Liam Bailey: Soul pride
Having spent his early years on a council estate in Beeston, Nottingham before moving with his parents to the more rural environment of the nearby village of Selston, 25-year-old soul singer/songwriter Liam Bailey now interestingly releases his second EP - ‘So Down, Cold’ - via world-conquering London songstress Amy Winehouse’s own Lioness Records.
Indeed, having started out performing with his own indie band on the eclectic (where he soaked up the influences of soul, rock and folk), it was nevertheless after moving down to London with his then-girlfriend that Liam’s musical talents eventually came to the attention of , who will be releasing his eagerly-anticipated, self-penned debut LP in 2011.
Prestigiously produced by Miami-based, Grammy-winning Salaam Remi (of Amy Winehouse, Nas and Fugees fame), the album itself - as already mentioned - has nevertheless been preceded by Liam’s first two EPs. Both of which (September’s ‘2am Rough Tracks’ and this month’s aforementioned ‘So Down, Cold’) have surfaced courtesy of the high-profile, multi-award-winning Ms. Winehouse. Who, after hearing Bailey’s music through a mutual friend, felt so connected with its stripped-back emotion that she immediately made it her business to contact him with a view to putting it out on her own record-label.
Indeed, having been recorded at night with the emphasis firmly on getting up-close-and-personal with Liam and his guitar, ‘So Down, Cold’ further showcases the raw tenderness of the up-and-coming soul man’s unique, searing vocal. With its three tracks - ‘Fool Boy’; ‘Breaking Out’; and ‘So Down, Cold’ - blending acoustic lament with heartfelt, emotional storytelling rooted in Bailey’s recent painful split with his girlfriend, which for a while found him alone in London and seeking solace in the bottle. All of which in turn has already led to favourable comparisons with such iconic classic-soul singer/songwriters as Sam Cooke, Terry Callier and Bill Withers.
The product of a white English mother and black British/Jamaican father and sporting a black polo-neck alongside his fine Afro, a highly-talkative and down-to-earth Mr. Bailey (who additionally guests on UK urban hit-makers Chase & Status’ forthcoming, dub-step-flavoured single ‘Blind Faith’) speaks in still-strong Nottingham tones to ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis about his new EP; his relationship with Amy Winehouse; plus his early council estate roots.
Having his first two EPs - ‘2am Rough Tracks’ and ‘So Down, Cold’ - released through Amy Winehouse’s Lioness Records
“Well, she heard about me, she heard my music - and, because she liked it, she asked to meet me… And everything kind of went from there! Though I was already signed to Polydor, she wanted to release my first couple of EP’s through Lioness - and so it made sense for us to DO it!”
Liam’s ideas on being dubbed by some critics “the male version of Amy Winehouse”
“I don’t think it’s accurate at all, but then I guess I’m EXPECTED to say that! I just think it’s a shame that people can’t sing soul any more without being compared to Amy! I mean, she’s amazing and I do have a lot of respect for her. But our music - though there are a few similarities - is overall quite different, as is our APPROACH to it. You know, we do perform and sing in very different ways! Like Amy’s music has more of Motown beat to it, while mine has a more sombre drive… So yeah, I just feel some people need to broaden their minds and imagination sometimes so that they can enjoy and understand the things they see and hear more… I mean, to be the male version of Amy Winehouse I’d need to be white, Jewish, have tattoos and sing jazz/soul melodies! End of!”
His forthcoming debut album, due for release in 2011 through Polydor Records
“It’s definitely soul music with some blues and a lot of very true-to-life lyrics. You know, there’s no trivia. Like the song ‘You Better Leave Me’ is dealing directly with what I was going through with my girlfriend at the time. Where I got paranoid that I couldn’t love her because I couldn’t love MYSELF any more. And so I found myself playing games to mess around with her emotions. Like going out and not telling her where I was, or turning my phone off to avoid contact with the immediate reality... So yeah, for me this whole album does represent a landmark achievement - in the sense of coming from a council estate in Nottingham to working with the guy who produced The Fugees! Because you know, there were a lot of years spent in Nottingham wondering when my time was EVER gonna come. And so for me to be now working with a guy whose records I grew up listening to is a big deal! Plus I’m also very happy it’s come at the age I’m at now, as opposed to when I was 16. Because it means the material is a lot stronger, and there’s a lot more SOUL in there.”
