Home Gigs Gig Review : Elles Bailey – Shining In The Half Light 2023 UK Tour Special Guests Morganway The Globe, Cardiff

Gig Review : Elles Bailey – Shining In The Half Light 2023 UK Tour Special Guests Morganway The Globe, Cardiff

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

Always dance to the beat of my own blues.”

If there’s ever a better, more appropriate, opening line to an opening track of a set then I’m yet to hear it. This one line of just ten words encapsulates this evening’s genre-blurring headliner in its simple beauty. Elles, ever since debuting in 2015 with her EP ‘Who Am I to Me’, has done things to her distinctly unique and exacting style. No half measures herein, it’s 110% all the way, winning hands of spellbinding alloys and cogent incantations.

Fully a year on from the release of ‘Shining in The Half Light’ Elles has seized the opportunity to finally showcase this phenomenal album with a series of dates across the UK. Topping the Official Jazz and Blues Album Chart and producing an equal performance in the UK Independent Album Breakers Chart Elles certainly built upon the successes laid down by her previous four studio sets.

To further celebrate the 2022 release of ‘SITHL’ Elles and her polished band slipped down to Devon’s Middle Farm Studios to lay down some live recordings that are included in an anniversary deluxe version due for release on 17th March. Two brand new tracks, a couple of covers and re-workings of five tracks from the original release; we are treated to them each and every one here in the amiable surroundings of Cardiff’s Globe venue.

First off the line, this evening, is a stripped back, streamlined version of Morganway. Bravely, in the finest tradition of the show must go on, two of the six components that comprise this East of England outfit have made their way across the bridge into the Welsh capital. Sadly, vocalist SJ Mortimer, just a week prior, suffered a fractured elbow along with mild concussion and consequently ruled herself out of contention.

Twin brothers, and co-founders, Callum (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Keiran Morgan (vocals and rhythm guitar) step forth into the spotlight afront a healthily filled Globe. Opening track ‘My Love Ain’t Gonna Save You’ receives a gentle zephyr acoustic blues re-working along with a most warm of receptions.

Dipping into their eponymous 2019 debut studio offering for a second time in succession the Morgan brothers deliver the highly contagious tones of ‘You Can Only Die Once’ with more than a hint of early Bryan Adams. Callum’s oh-so tasty solo possesses a tinge of Pink Floyd and leaves me eager to discover what the full band sounds like. Further inspirations are revealed with a fantastic stripped-back airing of Tom Petty’s heartland classic ‘Learning To Fly.’ Co-written with Jeff Lynne in the early 90s the track still sounds as great as it did upon its inception.

A force 12, atop the Saffir-Simpson scale, ‘Hurricane’ is heartfelt, raw and bleeding rejoicing in slick guitaring with an industrious working-class core that nods in the mid-west direction of Petty, Dylan and Springsteen. These chatty, affable siblings can certainly pen a catchy number or three! Their oldest track, we’re informed, leads into their newest the semi-balladic ‘God Damn Time’, the miles fly past speed limits ignored.

With a Lightning Seeds’ underpinning ‘World Stopped Running’, their most recent single, gets the crowd’s vocal cords warmed up nicely. Closing their 40 minutes long set with a rollickingly foot-stomping ‘London Life’, with a loudly cheered insertion of Cardiff to boot, one third of Morganway has found their way into the hearts of the ensemble gathered in this converted cinema.

Watch out for a series of 10 headline tour dates in mid to late April which will precede their next lp ‘Back To Zero’ landing in early May.

Lights flash, the intro blares cutting into the tangible buzz created by a now ram-packed Globe crowd. As Elle’s ever-so talented bunch of troubadours assemble the Telecaster-loving Bristolian Joe Wilkins hits the initial notes as cymbals crash and the bass drum beats into action. With Wilkins’ six-string howling Elles Bailey, smouldering of voice, enters stage left. “Hello Cardiff, happy Friday!” Elles greets the crowd as if she knows each and everyone on an individual basis; that’s the genuine beauty of this humblest of souls.

With the crowd, already engaged, clapping along Elles punches the air, clearly delighted, with a clenched right fist. The Planet Rock A-listed single ‘The Game’ sets a high bar as it bounces along journeying headfirst into the bluesy hues of the no-nonsense ‘Stones’ and its sumptuous slide guitar. With a touch of class Elles gives her special guests a sincere shout-out and encourages folks to purchase their merch “It’s a really long drive to Norwich” before adding “Let’s help them get home!”

