Pop prince or just plain boring? James Bay has split opinion. He’s not bothered in the slightest, says Amy Dawson
ON the same day that 25-year-old James Bay will find out he’s nominated for three Grammys, we meet bright and early outside Broadcasting House and scoot past a small gaggle of fans and paparazzi – presumably there for the singer-songwriter, not Metro (though we can’t be sure).
Ducking into a car, we begin our chat on the way to Abbey Road, where Bay is due to record with the Philharmonic Orchestra. After his debut album, Chaos And The Calm, shot to No.1 earlier this year, we journos have to snatch our moments with him when we can.
A skillful guitarist peddling a bluesy brand of Americana-style emotional pop-rock, sung with a rockin’ US twang that belies his Hitchin roots, Bay has achieved huge success in a very short time – with four sold-out nights at the London Apollo to look forward to in March.
Pale and polite in his trademark wide-brimmed hat, the balladeer is understandably chuffed at the way 2015 has swung for him. ‘I’m having the time of my life,’ enthuses the Hold Back The River singer. ‘The best thing about it is the fans – they’ve shown up singing louder and knowing more of the lyrics at every show, all around the world.’
And he seemingly charmed the journos too, scooping the 2015 Brits Critics’ Choice award, a prize previously won by the likes of Adele and Sam Smith. Yet such prizes are often a poisoned chalice: Bay has also been criticised for being the main representative of a UK pop scene that currently seems to reward the earnest and the anodyne. Nevertheless, such disapproval doesn’t appear to faze him.
‘I don’t read anything to do with myself,’ he says. ‘In a million different ways it would affect the creative process. There’s always going to be that guy who’s like: “Well, I didn’t vote for him.” How do I respond to that? They [the Critics’ Choice panel] choose someoneevery year, they chose me, and I’m grateful for that. It meant there was a bigger platform for me to step on to and play my music out to more people. The whole experience was great.’
We pop to a café near Abbey Road where he orders poached eggs, explaining that his mum has advised eating eggs to keep his strength up. The charts are certainly awash with sensitive, guitar-wielding blokes at the moment, from Ed Sheeran to Hozier and George Ezra. So what makes Bay stand out for people?
He ponders. ‘Good question. My honesty? It’s very cut-to-the-core subject matter, it’s very personal. But when you hit that nail on the head it somehow seems to become the most universal thing that people can relate to.’
Whatever the case, Bay certainly doesn’t lack confidence as a songwriter, although he admits he sometimes censors himself if he gets too personal. ‘I’ll go too far and rein it back, of course,’ he says. ‘It’s difficult but it’s also therapeutic, and when you crack it it’s special. It’s quite addictive. Not everyone knows how to do it, not everyone can write a great song. And when you’re suddenly part of the club, you want to keep going, and keep getting better at it. I’ve always been of the opinion… why not go for the big prizes?’
With time running out, it’s time to ask my most difficult and important question. When is he going to get rid of the hat? ‘Who knows!’ he laughs. (I can confirm, having seen underneath, that Bay isn’t bald.) ‘All I can say is it won’t stay forever. Maybe it’ll go and come back.’
James Bay’s new single If You Ever Want To Be In Love is out now