Sunjay – like Cher he’s not arsed with surnames – isn’t your average Blues tinged folkie. For one thing he’s happy to intersperse his set with a number of one liners. And not always the most, shall we say, politically correct. For another, his subject matter is original too. But there’s a reason he won the Radio Two Young Folk Artist Of The Year. He’s good. In fact, he’s damn good. Whether playing his own “I Can Love You Like A Man” or his take on the trad, like “Hesitation Blues” it all has a quality. His single “Ghost Train” is a highlight and the ending “London Roads” which features a “proper guitar solo” likewise, but elsewhere, the brilliant “Bob Dylan?” is as good as it gets. Hilariously sending up old folk singers and the expectations of the genre, it is a supreme example of what can be achieved if you change the rules instead of play by them. That’s what Sunjay does here and credit to him.
This is the 28th gig I’ve been to since the lockdown ended and they started up again. At nearly every one the artist has talked about it “being great to be back”.
Sometimes, it seems to me, that this is being said because they feel like they’ve got to say it, others of them though, they mean it. Not here.
Watching Elles Bailey here for the first time, I get this image of her, scratching at the door such was her desperation to get back on stages and sing her songs.
In short, to do exactly what she does tonight.
For 15 songs and just over and an hour and a half here, Bailey, Joe Wilkins on Guitar, Jonny Henderson on Ivories, Matthew Waer on Bass duties and Matthew Jones on drums, are frankly sensational.
It’s a brave set, that’s for certain, given that a lot of it isn’t out yet. “The Game”, and “Stones” which is out in a couple of weeks. Perhaps that signifies her desire to move forward in her career, more likely, she’s just really proud of her new music – and well she might be on this evidence.
“Miss Me When I’m Gone” – dedicated here to her eight month old son – is from her “Road I Call Home” record and Joe Wilkins guitar flourishes, melds superbly with Henderson’s organ, and is a real, proper highlight.
It is a show of real skilful pacing too. The acoustic “Walk Away” is gorgeous, and the cover that follows, John Prine’s posthumously released beauty “I Remember Everything” (and Bailey seems emotional as she sings it) is even better. “Cheats And Liars” sees her angry – and the speech before it, is beautifully political in a way that I didn’t expect. The very next one, perhaps deliberately is “Help Somebody” one that talks about the compassion that our leaders don’t show, and that is followed up with a thing of real soul. “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” a Wilson Pickett cover, is properly funky as if to exemplify her self-styled “genre hopping.”
“Halfway House” – another of the new ones (“I’ll let you decide whether it’s about a broken heart, or Brexit” she offers before it) – is one that will no doubt come into its own in time, while “Medicine Man” (“I’m Elles Bailey, here’s my hit”) dials up the rock n roll. “Sunshine City”, though, is the one surely. An absolute stomper of a thing, its deserving of its status as finishing the set.
“Crowded Table” is a heartwarming cover to start the encore. The finish of it is a showstopper. “Howlin’ Wolf” is the only one from her “Wildfire” record, but it doesn’t matter. Because this isn’t about Elles Bailey and her songs, if her voice has been the centre of the show (and what a voice it is, by the way!) this one is about the band. Each of them has a moment, and the song soars.
The night had soared before it too, and what a show it was. There’s a reason that everyone who’s seen Elles Bailey talks about her like this. She’s simply special. You need to experience it too. She deserves it.