Q Best Solo Act muses on Wayne Rooney, fine gui­tars and meet­ing the world.

My 2016

Q (UK) - - Contents - IN­TER­VIEW: MATT MA­SON

Q Awards, Brits, Gram­mys, Num­ber 1 hits and Kevin Bacon: it’s been a hel­luva year for the cat in the hat…

How should a rock star mea­sure suc­cess? James Bay can quan­tify his year in mul­ti­ple ways: Q Awards (one, for Best Solo Act), Brit Awards (one), Grammy nom­i­na­tions (three), tick­ets sold ( 20,000 for his Ham­mer­smith Apollo res­i­dency alone)… How­ever, noth­ing says you’ve truly ar­rived like see­ing Kevin Bacon im­per­son­ate you. Since Au­gust, the ac­tor has been dressing up as the Hitchin troubadour – and Britney Spears – in a TV ad for phone net­work EE. “The Bacon mo­ment,” says the 26- year-old, stir­ring su­gar into his tea in a North Lon­don restau­rant. “Mad. Great Bri­tish Bake Off came on re­cently, [ adopts nar­ra­tor’s voice] ‘Janet, 75, works in the church, is a grandma and loves Ed Sheeran.’ You’re like, ‘Wow, Ed Sheeran’s do­ing great cos Janet, 75, loves him.’ The ad’s in those realms – reg­u­lar TV. It’s very… house­hold. Bizarre.” He shouldn’t be sur­prised though. From con­fronting tidal waves to re­as­sur­ing pet­ri­fied Eng­land foot­ball coaches, James Bay has had a big 2016 – by any­one’s mea­sure.


“I was in a car on the way to Jools Hol­land’s Hoo­te­nanny last year, scrolling through Twit­ter. My man­ager says I sud­denly went white. I wasn’t sure what I’d seen be­cause you don’t al­ways know what to be­lieve on Twit­ter. We con­firmed it from the of­fi­cial site though – I’d been nom­i­nated for a Grammy [ for Best New Artist]. We lost our minds! Then we rang my record la­bel. They said, ‘Have you seen your other two nom­i­na­tions?’ [ Best Rock Song, Best Rock Al­bum] So we lost our minds again. On the night, I was per­form­ing [ with fel­low New Artist nom­i­nee Tori Kelly] and kept say­ing to my­self be­fore­hand, ‘I’m ner­vous and it’s go­ing to get worse.’ I was wan­der­ing back­stage and Dave Grohl went, ‘Hey! I know you!’ He tried to shake my hand but I had to say [ wipes hands on thighs], ‘I’m sorry, it’s very wet, I’ve just been to the toi­let and there were no paper tow­els.’ He didn’t re­coil, he was a con­sum­mate pro. That helped break it up and keep it light. When I got to the bot­tom of the steps about to per­form, the nerves all just fell away and I was pretty zen – that’s what I recall most about the night.”


“It was a whirl­wind, a mad, fun night [ he per­formed Hold Back The River, ac­com­pa­nied Justin Bieber on gui­tar and won Best Male Solo Artist award]. My lit­tle cameo with Bieber was fun. We played in front of a camp­fire and it was re­ally, re­ally hot. He was great. He’s got a lot of peo­ple around him to make sure things run smoothly – and they do. He can re­ally talk mu­si­cally though. We only had 90 sec­onds [ to per­form Bieber’s Love Your­self] and I’d gone away and worked out how to cut the song down and he was re­ally down with it. To be able to play your own song though… the Gram­mys were great but the Brits are a bit more of a party and there’s a higher sense of be­long­ing be­cause it’s home turf – a bit like mak­ing your de­but at St James’s Park for New­cas­tle United if you’re a Ge­ordie. The funnest part is ac­tu­ally see­ing your mates back home af­ter­wards and they’re like, ‘You’re on TV!’ I know! It’s cool! The af­ter-party was good. Even the papers were ask­ing the next day what was in the Cham­pagne be­cause it was in­tense, knock-your-socks off stuff.”


