Review: James Bay, Forest Live, Thetford Forest, July 1

James Bay

James Bay - Credit: Archant

Near the end of James Bay’s sell-out show in Thetford Forest on Friday night, he asked the crowd to do “that little phone thing we all like to see”, modestly adding: “I might never get the chance to do this again.”

Happily, everyone lifted their lit phones into the air, although no one surely believed his career will do anything other than continuing to rocket skywards.

His appearance at Forest Live’s event in aid of the Forestry Commission came on the back of appearances at summer festivals around Europe in the past month and in 2015 his debut album Chaos and the Calm was one of the best-selling UK albums of the year.

Opening his set on Friday night with the blistering rock song Collide, and following up with album opener Craving, it is clear he is an artist with a range of genres into which he can dip.

His breakthrough single Hold Back The River was the highly-anticipated conclusion of his 90-minute set at Thetford. When it was released last year it seemed you couldn’t go an hour without hearing it, with almost every radio station giving it repeat plays. It has also been viewed more than 71million times on YouTube.


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Often, this can give a sense of overplay but the slow build-up to its performance on Friday night did not seem diminished in any way.

It was perhaps his other singles, Scars, Let It Go and Best Fake Smile that saw his popularity rise beyond those who were hooked by his initial single. These songs demonstrated his range as an artist and also showed a willingness to test himself. They were all played on Friday night.

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Let It Go, a slow acoustic ballad, held the audience entranced and Best Fake Smile, a thumping rock song, saw those near the front jumping and shouting with delight.

He has played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and toured the world, yet it was Thetford Forest, still light when he took to the stage at 9pm but darkening over the course of his set, that seemed to impress him the most.

“This is the biggest headline show I’ve ever done, when I look out you go on and on,” he remarked at one stage.

He added in a few covers over the course of the show, the best a version of 1960s rock song Proud Mary, which has also been covered by artists such as Elvis Presley and Tina Turner.

As he concluded Hold Back The River to the delight of an estimated 9,000-strong crowd, Bay left the stage to rapturous applause, leaving most with no doubt he will definitely get a chance to do “that little phone thing” to an even larger audience in the future.

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