On April 13th, at the prestigious UK Blues Awards Ceremony in London’s Shepherd’s Bush, England’s premier singer and songwriter Elles Bailey won the coveted titles of UK Blues Artist Of The Year, UK Blues Vocalist Of The Year and UK Blues Album Of The Year (Shining In The Half Light). Legendary blues vocalist and harp maestro Paul Jones hosted the event which was created by the UK Blues Federation to give the blues community the opportunity to recognize those involved in the blues scene. To Paul’s surprise he won the new special category of Lifetime Achievement Award.
Over the past century, America has boasted many iconic blues women including ‘Empress of the Blues’ Bessie Smith, ‘Mother of the Blues’ Ma Rainey, Big Mama Thornton, Mamie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. More recently, Koko Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Shemekia Copeland, Sari Schorr, Beth Hart, and others have become members of this exclusive club of blues royalty. Now as she enters the UK Blues Hall Of Fame, it is the turn of Elles Bailey to stand proudly among the elite chanteuses of her generation. After several years of taking small steps, the hardworking, talented and dedicated Elles has made the gigantic leap from ‘shining in the half light’ to the full glare of the international spotlight.
The Awards Ceremony was interspersed with live performances from several of the nominees and award winners. International Artist Of The Year nominee, New Yorker Sari Schorr, set the bar with a sensational emotive rendition of “Damn The Reason,” the tension unbearable, the pain of domestic abuse tangible. Finalist Alice Armstrong enhanced her growing reputation with a funky version of her highly acclaimed debut single “Speed Dial”. Young UK Blues Artist Of The Year Toby Lee showed great vocal and guitar maturity in his accomplished and tasteful 2021 single release, “Kansas City.” Finalists in three categories, blues-rock, power and soul five-piece Brave Rival showed why they are predicted to be future winners.
Elles Bailey fully justified her entry into the Blues Hall Of Fame with a stunning medley of songs delivered with passion, energy and heartache in equal measure, underpinned by exceptional atmospheric slide guitar work from Joe Wilkins. As Elles had commented on her way to London, “Good luck to everyone nominated but we are all winners, we get to make music alongside wonderful humans and put smiles on people’s faces – that’s a good life, I’ll say.” A perfect summary of what these awards are all about.
So who is Elles Bailey and what do we know about her?
At the age of three, Elles was seriously ill with pneumonia and hospitalized as a result which meant that she had to breathe through a tube for 17 days. The outcome was that she emerged with a husky, deep voice. As Elles explains: “When finally I came out of hospital and started to talk again, my parents were shocked – gone was the voice I had before and in it its place was someone who sounded like they smoked 60 a day! Not the voice you expect from your average three year old…They took me to a voice specialist, who checked it out and thankfully found nothing wrong. However he did say, “If she’s a singer, she will be great at singing the blues!”
Elles was introduced to music via her father’s record collection of mostly Chess Records’ blues and rock and roll discs. She began fronting a local indie rock band before the pull of her love of the blues and Americana led her to assemble a compatible touring band. Elles says she owes a lot to the big female powerhouses: “Etta James is probably my all-time favorite voice, however Janice Joplin, Dusty Springfield and Fleetwood’s Stevie Nicks have all played a massive part in my musical upbringing. I love all the old Chicago blues and the stories and artists behind the music.”
Bailey’s debut EP, Who Am I to Me released in 2015, was followed by the six-track collection The Elberton Sessions. The band toured and soon became noted for its powerful performances at gigs. Five studio albums followed this from Wildfire in 2017 to her most recent Shining In The Half Light. The first couple of albums were recorded in Nashville. Elles runs her own independent record label Outlaw Music. After considering going with a major label after being offered a record deal, she stayed true to her vision and released her new album through her own label. Shining in the Half Light was released last February and has achieved top ranking in UK genre charts and 42nd in the national Official Album Chart alongside Whitney Houston and Adele. A deluxe version of the latter with an additional nine bonus tracks is now available.
As a determined individual with a strong sense of social and political justice whose actions speak even louder that her words, Elles has raised money for Ukraine, “I am a new mum and my heart is breaking for everyone in Ukraine, especially the children caught up in this escalating crisis. My fan base has been so incredibly generous supporting this album journey and I know they will support my decision to donate the proceeds of the Shining in the Half Light downloads to War Child, who specialize in protecting children in conflict.”
Elles is critical of the lack of financial support for musicians during lockdown and subsequently and was brave enough to speak out against politicians on behalf of the artistic community. She explained in a recent interview: “I don’t know how it’s been over in the States, but I felt like the arts really got a bit of a bad rap over the pandemic. They weren’t supported in a way that the arts were supporting people. My song ‘Cheats and Liars’ is about the people in their ivory towers who told us that arts don’t really matter, and to go and retrain. Thirty-eight percent of musicians, including myself, didn’t get any kind of government funding, and some people lost everything. It’s been quite hard watching how arts has been undervalued at a time when that was what was bringing people together.”
Despite her hectic touring schedule, busy life as a new mum and a recent house renovation, Elles is also a weekly Planet Rock radio presenter.
Elles has built up a loyal fan base with tens of thousands across social media and a quarter of a million monthly followers on Spotify. The fans also have their own dedicated Facebook page Elles Bailey VIP (AKA The Wolfpack).
Elles has toured with the USA giants Joe Bonamassa, Walter Trout, Eric Gales and Don Mclean.
Video “Hole In My Pocket”
Written with Matt Owens and co-produced by Elles Bailey, Peter Miles and Elles’ touring band Joe Wilkins on Guitar
Jonny Henderson on Keys,
Matthew Waer on Bass
Matthew Jones on Drums.
Backing vocals from Grace Lightman, Elio Evangelou and Kat Marsh
Filmed by Kris Barras
Video “Cheats And Liars’
Written with Ashton Tucker
Vocals – Elles Bailey
Guitar – Joe Wilkins
Organ – Jonny Henderson
Bass – Matthew Waer
Drums – Matthew Jones
BGV’s – Izo Fitzroy, Silla Mosley, Jade Elliot
Produced – Dan Weller, Mixed by Steve Blackmon,
Mastered by Ryan Smith.