Raising a celebratory mug of tea Elles quips “The dressing rooms are so cold, need this to warm up!” The rich old-time soulful accents of the ever-romantic ‘Colours Start To Run’ captivates with Elles gravelly-edged vocals complementing her band’s bluesy output. Joe’s slick solo and Demi Mariner’s stunning backing vocals both on point.

Keyboardist Johnny Henderson brings in a dramatic cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s emotive ballad ‘Long As I See The Light’ with Elles’ voice entwining effortlessly. As phone lights add to the atmosphere Joe’s guitar sparks into a kaleidoscope of southern grooves. With a gospel-fringe and a slowed down honky-tonk essence this is one of the covers to be included in the forthcoming deluxe SITHL release. A track by itself that makes the purchase a worthy one.

Continuing to delve into ‘Shining In The Half Light’ the haunting inflections of the album’s title track are presented in all their ethereal glory. Co-written with Ed Blunt the new shiny ‘Spinning Stopped’ conveys the evolutions and wonderment of motherhood in the grips of the maelstrom of a pandemic. Utterly soulful to its nucleus, with glorious daubs of Etta and Aretha, the divine acoustic six-strings presented by Wilkins complement in perfection. Goosebumps guaranteed.

“From new-born babies to politicians” observes Elles as she introduces the southern freight-train Americana of ‘Cheats And Liars.’ “They make the same noise, don’t they?” she quips. The arenaceous grace of the Arizona desert enwraps. The smoke hangs heavy over the waters, an orange glow recedes in the rear-view mirror. Hammond keys swirl as the guitar licks manfully drag the along the levee. Deputising bassist Tom Kuras is given a welcome from Elles “He’s stepped in at the very last minute. We have a man down with covid!”

Agreeing with the assessment “Brilliant song!”, from within the crowd, of John Martyn’s ‘Over The Hill’ Elles smiles widely. With an express rhythm and an up-tempo country shuffle this track is one of so many standout moments throughout over 90 minutes of high-end musicianship. ‘Hole In My Pocket’, the first single from the deluxe edition, swoons with southern blues right out of the bayou building up to a sharp jab on the accelerator as we swerve out into the fast lane. It’s the perfect demonstration of the alloying of genres Elles and her band employ with consummate ease.

Captivating with passionate precision, sitting appropriately at roughly the midway point of the set, ‘Halfway House’ enthrals. The gentle mercy, against the teeth of the storm, of the safe haven of the harbour is presented within this country-blues melding ballad.

Castigating unnecessarily loud chatter Elles, to resounding applause, berates “I think there’s a far more interesting conversation going on at the back!” continuing “Jo Harman, if you talk in her show she’ll tell you to ‘Shut the fuck up!’” All bar a now silent few laugh uproariously. Good point made well.

The smoking southern blues of ‘Riding Out The Storm’ is justifiably held in the highest of affections with Elles dancing out stage front whilst the band hotfoot through a blistering jam. ‘Help Somebody’ trucks along through the dark hours, headlights burning bright in the night airs with prominent Hammond keys interweaving, as the voracious clematis, with Elles’ crystal vox in a strongarm despatch.

Judiciously dedicated to the not awesome merch company who proved a let down on a recent order of tour laminates ‘Medicine Man’ rolls into town driven by a sultry, dusty wind that cuts to the soul. Its storming powered blues rocking up to a crescendo at the end of the main set.

The crowd demand more loudly and with a raucous cheer the band respond by returning from the shadows. In a moment of impromptu Elles enquires “Would you like to hear Mercy Steven?” Up on the balcony a gent, attired in a fine cowboy hat, replies in the positive grinning from ear to ear. Rammed full of emotion this rendition of Mary Gauthier’s incredibly powerful ‘Mercy Now’ has the Globe spellbound.

The deltaland blues of ‘Perfect Storm’ melt together with the cottonfields soul in the liquescent environs of the furnace’s crucible, a potent brew. Closing up with the Tom Petty infused ‘Sunshine City’ we’re taken along the freeway with its marauding siren blues tempting even the hardiest of mariners to their fate. Somewhere over the state line awaits Nutbush’s city limits.

There’s so very much to love about Elles’ passion and musical drive, this genuinely beautiful soul, whom I describe as ‘The Stevie Nicks of UK Blues’, has a bright future lying ahead.

Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM

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