Working with Amy Winehouse/Fugees/Nas producer Salaam Remi
“I guess Salaam heard about me after I got signed, watched the YouTube clip of me singing ‘It’s Not The Same’, and decided he wanted go get involved. And I’d definitely say our relationship has been interesting! Because you have to remember, a lotta my songs start out on the acoustic guitar. And when you’re playing acoustically you have your own sort of time signature - you kind of go in and out, and it’s not always in-time. So one thing I feel Salaam did definitely bring out in the music was the BEAT. And I think the fact he managed to retain those really emotional, deep elements the songs had in their original, acoustic form while still giving them that contemporary drive was amazing! You know, that passion is still very much in there. Plus - with me being someone who’d previously only ever been to Ibiza and Coast Brava with my mum and dad - to fly to Miami and then be singing in the very same booth Lauryn Hill had recorded in was ALSO really special!... Then on a personal level too, I think the mix of Salaam being a very peaceful guy and me being very hyper-active and talkative also worked very well!”
Liam’s early days growing up on a council estate in Beeston, Nottingham
“I suppose it was a typical council estate. And I was one of those kids that could only play out until about seven, and then I had to go home for dinner - or my mum would come and get me! Whereas other kids would be out till friggin’ 10 o’clock or later, getting up to ALL kinds of trouble! And I do genuinely believe that, if I hadn’t moved out of that council estate when I was 10, life would have been very different for me. Because most of the people I knew there have since either been to prison or been killed. And while I did do a lot of playing outside in the street, when I WAS at home I couldn’t escape the MUSIC! You know, my mum always had this station on called Gold FM. And so, even at that young age, I was constantly getting this mixture of Sixties, Seventies and Eighties pop and just all the amazing music that came from that time-period.”
How moving, at age 10, with his parents further into the countryside to the nearby village of Selston impacted on Liam as a musician
“Well, it wasn’t until we moved to the sticks that I realised we had an album collection! And the reason I discovered it then was because, when we moved, for some reason it went into my BEDROOM! And so, because I’d just moved to the area and I didn’t have many friends, I just started sitting there listening to MUSIC all day! You know, my mum had everything from The Beatles’ ‘Blue Album’ through to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley... And then, when I got to around 14 and Oasis came out, I just thought they were the best thing EVER! Whereas if we’d stayed in Beeston and I’d been going to what was very much an inner-city school, I doubt I would have been listening to Oasis!... So yeah, from age 14 to around 17, with me it was all about ROCK! Because getting into Oasis opened my ears up to distortion guitar, listening to Led Zeppelin... You know, I just went really mad on music!... And I guess I’ve been a fuckin’ mad-head on music ever SINCE! To where today I listen to anything from bloody Joy Division to B.B. King, Marvin Gaye… You know, with the possible exception of heavy metal, there’s not much I DON’T like!”
How his eventual move to London led to his current record deal with Polydor
“I moved down to London because my ex-girlfriend was moving down. She’d just finished at Loughborough University, my band back in Nottingham had split up... And so I kinda just wanted to experience new things. Plus I was also thinking it might help me in terms of my music. So I moved down. And the fact that all I had was my acoustic guitar - and for the first time I wasn’t part of band – did actually help me with my PLAYING! ‘Cause I now had to do gigs where it was just me and my guitar! So yeah, I just carried on performing while working shit jobs, where I’d be going home and wondering ‘When am I gonna get a fuckin’ RECORD deal?!’.. But then, when I DID eventually get a deal, I ended up splitting up with the girlfriend! Which is when I started playing a lotta soul. And so I guess me doing the soul thing actually came out of that experience… Though I tell you, to have to go through something like that just to write some decent songs is a bastard, mate! Sometimes you wonder it it’s fuckin’ WORTH it!”
The EP ‘So Down, Cold’ is released through Lioness Records on November 29. Liam also features on the Chase & Status single ‘Blind Faith’, which will be released on January 24 through Vertigo/RAM Records
Words PETE LEWIS