Liam Bailey: Soul Maverick
BRAINER IS SITTING IN A BUSTLING PUB IN NORTH LONDON. IT’S A CHILLY FEBRUARY EVENING. AND WE’RE WATCHING A BLOKE CHOMP HEARTILY ON A HEFTY SERVING OF TWO SAUSAGES, CHIPS AND BEANS. Needless to say, we’re getting pretty hungry. The contented man in question is Polydor’s latest roll of the dice: Liam Bailey, the 27 year-old singer-songwriter from Nottingham who most recently featured on Chase & Status’ number 5 single ‘Blind Faith’. A euphoric, dubstep flavoured track of epic, wave-your-glow-sticks-in-the-air-and-go-buck-wild proportions (in a good, corny kind of way of course), Bailey’s soaring vocal moves, despite being filtered and thinned.
Not too long ago in late 2010, Bailey released his ‘2am Rough Tracks’ and ‘So Down, Cold’ EPs on Amy Winehouse’s Lioness imprint. Six tracks of raw, lo-fi blues and soul incorporating both original songwriting and covers of classic songs – like Etta James’ heart-wrenchingly melancholic ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ – the EPs made one thing crystalline clear: this man has soul. Not that laboured, glossy soul that populates the charts these days, but real, gritty soul – the kind of pained music you got from Otis Reading, or Solomon Burke. And he can sing – with a voice possessing all the character that only years of inhaling cigarette smoke and quaffing large quantities of alcohol can achieve.
Bailey is boisterous, cheeky, instantly and totally likable as he munches on his dinner, sipping hot water in preparation for a show at the Jazz Café after our chat. A raucous laugh, conspiratorial nudges, constant references to “you and me” – it’s as if you’ve known the man your entire life. Give him five minutes with Oscar the Grouch and by the end of it, the two of them will be shooting the shit about how Burt and Ernie are way more than best buds. Totally.
He’s also brutally honest. Not just about what he thinks of other people, but what he thinks of himself.
“I couldn’t understand why I didn’t have a record deal,” says Bailey with his mouth full, in his East Midlands drawl. “When I was younger I just could not understand why. I knew that I had something and that it should be out there – just at the same rate when I know I’m shit, you get me?” When asked to elaborate, he retorts matter-of-factly: “I didn’t hear many singers that were as good as me on the radio or on the TV.”
It seems like an arrogant, Tourette’s-style Kanye outburst. But, the more you talk to Bailey, the more you come to realise that he’s just calling it how he sees it. He’s not being modest, but he’s not being pompous, either. “That’s just how I thought mate,” he says. “If you know yourself and you’re true to yourself, you know what you’re good at, and you know what you’re bad at.”
‘OUT OF THE SHADOWS’, THE SINGER’S DEBUT ALBUM, SEES BAILEY ESCHEW THE ACOUSTIC FOR THE ELECTRIC. PRODUCED BY SALAAM REMI – KNOWN FOR HIS WORK WITH NAS, THE FUGEES AND AMY WINEHOUSE, to name but a few – the record is in the can, waiting for its release in June. It’s more polished and produced than his last two EPs. “Some of the songs are still stripped back, letting the vocals breathe, and some of them we’ve just thrown the kitchen sink at you know,” laughs Bailey. “And then you’ve got epic kind of… fucking ‘Eleanor Rigby’ type strings and shit. Big mate. Next,” he says, grinning.