I’ve got to say Tom A Smith, I’ve known that lad since he was about 10 I think he must be 17 or something now. He used to come to my shows with his dad and hang out, he used to know my tour manager at the time and we used to just hang out, he loved playing the guitar. He’s a great great lad so I’m very excited to see him rise.

Razorlight I’m well up for I’m not gonna lie, when I was like 12, they had some massive tunes. Tom Grennan, I play football with him a lot and he’s very good I’m not gonna lie. I’ve turned him over on the pitch, right, but at Soccer Aid he did me. It was a nightmare, he did me, he played very well. I’ll have a go on Kasabian and The Lathums, they are very good, I like what they’re doing. Blossoms are fantastic, I love what Inhaler are doing. Yeah, I’m well up for all of this it’s a good line up.

Nice little mention for Tom A Smith, it’s nice to see a bigger artist routing for him!

Tom is so hungry to do music. I don’t know if I was that hungry at that age. I don’t know how old he is now but like I say I’ve known him since, it might’ve been primary school. He would just come to my gigs and hang out with his sister, sometimes his brother as well and his dad. They deserve it so, I hope he keeps going and does it.

What makes playing at festivals so special?

It’s a day(s) long celebration of music. It’s not just one artist. One artist on the night is very special, don’t get me wrong, but festivals are the opposite of that and they’re two beautiful extremes. A festival, like I say, is a coming together. You always find something new at a festival that you didn’t know you loved. You walk away with a new thing. So that coming together of things you know and love is what make a festival special.

Can fans expect any surprises at Neighbourhood Weekender?

This is always a fun question… I feel like a t-shirt gun is the answer that’s required, or I don’t know. I don’t have anything amazing, well not at the moment. New music, they will get new music! As far as I know when I play Neighbourhood Weekender, I don’t think an album will be out… There is an album coming but I don’t know when. I’m not waiting for that to play new songs, I’m just gonna play new songs. It’s been 4 years since we’ve played live as a band properly. I’ve done little bits and pieces that where possible during Covid, but I feel like that didn’t quite count. This will be a fully rehearsed! Here we come, it’s Warrington, let’s go! They can expect a surprise degree of energy and new songs.

How important are independent venues to new artists?

So, this tour that we’re doing I’ve decided to give this big shiny name the ‘NEW SONGS NEW STORIES SOLO TOUR’. Which has actually delivered so much pressure. I’m like “f*ck” okay now I’ve gotta play new songs and do stories together. Yeah, it’s all you know, in relationship with independent venues week. It felt like such a fun and fantastic way to A) really kickstart the live stuff for me and B) very importantly celebrate the places that got me off the ground as an artist. I really really really believe 99.9% if not 100% of artists need a place to go and play their music live. I say 99.9% because of bedroom artists and people who create online more and more.

They’re both completely valid but I feel like the absolute vast majority need to get into a space at one point and try it live. You need to go to that place in your heart and in your throat where you’re like “f*ck okay what happens now”. Independent, small grassroot venues like [Night and Day Cafe] and The Castle Hotel are completely vital for me and for new artists. You’re never going to leap… well… again 9/10 artists are not gonna leap to Castlefield Bowl or the Albert Hall straight away. They’re gonna need to climb through the ranks and it’s all okay. That’s all brilliant, it’s all about that because you learn so much on the journey. Even if you play the smallest venue 10 times, 20 times you’ll start to climb. They are vital, you don’t have the big stuff without the little stuff.

What else can fans expect from you?

It’s a tough one. I’m trying to get familiar again with what I did for so long and what I love to do and what got rudely interrupted by this mad pandemic. So, they can expect a more hungry version of me than ever before as far as wanting to get out and be around people and play songs and play live and tour and everything. Hopefully me and the other artists that do that, hopefully it feels long overdue, and it’s greatly accepted. I’ll be very tired because of my little baby but I’ll be so up for it. If I ever look like I was taking anything for advantage, I hope I haven’t… they will not see that this year.

On stage you always have a story to tell before you get into the song. How important is the storytelling to you?

It’s important and its funny you ask me that because I recognise that it’s born out of slight paranoia. I’m desperate to give people context. For what it’s worth it’s… that’s an insecurity thing and I see that clearer than ever. It won’t necessarily stop me telling stories on stage but it’s an insecurity where I just want to set something up and I find it hard to just hit people with a new song or whatever. It’s almost an anxiety thing in many ways but also, I appreciate the theatre of it, and I enjoy that when I see my favourite artists so I’m also drawing from that. I’ve noticed it more recently and I’m trying to lean into it a bit more especially on this tour.

Last question is… what’s your best festival story?

That’s a great question… There’s lots of answers, I can’t think. They’re funny places and they’re strange places. My favourite festival experience and I want to give you something slightly more interesting than this, but I’ll slip this in. When I played Glastonbury, it was the second time I ever played. I played Glastonbury two years in a row, 2014 and 2015 and I haven’t played since. 2014 I played to about 500 people and 2015 I played to something like 80,000 people on the main stage and it was wild. It was completely wild.

I also had an amazing time at Parklife that hit me out of nowhere. I was playing my songs and there was like a sea and waves of people it was crazy. I did not see that coming but at Glastonbury 2015 we parked behind the main stage and that night we had to leave because other buses had to come in and there were only so many spaces. They actually were trying to kick us out early, they were kicking out the whole bus park behind the main stage because a Kardashian was coming in with Kanye to film an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians at Glastonbury.

Our bus broke down we couldn’t move so they got really p*ssed off. We didn’t end up in the episode sadly, but we were almost in the Kardashians! They just got really angry that they couldn’t shoot an episode of their programme…

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