James Bay is a 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Hertfordshire who has been entrancing listeners with his featherlight vocals and acoustic guitar. His model good looks and already trademark image – chiselled cheekbones, wide-brimmed hat, long dark hair like a scrubbed-up Jack White – landed him a performance at Burberry's Fashion Week show in September. A session in BBC Radio One's Live Lounge happened a week later, still two months before he released his debut single, Hold Back The River. The station's subsequent airplay of his wildly successful ballad Let It Go saw it enter the iTunes Top 10.
Don't be fooled by the country twangs in Bay's stripped-back songs, he was brought up in the sleepy English market town of Hitchin. Aged 11, Bay was inspired to dust down the classical guitar lurking under the stairs of his family home after hearing Eric Clapton's Layla. Young enough to learn how to play from watching YouTube videos, Bay spent hours practicing in his bedroom. When he moved to study in Brighton seven years later he gained a greater education from playing the city's open mic nights: “That taught me a lot about writing and performing on my own and trying to hold my own", he says.
Bay caught the attention of a Republic Records A&R after a fan uploaded a video of him performing to YouTube, and within a week he was signed to the same label that supports Florence and the Machine, Lorde and James Blake. His first EP, The Dark of the Morning, was released in 2013. Within a year he was selling out his first UK headline tour.
Bay's whispery countertenor is soulfully reminiscent of his Critics' Choice predecessor, Sam Smith, but with the earthy edge of Marcus Mumford or Tom Odell, with whom he shares a whispery falsetto. He prides himself on "traditional songwriting", and while his music doesn't push boundaries it does tug on heartstrings in the style of Carole King and James Taylor. The LET It Go EP, produced by Tom Waits and Kings of Leon engineer Jacquire King, is backed by strings and piano. One for fans of Fleet Foxes, First Aid Kit and Ed Sheeran.
Below are two videos. His hit single "Hold back the River" and James performing an acoustic version of "Let it Go" in my home town of Brighton!