Given the fact that the major criticism constantly levelled at James Bay has been his middle-of-the-road act as another solo British male with an acoustic guitar, he certainly chose two distinct acts to support him, even if they aren’t themselves pushing the boundaries of their musical genres.
Leading the night was Samm Henshaw, who told the audience repeatedly he spells it with “two Ms because I can’t spell”. Flanked by two mates, one on bass and another on the keys, Henshaw stood with a tambourine, of all things. Considering the size of the venue and the fact that less than 0.1% of the crowd would have known who Henshaw was beforehand, he didn’t seem the least bit intimidated. Almost terminally laidback, he guided the willing audience members through his soul focussed set. His track ‘Redemption’ played brilliantly with the small band – slow and dark melodies behind his quietly raw vocals, while the more melodic and smooth ‘Only Wanna Be With You’ balanced that out with a sweeter track. The highlights however were his closing number ‘Better’ and his cover of ‘Best Night Ever’ – yes the one by One Direction. The latter is almost unrecogniseable, a soulful and hypnotic reworking of a much more blandly effective track than Henshaws’ own work. Meanwhile on ‘Better’, Henshaw split the crowd by gender and led a sing-along of different parts, which in all fairness to him, should never have worked. If it gets picked up by big Radio stations it won’t take long for him to worm his way into popular consciousness. With a voice like Labrinth’s on half a pack a day, it’s impossible to turn your nose up at him. For now however, his chilled out presence would be poorly received anywhere bigger than the Bournemouth International Centre.
On the flipside of the spectrum was Elle King. Blending country and rock and pop into an appealing if safe mix, she could best be described as ‘unafraid’. The only girl on tour, and an American at that, she’s charmingly self-effacing and loose-tongued throughout. Leading into track ‘Ex’s & Oh’s’ she describes herself as “a big ‘ol slut”. Funny and pretty badass, her personality took the otherwise predictable track into a more entertaining arena. Her whole repertoire is entirely listenable on record, with her husky, twang-ed out voice and prevalent guitar strumming. Onstage all she does is amplify it, whacking the volume up so that you couldn’t possibly ignore her. Her banter in between songs however is refreshingly upfront and swear-laden. The highlight track was easily ‘Last Damn Night’ – by far her most rock ‘n’ roll song. It’s like someone introduced Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’ to a bottle of Jack Daniels, the entire state of Tennessee, and the actuality of attempting a threesome, rather than just namechecking it in an attempt to appear sinful. It’s catchy and very predictably “YOLO”. With the whole band and the red/blue lighting flashing about like it’s tripping out however, it’s more than a little bit fun. Unlike Henshaw, King should have no problem in a bigger arena. She’s definitely got the pipes and the presence for it, but her songs need to be able to match her own daring personality in order to get her that far.