It may have been a feast of fireworks in and around Liverpool on Friday night, but there was a different kind of bonfire blazing inside the Royal Philharmonic Hall. The venue’s Music Room was set alight with a blistering performance from Elles Bailey, who is fast becoming the queen of UK Blues. On this, the latest night of her ‘Sunshine City’ tour, she made sure that the music filled the room with an awesome presence that was more dazzling than any Catherine Wheel. It was a feast for both the eyes and the ears as some effective lighting combined with the accomplished playing of the band created an immersive set, made all the more emotive by the gig’s intimate setting.
Before this gloriously colourful presentation from Elles however, there was a sparkling display of humour from Country singer-songwriter Demi Marriner. The winner of Bob Harris’ Emerging Artist at this year’s AMA UK, Marriner entertained the crowd as much with her anecdotes and self-confessed “waffle” as her songs. There were plenty of nodding heads and tapping of feet as she worked her way through a set that included the instant classic ‘Cold Coffee’ and the emotionally-touching ‘Don’t You Worry’. By the time she got to ‘Distorted Desires’, any notion of initial nerves had well and truly gone, with some confident guitar playing and strong vocals reflecting a comfortable stage presence. It was certainly not just her effervescent personality that won over the crowd, who were mightily impressed with her penchant for songwriting, overheard in conversations during the interval, which began after Demi had ended with an aptly Bailey-esque song called ‘Sins’.
This final number set the tone nicely for the main event, Elles bouncing onto the stage after her band to open with a couple of songs from her new, as-yet untitled album. The first, ‘The Game’, is already an earworm, while ‘Stones’ contains some of that wonderfully-Southern drawl that continued into ‘Help Somebody’. Here was the first notable mention for James Henderson on the Hammond organ, hammering away on the keys with a veracity that brought an added dimension to this well-loved track. It brought a real intensity to the room that was then suitably mellowed by a cover of Levon Helm’s ‘When I Go Away’, a faint rainbow emerging on the back-of-stage wall from the unimposing lights fading into view. Beautiful.
It is that blend of smoke and grit in her vocals that allows Elles Bailey to be a powerhouse one minute and offer a smoother sound the next. Such a transition occurred between ‘Riding Out the Storm’ and an acoustic section, in which ‘Walk Away’ and ‘I Remember Everything’ were played as poignantly as the applause that echoed around the room after each. It was then time to get justifiably angry at those in power, ‘Cheats & Liars’ containing that trademark low bass, heavy guitar and pounding drum that, once stirred, perfectly conveyed the emotion, which was then ironically followed by the heartfelt ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’. It created an ideal Segway into ‘Halfway House’, with Henderson’s Hammond bringing an almost hallowed sound to a song that, as Elles explained, could either be about a break-up or Brexit. The organ made it suitably reflective in any case.
Elles then performed a cover version of Wilson Picket’s ‘Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You’, a hit during lockdown that got a live airing here in the Music Room. It was accompanied by some rather appropriate lighting, the green as deep as the Soul emanating from the stage. ‘Medicine Man’ added a touch of grit to a performance that ended with current hit single ‘Sunshine City’. And having now heard it live, it is no wonder that the likes of Planet Rock and Radio 2 are picking it up to give it a spin. This song is as good a combination of blues and rock as they come, and was a fantastic way to end a show that demanded an encore from the audience. Having obliged, Elles allowed her band to showcase their impressive skills in a series of solos encased within ‘Howlin’ Wolf’. As well as marvelling once more at Jonny Henderson and Matthew Ware on organ and bass respectively, one can’t help but smile at the brilliance of Joe Wilkins on guitar, and be satisfied by Matthew Jones’ section on drums. They are as much the stars of the show as Elles Bailey, who returned to Liverpool with the same verve and veracity that is slowly turning her into a star. She certainly shone brightly here with a fire that rivalled any other on a fifth of November night.
Originally written for and published on Belles & Gals on November 8th 2021.