“I per­formed at The Eng­land Foot­ballers Foun­da­tion char­ity event in May in front of the Eng­land squad. Wayne Rooney sang

Hold Back The River with me while Gary Neville played gui­tar. Wayne’s a won­der­ful, won­der­ful bloke who likes to sing and loves mu­sic. Gary was wicked. Bless him, he was so ner­vous. To see Gary Neville shak­ing is hum­bling cos he’s done so much on the pitch. I just tried to of­fer him re­as­sur­ance and re­in­force­ment. And I gave him my gui­tar be­cause his wasn’t up to it. Sorry, Gary. It was a great gui­tar but we plugged it in and it made all these dodgy noises. Pelé was there too. He was very cool. Meet­ing him and see­ing him so ex­cited about mu­sic was amazing. There were a few peo­ple there to meet him but he just pushed through the crowd – and he’s got guys to help him walk be­cause you can’t imag­ine what his legs have been through with op­po­nents try­ing to kick him off the pitch – and said, ‘I loved your mu­sic.’ Shame about the re­sults at Euro 2016 though. Do I ac­cept any re­spon­si­bil­ity? I sup­pose I have to. Maybe the tunes I played for the squad weren’t up­lift­ing enough…”


“The ab­so­lute high­light of the year has been the sheer amount of tour­ing I’ve done [ 18 coun­tries in nine months], see­ing how dif­fer­ent au­di­ences are in dif­fer­ent places. In Osaka, they’re crazy re­spect­ful, giv­ing you ev­ery ounce of si­lence they can. In parts of Mid­dle Amer­ica they just de­vote them­selves to the night – they’ve prob­a­bly

“Wayne Rooney sang Hold Back The River with me while Gary Neville played gui­tar. Wayne’s a won­der­ful, won­der­ful bloke.”

taken the next day off work and are up for a party. If you think you’re on Cloud Nine, fans like that can put you on Cloud 10. I’ve also played venues I al­ways used to think “one day” about. Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall in New York – the first real fan­tasy step on the lad­der in that town. At sound­check, the room swal­lows you. It’s like stand­ing at the foot of a break­ing tidal wave. I’ve started writ­ing for the next al­bum and play­ing live makes you think about the songs. The live show can’t help but be more rau­cous than the first al­bum [ Chaos And The Calm]. There will be del­i­cate stuff on the next one but there will be rau­cous stuff too – I want the tidal wave to be big­ger, even more over­whelm­ing. I want to come at it with some­thing big­ger and stronger and cre­ate a mas­sive crash.”


“The tour­bus – wow, what a ride. When you grow up watch­ing The Last Waltz, see­ing peo­ple who re­ally toured hard, and then to feel like it’s hap­pen­ing to you, it’s a to­tal dream. There’s no way of not mak­ing that cheesy. I don’t want short cuts or to get into as many ho­tels as I can, I’d rather sit on the bus for 17 hours and watch the land­scape. We fin­ished this tour in Kansas City [ in Oc­to­ber] and had to drive to New York at 2am. We stopped by the high­way so me and my gui­tar tech could watch the sun come up – we hadn’t seen it come up the whole tour. It was freez­ing but pretty ro­man­tic and summed up how in­cred­i­ble it’s been to live with the guys [ his band and crew] for two years. “You build a fam­ily on the road. At the end of the tour, they bought me a 1964 Gib­son SG gui­tar – they sup­pos­edly have the great­est necks Gib­son ever made. Bit geeky but… It’s out of this world. A real hairs-on-my-arms-stand­ing-up mo­ment. It just shows the re­la­tion­ship we have as a team. How do I stay sane on a tour­bus for two years? Pulling the cur­tains and hav­ing my own space for five min­utes. Noise-can­celling head­phones. Play­ing FIFA [ foot­ball video game] to be sep­a­rated from mu­sic – I’m a bit ad­dicted.”

On a rare week off, Bay needs to fin­ish un­pack­ing af­ter re­cently buy­ing a house. He drains his tea and, in a re­ver­sal of usual celebrity dis­guises, steps out into the busy street hat­less – con­fi­dent no one will recog­nise him with­out his usual head­gear. “It’s very con­ve­nient,” he says, strid­ing away still on Cloud 10.

Sweet ’ 16: Bay per­forms with Justin Bieber at the Brits, Fe­bru­ary, 2016; ( be­low) Kevin “Bay-con” chan­nels the Q Award winner.

On the road again: play­ing the Coachella fes­ti­val, Cal­i­for­nia, 23 April, 2016. “Can I have my hat back, Wayne?”: (above) Bay with closet singer Rooney; (left) road­test­ing the “out of this world” Gib­son gui­tar his road crew gave him.

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