Elles Bailey & Brave Rival
Sunderland Fire Station
March 11th 2023
Without naming names I’d not had a particularly good week, gig wise seeing three other acts in 7 days that had me non-plussed on the way out. Nothing wrong with the shows; as 99% of their audiences would testify, they just didn’t appeal to me.
Which all put extra pressure on as Mrs Magpie was stepping out with me to see Elles Bailey (who she’d never heard of.)
Opening act were Brave Rival; an apparent Blues Rock band; who were playing an acoustic-ish set as the ‘warm up.’
I say acoustic-ish, as they had an electric bass alongside two acoustic guitars and the tiniest drum set up in the world, while fronted by two young ladies with astonishing voices and harmonies.
After being introduced to the Sold Out audience by none other than Elles Bailey herself; they slid into opening song Guilty Love which was full of soaring vocals and lush harmonies; as were most of the songs that followed in the next 45 minutes.
While I appreciate hearing where songs come from, tonight the singers perhaps lingered on these tales a tad too much?
Again; probably that’s just me judging from the smiling faces I could see following all of these intros.
I’m not sure what these songs will be like when fleshed out with the full-on band in their electric guise; as I thought the stripped back arrangements really suited the material; not least Run & Hide; about being stalked and For The Ones (I think ) which was written in the early days of lockdown but can also be interpreted as a song about fighting to make relationships work.
It appeared that a couple of very personal sounding songs were written by the self-depreciating singer Lindsey Bonnick most noticeably Secrets; about an ex-boyfriend who had cheated on her for three years.
As is my won’t, I wasn’t keen on the cabaret style request for the audience to join in on the chorus of What’s Your Name Again; about a ‘one night stand’ that Lindsay had one time.
On the other hand; it featured some sweet bottleneck guitar playing and smoky harmonies from Lindsay and Chloe. This was followed by Chloe explaining the story behind the rather fabulous and emotional All I Can Think About (oddly enough … anther sad song about a relationship that ended badly for Lindsay!)
I was really surprised by their choice of finale; but today I found out that it was their latest single; Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds Of Silence; which was actually perfect for their individual voices and those delicious harmonies.
After the required ‘toilet/smoke’ break there wasn’t an empty seat in the hall when the lights went down and the stage was swathed in red lights as the band and Ms Bailey made their entrance, before they opened up with The Game, which went down well with the appreciative audience.
The set was a clever mix of songs from Elle’s latest album SHINING IN THE HALF LIGHT, and her two previous albums plus a couple of fabulous and surprising cover versions towards the end.
I particularly liked the second song, which went unnamed and featured some particularly greasy guitar riffs from Joe Wilkins.
While it doesn’t make much difference to the audience when an act doesn’t name their songs; but it’s a nightmare for a reviewer! Elles told a heartwarming story about first time motherhood; then went into a gorgeous song supplemented by some atmospheric drumming and bass; but can I find a song of hers with the lyrics I scribbled down! This happened another three or four times; which is a shame for fans who weren’t there tonight.
Of the songs I can name; Halfway House was absolutely stunning; and as Elles said in the intro, was meant to be a heartbreaker of the ‘love’ type but ended up being about Brexit!!!
This was followed by a song I did recognise; the heavy, heavy rocker Cheats & Liars which I presumed was about ‘men who had done her wrong‘ … but it was actually written following the 2022 Budget which left the self-employed (esp musicians) on their uppers.
The next couple of songs have highly excited notes scribbled alongside them and both get three stars each; the first being the soulful Hole In My Pocket, which had a false ending that morphed into a thrash metal ending with requisite light show too.
This was followed by the first of her highly surprising choices of songs to cover; John Martyn’s beauteous Over The Hill was a rare treat and had Elles giving it the deference it deserves; and as I noted … “Her voice is perfect for expressing sentiments like these.’
What I haven’t mentioned yet is how important Jonny Henderson’s Hammond playing was to the overall sound in these songs; giving them a bit of a 60’s R&B ‘vibe’ at times.
As the time to curfew rattled along, a song Elles wrote in 2017; Help Somebody is still, if not more relevant today in 2023 …. and is well worth hunting out if you haven’t played it in a while.
Oh; as Henderson embarked on a keyboard solo, Elles went ‘walkabout’ wandering around the hall, much to the fans delight.
Following on from that and closing the show was Beautiful Mess, which was as soulful as it was thoughtful; and the melody swung like a pendulum do; and had Elles skipping and dancing around the stage when her band performed their magic.
While it was never in any doubt; the band only had time to count back from 5, before they re-entered the stage for two really special encore songs.
The first of which was a really surprising cover; Mary Gauthier’s Mercy Me (which I love too) and while she knelt on the edge of the stage while singing with the lights turned down way low, as the glitterball spun and swathed the audience in little diamonds.
Then standing up without the aid of a helper (which impressed out friend Faye!) Elles Bailey and band rocked the bejasus out of this fantastic building with Sunshine City …. and after all the heartbreak that had preceded it; the audience left with a smile on their collective faces.