When Corinne Bailey Rae was last on tour in the UK – in support of her Mercury-nominated album, The Sea – President Obama was midway through his first term, most of the UK was still convinced that the 2012 London Olympics would be a disaster and One Direction hadn’t even begun their campaign of chart-topping world domination. Much has changed since then. But, thankfully, what hasn’t is Bailey Rae’s ability to deliver a compassionate, mesmerising performance.
Bailey Rae has made three albums in just over 10 years now. Seeing her perform at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, on the final leg of her 2016 UK tour, the most striking thing was still her skill at translating the sultry ballads and stirring crescendos, the comforting melodies and graceful cries from all three of her records with only the help of her acoustic guitar and a four-piece band. From this modest setup, marvels sprung forth.
It may have been a cold November night outside, but inside things were getting steamy. Following a stretch of energetic bounding to Been to the Moon and Till It Happens to You, Bailey Rae put all in earshot on a supernatural high with her slow-cooked soul serenade, Green Aphrodisiac. “See, it’s just getting sexy,” she joked, as she coaxed the crowd to singing the song’s swaying outro with her.
Songs from Bailey Rae’s third record, The Heart Speaks in Whispers, offered up several memorable moments. The summery Horse Print Dress took off and quickly scooped the audience up with its clap-ready rhythm. The deliberately sedate Stop Where You Are started to make much more sense at close proximity. And the sublime, Do You Ever Think of Me?, saw her cast an irresistible 10-minute groove over listeners with this tranquil, Janet Jackson-esque soul ballad.
With the crowd sufficiently loosened up, Bailey Rae kept a steady flow of old songs coming to punctuate the new. Still every bit the capable guitarist, she churned out the frenzied coffee-morning rhythm of Paris Nights / New York Mornings, before slowing the pace down with the heart-rending I’d Do It All Again.
Every song from her first two albums was met with excitement and enthusiastic singing from the crowd. This was safe show, but, once Bailey Rae had got her groove going, the enchantment lasted right up until her finale of Like a Star. We would gladly have stayed to hear the songs that didn’t make it into this show. An exquisite performance from a singer we hope won’t leave it so long again before she gifts us with her music in concert.
Words and photos: Aaron Lee